IN CONVERSATION WITH CAILIN RUSSO
Words by Anano Shalamberidze
If you think you might be unfamiliar with the name but had a Tumblr account and an internet connection back in 2013, you’ll definitely know Cailin Russo’s face. Self-described as an artist thriving at an intersection of music, fashion and digital arts, Cailin embodies everything a modern day It-Girl should be. From starring in Bieber’s music videos when she was younger to having writing credits on various hit records to walking NYFW shows, Russo’s career is nothing short of intriguing. Numéro had a chance to chat with the model-turned-rockstar ahead of the release of her next sonic project, INFLUX.
8PM in Amsterdam means 11AM in LA and on that particular Thursday it meant I was having a Zoom interview with Cailin Russo. Her manager informs me she’s joining in from another call and I’m somewhat expecting an orderly press conversation about upcoming music and tour dates – typical stuff. What went down next was the most pleasantly casual, earnest conversation that gave me an insight into my interviewee’s magical creativity, energetic synchronicities and her charming aura.
At my own risk of looking like a fan and not a professional media person, within the first two minutes of the Zoom call, I shyly divulge the information that Cailin Russo was the third person I ever followed on Instagram back in 2013. Greeted with positive exclamations in the likes of “No way!” and “You have to show receipts!” from Cailin and her team, I let my guard down and start chatting. I want to know about the new album first.
Cailin’s sophomore album INFLUX is a new multidimensional chapter she’s been waiting long to create. “I’m so excited. I’m so proud. It’s such an amazing, deep body of work,” she starts with a smile. “I’m very excited for the world to hear what I wanted to create for so long and I think it’s molded itself into something so beautiful and so multi-dimensional, which was a huge goal for me. I feel like I left no stone unturned.”
I mention her 2020 album DRAMA and the song FADE (that I played on repeat for a month straight) and how INFLUX feels like a contrasting yet logical continuation of her artistry. “I think that there’s probably an undertone that’s still connected to it because it’s still me; both of them are me,” she agrees. “But I think for the DRAMA and for the band stuff… that was a part of me that felt like more of a mask. Whereas INFLUX is much more of a raw, true experience. Maybe it’s a Phantom of the Opera mask because I’m still there but I’m scared to be myself all the way and now I feel like I am myself all the way.” What urged her to take the mask off? “I think I always wanted to. I was just scared,” she says after some contemplation. “I think a lot of the time we don’t do things out of fear. We let other people guide the way for us; we trust their guidance more than we trust our intuition. I was just ready to let that not be my reality. I was ready to trust myself and stop listening to people whose opinions I don’t even like.”
The result is an album created out of spite. GLASS JEDI, the opening track of the record, is an introduction into the beginning stage of Cailin’s journey. She remembers being lost at the time of writing the song, not having her feet on the ground. That’s what she thinks it ended up sounding like. With broken glass everywhere and salt in her veins, the storyline of the album was a consequence of being blatantly furious. “Like, I was mad at these bitches. I was mad. And so that’s the thing. If you ever want to make something awesome, just break your heart, like literally just break it.” Ending it off with ONE, a song that somehow condenses all of melancholia of the album, both sonically and lyrically, consequently feels like a true closure of the project for her. “It gives me the most closure feeling like it just makes me want to, like punch the floor with so much tenacity.”
The warpy, cyber-romantic GLASS JEDI music video inspires our next topic of conversation. Ms. Russo humbly declines taking all the credit for the visual aesthetics of the album. Overwhelmed by music, she took on Rose Marie Johansen, a tattoo artist and creative director, as her collaborator to help the vision come to life. “I break down the songs for her. And she can conceptualize something so much easier, because she’s not so attached to it, you know?”, she explains. “She can take it, take whatever I say, if it’s about LONELY ESTATE for example, she’s like, ‘Okay, well, if it’s about someone being there and then not being there, what if you’re in a clear box?’ Like, that’s like such a beautiful way to describe it. So I can’t take all the credit. But you know, it wouldn’t exist if I didn’t exist. So I’ll take a little bit of credit.”
Music and heartbreak aside, next up in Cailin’s hierarchy of passions is fashion. Walking the Helmut Lang show during New York Fashion Week last season was “terrifying and awesome simultaneously”, as she puts it. She’s a grunge girl (by the looks of it, I might be a grunge girl too) and she means business, so walking for the brand that epitomizes her fashion philosophy meant a lot to her. Known for her grungy-chic appearance and now rocking a bleach-blonde wolf cut, Cailin’s personal style is so strong and definitive that I wonder if it’s just her or if it’s a character she conceived. Some of the best young artists of the moment – Steve Lacy, Billie Eillish – don’t really have a persona; they are not really fronting and she finds that hot. So on stage or not, she strives to be authentically, confidently herself and for Russo,“that’s the freshest look.”
Speaking of artist persona, Cailin, left to her own devices to direct and produce her album release performance, dove deep into pop culture. While combing through the concepts for the installation she wanted to present, two main sources of inspiration stood out. Have I seen Madonna’s Human Nature music video where she’s chained to the metal chair? Of course I have. Have I seen McQueen’s Voss?… Did she just namedrop Alexander McQueen as her influence? Oh, she’s cool cool. Got it.
Long story short, we fangirl over the late designer’s 2001 show and then I fangirl some more over her performance visuals that she proudly sends over. In a dimly lit industrial room is a circle of sheer fabric in form of a veil, in the middle of which Cailin sits in a metal chair, performing her new songs in a laced-up, flesh-colored dress, surrounded by a couple of dancers. Is the veil a metaphor for a double-sided mirror that is an artists life? Is it a commentary on being watched all the time? Well frankly, Cailin does not mind the attention. “I’m like, why aren’t you guys watching me more?” Surely, it’s hard not to tune in when it comes to Ms. Russo.
Her future plans? “I want to do whatever calls to me, you know?”, she announces. “If it’s walking for Helmut Lang, if it’s freakin’, I don’t know, starring in a what’s his name? Who did Kill Bill? Tarantino film. If it’s me having to do some crazy shit, I’m with it. I just want to know what’s right in alignment with me.”
Catch Cailin in Los Angeles or New York for her upcoming shows on April 27th and May 1st respectively.