Making the Most Out of ‘The Drama’: A Conversation with Cailin Russo

Cailin Russo © Naserin Bogado
Cailin Russo © Naserin Bogado
Cailin Russo speaks to Atwood Magazine about the cathartic creation of her EP ‘The Drama’, the project’s accompanying visuals, and performing with holograms in Paris at the League of Legends final.

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Cailin Russo is making a comeback, and she’s starting it all with an admission of guilt: things went wrong, I didn’t make the right decisions, literally “this is a declaration of a fuck up”. “Declaration”, which opens Russo’s The Drama EP, released on Feb 14th 2020, is a pulsating, dark, and intoxicating song that sucks you right into her story. It’s impossible not to feel the energy that comes from Russo washing out the guilt and being brave enough to stand up and start over. And after “Declaration”, once you’re in, you’re in.

The Drama EP - Cailin Russo
The Drama EP – Cailin Russo

It is followed by “Fade”, a song that floats, drenched rosy tones and a romantic melody that would be straight out of a romance novel if not for the cutting lyrics: “Boy you know how to burn me straight to the core/ Now I know you don’t adorn me anymore”. “Fade” takes us into the breakdown of an unhealthy relationship with a lot of candour, and with every word that Russo sings there’s the unmistakeable hint of experience and maturity that comes after going through a lot of shit.

The Drama was born out of, as Russo herself describes it, a “full meltdown” at the end of 2018 after she realised her relationships, music and personal, weren’t doing it for her. The EP is addictive to listen to, and Russo’s voice is infectious, at times soaring with emotion, at others seductive, and occasionally cheeky, sounding like your favourite friend. The lyrics don’t shy away from the pain she felt, lessons she learned, and still leave space to showcase her fun personality. It’s an exciting project that establishes a future full of promise for the artist and songwriter.

Cailin Russo spoke to Atwood Magazine about everything that led to The Drama, from toxic relationships to dream collaborations that had her weeping at the studio, her involvement with the EP’s stunning visuals, teases what else is to come in 2020, and goes into detail about her jaw-dropping, hologram-filled performance at the League of Legends final in Paris.

Listen: The Drama EP – Cailin Russo


Atwood Magazine: Hi Cailin! How are you?

Cailin Russo: I’m good, I’m good, I’m just writing. I usually write in the morning so I’m in the very tail-end of my writing. That’s what I’m doing.

You’re releasing new music and it’s a new chapter for you. What led to the this reinvention?

Cailin Russo: I think it was just the natural evolution. Making the songs just mirrored how I felt, so the sound of the whole project came out of like, pure emotion.  It was very natural.

Did you go through big changes during the time between House With a Pool and the your new project that made you want to switch around?

Cailin Russo: Yeah, extensive changes. Essentially like, at the end of 2018 I hit a wall in my personal relationships and my music relationships, and I was like, I need to listen to myself and my body. I kind of had like a full breakdown and that’s “Declaration”. And then I had to reset my foundations for what I actually want, to focus on music and be as honest as possible, so after the full meltdown ended I was like, okay, so this is what I need to do: I need to break up with you first of all, because you’re making me crazy, and then I need to just make solo music because that’s what I need to do.

And you present it as if it’s divided in parts, Part One was “Declaration” and Part Two is “Fade” and I feel like there’s like a bigger story that you're setting us up for. What was the idea behind the decision of dividing it into parts and what is the arc of the story that you’re going to tell us?

Cailin Russo: Yeah, there is a full arc. The concept came to me like when I was thinking of music video treatments because I really want to be a part of everything, so I was like “Okay, there’s going to be a part one, part two, part three”. The story is called The Drama and it’s pretty much the steps you take in a relationship, whether it’s like the beginning or when you’re face to face with, like complication, which is “Declaration”, and then you’re like, “All right, this is like really not okay”, and you’re just uncomfortable but you’re like “we’re here”. And then “Fade” is like “I actually don’t have a problem with the fact that we’re fucked up, but I can’t do this anymore. And like, this is like my breakout, I can’t do it anymore”, you know?. And then Part Three is the revolution, actually I don’t give a fuck anymore (laughs)! I forgot who I was, and I’m not here to forget who I am. And I think the whole project is about all of the cycles that you go through, things that you through as you evolve in a relationship.

Everything you‘re talking about that you went through is clearly so personal to you. Did you ever consider just keeping these songs for yourself considering how personal and important they are?

Cailin Russo: When you have this much pent up, the best thing to do is to get it out. I just wanted them to perfect. Yeah, I was like, very happy putting these out and just be like, totally honest. My favourite songwriters are like Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, like all these amazing women put it on the table, like “This is where I’m at guys”. It’s important. It’s actually really hard for me to pretend everything’s okay, or to write a song that I haven’t actually experienced.

So “Declaration” kicks off this new chapter, and the song is almost like you’re starting this off apologising for your mistakes and admitting your flaws, to me it seems like you’re looking for a clean slate. Was it necessary for you to start it all like this?

Cailin Russo: I think in my head it was necessary because I wanted there to be a story arc. I wanted to start off with where people could understand what was going on, so then I could drop “Fade” next. That’s exactly how I thought in my head. If it wasn’t wired into my brain like that I probably would have put out “Fade”, and then the third song that I’m putting out, but then I was like “Let’s start off really cool, then we’re going to build up, then we’re going to explode” (laughs).

Watch: “Declaration” – Cailin Russo

Your Instagram caption about “Fade” goes really deep into the meaning of the song and the importance of collaborators for you. Can you talk to me a little bit more about your relationship with Chris Coady?

Cailin Russo: Oh man, well Chris was a friend of a friend. And I was like “I’m literally dying to meet Chris, put it together let’s go!”. He had this house party and he came, and I was like, I wasn’t desperate at all by any means but I just needed to –  because his taste level matched what I was steering for. By the time I met Chris, I was already in the process of doing the mix, and then I stopped the whole operation when he agreed to work with me.

What was it about Chris Coady that made you trust him to help you tell your story?

Cailin Russo: Oh, because I love his music! I think he’s an absolute genius. This whole project fulfilled all of my dream, having Chris and Nick Zinner be on it, and have them both believing in me, like it was… I mean… I literally had to leave the session to cry! It was really amazing.

You also wrote that “Fade” was your favourite song, and it seems like the song grew out of a lot of reflection. What was the process of writing it like for you?

Cailin Russo: This song I actually wrote, well it was originally produced by the person who inspired the song (laughs). It was really fucking intense, but he produced it in the house that we were living in. I’m literally sitting in the same spot that I was when I wrote it, and it just flew out of me I was just like, “I’m not proud of what we made, I’m not guilty of my mistakes, I’m just trying to mean what I say, you just watch me fade away”, and I sang it to him and he was like “What the fuck?” (laughs) “What? What is going on?”. It’s just like when you reach a point in songwriting where there’s a channel, I don’t want to go spiritual and willy nilly, but when things flow out of you, you just have to let it come. When I was writing “Fade” it was just like an open channel. There was nothing blocking me, and every part flew out, when I was tracking it  I was like “This is where I need to be”. It was just exactly how I felt when I wrote it, and when you can actually document that and get it into words, there’s nothing like it, it’s euphoric.

Watch: “Fade” – Cailin Russo

“Sicko” feels like the most angsty, breakup song of the album, it’s a turning point in attitude, especially when placed right after “Fade”. Why did you put these songs together on the tracklist?

I think “Sicko” had to come after “Fade” because “Fade” is a very conscious song. There’s no hidden message. I very blatantly state where my ex and I both were at the time. Then the actual events following up lead to the events that evoked “Sicko”. Because post-“Fade” we were both in a place where we hated each but couldn’t remove ourselves and yes within that (as you could imagine) was A LOT OF ANGST. So it was really just chronological placement.

“You Touch Me, I Touch You Back” is the kind of song that I like to call undeniable, because it’s just so powerful and magnetic and fun, you just can’t ignore it. When you were writing it, did you know you would end up making such a banger? Also, what were your favourite parts of writing/recording the song and shooting the music video?

Cailin Russo: I knew the night Luca and I put together “YTMITYB” it was electric. The demo punches you in the face. My favourite parts of that experience were, first–beginning to write it because it came out of pure sassiness and lightning. My second favourite part was dancing/ being choreographed by my girl @michymilli because that was a part of me that I had never showcased and I love dancing. Especially with someone I love. And obviously my 3rd favourite part was saying it’s done!

Something I like about the EP is that the songs are all so different to each other, it feels like there’s something for everyone. Was this a conscious decision?

Cailin Russo: There was no conscious decision in making the songs sound different from each other. Honestly there was no intention of these all being on the same project but they somehow all marry. And I am really happy I get to put all of that relationship/experience in one package. Also in retrospect it makes complete sense that the songs are all over the place because I was all over the place.

Watch: “You Touch Me I Touch You Back” – Cailin Russo

You’re very involved with the visuals in this new era, and it seems clear to me that every song has a specific colour attributed to it, and that they’re very important. Can you tell me more about those choices?

Cailin Russo: I thought of them as like black and white, but instead of white I wanted them to be a colour. And originally I wanted it to be like super fucking black and white. But then I realised after cutting them that that doesn’t translate very well. But yeah, the colours I subconsciously selected based on sounds. “Declaration” to me feels very like green. Like that, again, complements the whole idea of like, I don’t know guilt and greed, green like they all kind of illuminate each other. And then pinks and purples, they’re all very romantic and very like luminescent, I guess, very feminine. It fits with the whole theme of “Fade” to me, the whole thing is very liberating. The third colour is red, not going to say it’s because of revenge but it is a winning colour for sure (laughs), it’s like fire.

What’s your relationship to like visual storytelling? Why did you want to get involved in the visuals?

Cailin Russo: Well, I always thought that I’d enjoy directing and getting shots, but it’s a lot of work and I don’t want to do it again (laughs). I’ll be doing the part that I think I want to do which I think would be like writing the treatment. When I had to come in and help edit, I was like, “I don’t want to do this”. Why be involved with visuals? I think growing up in the 21st century and the 20th century, it’s a visual generation. Like I grew up on Tumblr, and growing up in fashion, or like, as a young adult in fashion I loved seeing the worlds you can build. And as an artist nowadays, you have to have a visual side. It’s not the end of the world because your music should be able to stand alone, but for me, I think we need to have four walls and all the furniture inside. And it wasn’t an option to not be involved. I was like, I need to do this, I’m doing the same thing with my merch right now. I’m like, I know it’s gonna be a lot harder, but I have to just do it because that’s important. The things that are important to you are worth breaking your heart and back over.

It feels like you’ve been waiting forever to release these songs. How does it feel to have The Drama finally be out in the world?

Cailin Russo: I’m so happy to have this project out! It’s been so overdue. I just feel really relaxed and relieved now that it’s out.

Valentine’s Day tends to be a day that people either love or hate, what’s your relationship with the day and why did you decide to release the EP on Valentine’s Day?

Cailin Russo: Well I was very upset to have to wait until 2020 to release the project because I was so eager to get it out… but life/God works in funny ways and these things happen when they’re supposed to. So I’m really grateful for the ironic timing of it all. It’s very fitting. Personally, I love Valentines Day. I’m also a very festive person so I got really into the theme on the day of my EP release show haha.

What do you hope people take from The Drama?

Cailin Russo: I hope people can take solace in any of the songs from The Drama. That’s what the project did for me.

Cailin Russo © Rebecca Hearn
Cailin Russo © Rebecca Hearn

Every song on this EP is so cinematic, I can’t help but picture these stories on the big screen with your songs as the soundtrack. If you could make a movie out of The Drama, what would that look like?

Cailin Russo: First of all, thank you. I love when my music is considered cinematic. And ooooh if The Drama EP were to be made into a movieeeee I think it would be like Molly’s Game? A little gritty. A little sad, really fast and weirdly triumphant. That’s not my final answer but as of right now that’s the best I can come up with. I think I would love Amy Adams to star in it and Aaron Sorkin to direct it. Ha or maybe I, Tonya, idk check back in with me another time haha.

So you performed “Phoenix” at the League of Legends: how did you get involved with the project and can you tell me more about the behind the scenes of the opening ceremony performance because it was stunning!

Cailin Russo: I got involved through my management, they wanted fresh, up-and-coming artists which was so cool for them to involve me. I think they have a really good eye: every artist they selected love each other, like we fucking love each other! We were so excited. Being in LA or New York, everyone is trying to be cool and play cool shows. There it was like everyone in a video game arena stadium performance like “Let’s get it” it was all out of my element and like we’re all super excited about it. It was amazing! Like I get there and they’re trying to show me a little bit about like the office and the performance and I was just like “I don’t get it you have like all these effects during the performance but how does it work?” And then this year they actually had visible hologram, which was fucking insane! I was like “What do you mean you’re making a hologram?” They’re like “Pretty much we’re gonna have a net in front of the stage so that as you perform there will be holograms projected onto you” I was like “Wow, okay”. And we’d filmed the green screen stuff a couple of weeks, like five weeks before Paris, and so I had seen what we recorded but I was still a little confused because obviously nobody knows what the fuck it’s like to perform with a hologram! And then we get to Paris, we’re doing these rehearsals and there’s a one to one of like the what the actual stage was going to look like because they were putting so much work on the stage and it was crazy! We had to choreograph like walking downstairs and walking upstairs, it was the hardest thing I’ve done in my career. I was like “I don’t want to mess this up” there are literally holograms depending on my climbing like it was insane. So then we get close to the performance day and the whole time I’m like, so goddamn nervous. I’m like “Yo, I can’t fuck this up” , my biggest fear was forgetting the lyrics because I think that’s a very natural fear to have, but also like there were millions of people watching us. So I’m getting all in my head, my team was like “Why don’t you just be yourself onstage?”. I don’t know what else to do with my body. I was just freaking out. Then people were like “Calm down, be yourself, do what you do naturally” because I was getting all in my head, and I watched the footage from the last couple days before and I totally fell back into my own and we did one more rehearsal the night before the actual performance and I was confident, I was like, “Oh my god, this is gonna be fine”. Then the next day, I was super calm and confident and it was amazing, and the team was super happy and everyone was just happy! Nothing went wrong, which is kind of unheard of.

What do you have planned for 2020?

Cailin Russo: I I’m going to do some shows, put out some songs in between, and then I’m going to work on another project because I’m feeling very inspired to work in a studio.

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The Drama Cailin Russo

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