Remi Wolf: No Filter

Remi Wolf’s debut introduced the Californian singer in a blaze of eye-popping, sweary, technicolour glory. On second album ‘Big Ideas’, she may have refined the methods, but the message is unapologetically still all her.

Remi Wolf on her sophomore album 'Big Ideas' for DIY's In Deep digital cover interview

It’s approximately 7.45pm in the cavernous surrounds of London’s O2 Arena, and Remi Wolf is warming up the crowd for Olivia Rodrigo with a just-released new song, ‘Toro’. “This track is about the biggest crush ever,” she grins before digging into the track’s slinky, bouncing funk. Wolf is midway through a 20-date arena run in support of the pop megastar and, in all ways, she understands the assignment. There are Freddie Mercury-style call and responses; there are group fitness crowd participation exercises; there’s a giddily-received cover of Amy Winehouse’s take on ‘Valerie’. By the end of her 30 minute slot, the 28-year-old Californian has delivered a masterclass in how to turn your support booking into a sea of converted fans: one key lesson of which is ‘know your audience’.

Fast forward a week, then, to Remi’s own London headline show at Electric Brixton and another ‘Toro’ outing. “I’ve been touring with Olivia Rodrigo and I’ve been having to say this song is about a big fat crush,” she declares, “when it’s actually about having sex in a hotel room with a guy with a big penis.” Cue wild whoops and cheers from the assembled crowd of late teens and early twenty-somethings that loudly sing back every lyric like their extremely racy bible. 

It’s lucky that the specifics of ‘Toro’’s content likely passed the majority of the O2’s pre-teens by; as is now customary for Wolf, it’s not a track that holds anything back. “Yeah, I’m drooling like a rabid dog / Yeah I’m screaming out, baby now, hold me down / Give me what I want,” she sings at its very literal climax - voice climbing octaves in tandem. “When I was writing that song, I was like, ‘Holy shit, is this too much?’” she chuckles, sat the following day in a hotel coffee bar. “But I think that fear of it being too much kind of pushed me to put it out and go there. I was horny. There was a penis. And that’s what was happening!”

Remi Wolf on her sophomore album 'Big Ideas' for DIY's In Deep digital cover interview Remi Wolf on her sophomore album 'Big Ideas' for DIY's In Deep digital cover interview Remi Wolf on her sophomore album 'Big Ideas' for DIY's In Deep digital cover interview
“When it comes to writing and making art, thinking is kind of the devil - that’s where I get lost in all my anxieties and neuroses.”

On the surface, her hyper-extroverted stage performance, stylistic wrangling of psych, pop, funk and more, plus her love for an unfiltered lyric make her a go-to artist to soundtrack chaotic good times. But Wolf has always been open about what lies beneath, and it’s with the onus on uniting these two sides - the fun, the flings; the fears, the frets - that second album ‘Big Ideas’ arrives. “I wanted to be more honest about the realities of my life and lift a screen for myself in the writing process,” she says. “I was pushing myself to let more through. Not that in my other songs I didn’t, but it was in a different way - I would create all these little brain worms in my head that described how I was feeling but in a way that only I could decipher. [Whereas now] I keep lifting screens and I’m trying to get closer to putting my feelings on paper in a way that’s understandable to everyone.”

Where ‘Juno’ was riddled with a host of ‘did she actually just say that?’ lyrics (‘Quiet On Set’’s “eating my ass like a human centipede” chief among them), ‘Big Ideas’ is less quote-unquote ‘shocking’ but more sensory, creating an evocative series of snapshots that piece together a two year period spent on and off tour, living life in a whirlwind of experience. “With a lot of songs on the record I wanted to put you there with me rather than me painting this almost unimaginable, surreal vibe,” she explains.

Writing whilst in the middle of it all meant that there was no time to over-analyse what she was feeling. “I would go out, ingest all this info, do a bunch of shit, and then come back and write it all down and then do it all again,” she says. “I loved it because it didn’t allow me time to think, and when it comes to writing and making art for me, thinking is kind of the devil - that’s where I get lost in all my anxieties and neuroses. Whereas this process kept me really present and intuitive and grounded in the moment, expressing exactly what I’d seen and synthesising it all right there instead of having all this time to ideate on concepts.”

Speaking to DIY around the release of ‘Juno’, Wolf talked of the discrepancy between her public persona and reality. “I think people see my music as a beam of light,” she suggested. “It’s just such a difference to what’s actually going on in my life.” Today, she happily states that “this is the first time probably in the past seven or eight years where I haven't been depressed, which is awesome”. But even aside from this recent personal progress, everything about ‘Big Ideas’’ instinctive inception was rooted in lifting the veil. “I think I am trying to close that gap because, in that public perception of me, I think I felt misunderstood. But then I was a baby [when I wrote ‘Juno’],” she shrugs. “I’m growing and it took me to new places this time.”

“I’m trying to have more of a routine and more of an acknowledgement that health exists, girl!”

One more woozy, romantic album cut [we've been asked to keep schtum on track titles for now - Ed] acts as “the perfect depiction of that dichotomy within me,” Wolf continues, “wanting to be super domestic and have my house and have my partner and my dog and live in that world, but then [the song's] motorcycle metaphor is me having this secret life and being independent and being on my own.” Another deceptively perky track, meanwhile, addresses her tendencies towards self-destruction of a different kind. Rooted in a habit of “making crazy calls and just being kind of a menace” when inebriated, it addresses the subsequent shame spiral in relatably frustrated fashion. “The wine drunk,” she sighs today, “that really gets me good…”

Having gone through a journey with alcohol, she’s not currently sober (“not at all…”) but is mindful of finding ways to exist within the full-pelt pop star lifestyle she’s built for herself; of enjoying it without falling down the rabbit hole. This time around on tour, she’s trying to find a balance between self-care and fun. She’s been doing yoga (Rodrigo is “down” to join her one day soon) and trying to be aware of her body and its needs, “because on past tours I would completely blow through all that and party and treat myself so poorly. By the end of the tour I’d be a shell of a person, so this time I’m trying to have more of a routine and more of an acknowledgement that health exists, girl!

“It’s just around. Booze is always around,” she continues. “The lifestyle is very hardcore so at the end of the day you want a drink and to relax. You have a show every night and that’s a celebration in itself; you’re partying every night on stage, why not continue it off the stage? That’s been my mindset for a long time. But I’m learning my limits and letting myself have fun within a new structure. And being free of my depression for a second has been such a revelation because it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t have to self medicate all the time…’”

Remi Wolf on her sophomore album 'Big Ideas' for DIY's In Deep digital cover interview Remi Wolf on her sophomore album 'Big Ideas' for DIY's In Deep digital cover interview Remi Wolf on her sophomore album 'Big Ideas' for DIY's In Deep digital cover interview
“[Modern pop music] doesn’t excite me all that much.”

“I’m so sensitive to environments and lighting and the energy flow of a space,” she enthuses, “so it was fun to go into all these different spaces and morph myself into them. I made the song ‘Waves’ at Conway in LA and in the early 2000s Blink-182 recorded there, Katy Perry recorded there, The Weeknd has recorded almost every record there, Justin Timberlake was there when I was recording - we kept running into each other in the hall, so the reason I say Timberlake in the song (“Listening to Timberlake without you it doesn’t scratch that same itch”) is because he was just there. Being in that space and being surrounded by all those records on the wall, hearing stories from back then, you’re enveloped by the history and the past and I think that really affected how I went about writing in that space. You feel the spirits in the wall. I know that sounds crazy.”

It doesn’t sound crazy, but it also doesn’t sound like something that might come out of the mouth of a major label artist who, you assume by her current support tour booking, is being lined up to hopefully follow suit into the pop big leagues. Neither, however, do her thoughts on the current state of pop music as a whole. “It doesn’t excite me all that much,” she shrugs. “I mean, sometimes there’s just a banger that’s released and it’s like, ‘Oh my god I love pop music’. Like, I love ‘Espresso’ by Sabrina Carpenter, it’s kind of an undeniable one - and I’m also a singer,” she jokes in a Valley girl accent, referencing the smash hit’s, let’s face it, most ropey line. “So I like, ‘get’ her…”

But it’s this exact outlook that makes Remi Wolf so thrilling. She’s a trained songwriter who can dip a toe into that world if she wants (forthcoming track ‘Soup’, she says, was written “with the intention of making a pop song that I could play in a stadium”), but more often than not, those typical constructs and rules simply just don’t interest her. “There’s shit that they teach you - structure and all this stuff - and it’s just another tool that I can use or completely disregard,” she says.

‘Big Ideas’ does both of these things and more, uniting it all with a personality that brims over from every note. Remi Wolf might be headlining arenas herself one day soon, or she might not; you sense she doesn’t really give that much of a shit either way. The main thing, whatever happens, is that she’s doing it on her own terms. “Big dreams are fun to have but also I’m not gonna die if I don’t have a Number One song,” she says. “If it happens then it happens and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but at the end of the day all I want is to express myself and be free.”

‘Big Ideas’ is out 12th July via EMI Records.

Remi Wolf will appear on Later... with Jools Holland on 15th June, available on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer. 

Tags: Remi Wolf, Features, In Deep