Cailin Russo Talks Marching to The Beat of Her Own Drum
Cailin Russo’s brand of pop is certainly of the IDGAF variety—as the daughter of punk icon Scott Russo (Unwritten Law’s frontman, for the uninitiated), the younger Russo is carrying on her dad’s tradition of marching to the beat of her own drum, if only in a different genre.
And while Russo’s sound is under the umbrella of pop, it’s not easily defined in those terms, nor is it quite like what we’re hearing on the radio waves as of late. There’s something there that pulls at the heartstrings (she’s got a penchant for jazz, not coincidentally), and, in her own words, this west coast starlet has no interest in riding the “synth wave” (though if she did, she’d be damn good at that, too).
Russo’s only got two singles out so far—that’s the blowout debut single, “September Rose”, and her latest, “Hierarchy”—but there’s so much more on the way. Lucky us.
Congrats on releasing “Hierarchy”! I think that’s a good place to start. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the track and just how it came together?
Yeah, totally. I mean “Hierarchy”…we’ve all been through it. It’s a super literal song. It’s just about, you know, if you’re at a party and people just give you weird looks ‘cause for some reason they don’t feel like you’re cool enough to be there, and so you get weird vibes, and you’re like, “I don’t really fuck with this. I just want to chill.” I feel like everyone can take their own perspective on it but in a room full of dominos, people that just want to be like replicates of each other, I’m gonna be a wild flower. I don’t need validation. You know? It’s like, fuck off, if you don’t like it.
So it sounds like that comes from personal experience, then?
Oh my God, yeah. I’ve gotten vibes so many times, even people that come up to me because they think I am cool but then someone cooler comes around and they just ditch me. That’s not tight. It’s definitely been a personal thing, and in the second verse, especially, when I’m like, “Tip your Belvedere / you don’t even know the reason why I’m here,” it’s like, obviously I’m cool enough to be at the fucking party, you know?
Absolutely. And that’s coming right after your debut single, “September Rose”—what’s the reception been like so far for that one?
Oh my God, “September Rose”—people are losing their shit! I had no idea.
Did you not expect that?
No, not at all! I really liked it, but to be honest, the first three songs were just supposed to be buzz tracks, just for people to kind of dip their toes in the water, but it ended up doing pretty fucking well, and so I’m more than happy. I think “September Rose” is such a beautiful song, and it’s so different to what else is out here right now. It’s a story, and it’s more in depth than what people are usually talking about, I guess, at least in the pop world.
I feel like there’s a lot going on in pop but most of it isn’t super memorable, and “September Rose” really hits the mark more so than other stuff. How would you define your sound or what sets you apart overall?
I mean, obviously I’m very soul-influenced—I love jazz and live instruments, so already that’s different, ‘cause I’m not trying to ride this synth wave. And if I am, I’m gonna try and do it in a different way, you know? So that alone, and then melody-wise, I always try and push it. I never wanna do a generic set-up or a generic melody—I always want to do something outside the box. When I think of inspirations for that kind of stuff, it’s the SZA’s, and the Sia’s, and like, Radiohead, because their melody choices are so weird and so insane, but if you can make it work in a memorable way, then that’s a game-changer to me. I don’t want to have to follow a specific algorithm, you know?
What’s your creative process like from start to finish in the studio?
Starting off in the studio, it’s like, “Ok, we’re gonna write a song today.” It’s questions like, “What’s on your mind?”—anyone in the studio—”What’s on your mind?” A lot of the time I’ll have something very specific, or I have an idea for a song title, and then we’ll try and break it down, to see what that could mean and how we could fit it or make it something that’s different than the norm.
I know that your dad is also a musician—how do you feel like your childhood influenced you as an artist today?
I mean, I feel like since my parents were so young and my dad was obviously an artist, we were raised like fucking little baby rockstars! We got to do whatever we wanted—we cut our hair, dyed our hair, put on stick on tattoos, I would always wear boys’ clothes—it kind of let me be exactly who I wanted to be. I think it definitely sculpted me in that way. And, I don’t mean to sound like some weird-ass egocentric person, but, I think it just made us cool, you know?
Do you ever work with your dad on music or ask for his advice or opinion?
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. When I first started wanting to do music, he was the first person I ever worked with. We were working out of a house we were staying at and there was a studio inside and I was like, “I think I want to record a song.” So we made a beat, just on the fly, and he just told me to go for it. Wrote the song “I Don’t Care For Love” because obviously I was 16 and super experienced [Laughs]. I mean that’s kind of what kickstarted it. We work a little bit now but not so much. I’m very opinionated now on exactly what I want so it’s kind of like he’s letting me have the reigns on what I wanna do. So that’s kind of where it’s at.
Cool. What do you feel like inspires you the most when you’re writing or looking for a good melody?
Honestly, what really inspires a good song is fucking pain. And I’m the chirpiest person, but when I actually sit down and write something that actually sounds fucking awesome, it’s usually because I’m either really sad, or really mad. Otherwise, just coming up with dope melodies is just out of fun. We have a home studio, and just sitting at our kitchen table, Michael, my boyfriend, will just come up with something, and I’ll add to that, just random stuff, so it’s more of a playful thing, as opposed to very serious.
I feel like the best songs are super organic and not contrived at all—they just kind of happen.
Oh yeah, 100 percent.
Last question—what’s in the pipeline for you for the rest of the year?
Definitely an EP, and to the length of the EP, I’m not sure yet—it may be album-length, we might put out 10 songs, I don’t fucking know. Maybe it will be a two-sided EP, who knows? But we’re just accumulating a mass of music, and making sure it’s all on the same wave, so that it all flows together, ‘cause ultimately I don’t want to make a compilation album; I want it to be all super put-together. So we’ll do that, put out a project, definitely tour or play some shows, throw some singles out there, maybe do some crazy shit, you know. Ideally I just wanna play as much as I can just to get that all sounding good. I just wanna have fun and make some good music. That’s pretty much it.
Images courtesy of Cailin Russo
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