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GREATEST / Cailin Russo

The anti-pop star on Pink Floyd, love songs and creative evolution. 

Writer: Hannah Jackson Photographer: Jason Renaud Styling: Kyle Bisc Hair: Jerrod Roberts Makeup: Yasmin Istanbouli Photo Assistant: Dev Smith
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Cailin Russo has the type of face you know from somewhere. Maybe you recognize her as one of Rodarte’s FW22 muses, immortalized in an ethereal, balletic portrait, her highlighter-yellow hair clashing with cotton-candy pink surroundings. Maybe you know her from her past-life stint as Justin Bieber’s music-video love interest. Or maybe you’ve just seen her face out in the world, vestiges of her many modeling gigs.

Now, the 28-year-old musician, artist and model is looking inward on her forthcoming album, Influx. The album’s first single, the Andrew Luce-produced “Lonely Estate,” is a hypnotic, heartbreaking tale of a mismatched love between Russo and an ex-partner. 

“Lonely Estates” is just one of many evocative tracks off Influx, an album two years in the making. Her previous musical work includes opening for English musician Shygirl in LA as well as contributing to Kanye West’s Donda, for which Russo earned a Grammy nomination.

Below, Russo talks Pink Floyd’s magnum opus, the power of love songs and her intentional approach to creative evolution.

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Congratulations on “Lonely Estate.” Can you walk me through the process of making the song?

I was working with my friend Andrew Luce, who gave me a lot of time when he was a busy producer. We’d never done a session together, but we share a best friend who I collaborate with a lot. When I came to the session, the song was already very cinematic and sexy. I was seeing this girl [who] gave me the emotional weight that I needed to carry through the song. I was coming to terms with the idea of not being with her because she lived in London, and we never communicated properly. I was able to bring that devastation to the song.

What does “Lonely Estate” tell us about what we can expect from the rest of Influx? 

It's very sexy and mysterious. That's the route I chose to go down. I can't deny my pop desires. It’s sprinkled all throughout the album, but it's a lot more experimental and psychedelic. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was a huge [influence] for me.

You’ve been described as an anti-pop star. I’d love to hear more about your pop influences. 

I do see myself as more of an anti-pop artist, but pop music is the fucking catch. It's the hook. For this project, weirdly, Kylie Minogue was a reference for me. I listened to “Can't Get You Out Of My Head” for probably a year straight. Alanis [Morissette] was a big pop reference for me, too, but you can argue that she's indie.

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There is an assumed pressure surrounding an artist’s sophomore album. How was it working on this project for you?

There was no pressure really. I knew I had a vision. I had a lot of friends that I could rely on to help me sculpt it. I think when I create the next project, I'll feel a lot more pressure. 

How do you overcome creative blocks, whether it's in music or other mediums?

If you focus long enough, you get to a point that ignites your creative senses. There is a point where if you don't have your distractions and you focus on what you're trying to do, you break through some wall. You might not get to where you want to be with a project, but as long as you can create the environment to focus, you'll be fine. I'm a huge collaborator, and the people that I work with are also really imperative to my creative process.

Is there anyone on your bucket list that you're dying to collaborate with?

James Blake is my number one. King Krule, Travis Scott and Rosalía. 

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In addition to making music, you’re also a model and a visual artist. How do your creative pursuits and your various mediums inform each other?

Visual arts directly correlate because you can drop into a Zen state. You can really lose yourself and lose track of time and reality when you're in that zone. Modeling is just a check. I feel so much more connected to art. Art keeps me young; music is serious, and modeling is dope at the right time.

It seems like you have it all figured out!

I'm trying! For me, it’s all about balance. I can't go to the gym and write a song on the same day. It kind of disables a certain part of my brain. I have to be extremely relaxed to write and create.

Maybe this falls within the bounds of “doing it for the check,” but you were one of Rodarte’s muses for their portrait series this past year. What does being a muse mean to you?

Wow, I’ve never thought about that. It feels very flattering and affirming that you can do your own thing and be praised for it. It’s beautiful.

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Conversely, who or what are your muses?

I have a lot of different concepts floating around all the time. I have a boyfriend right now, and he's definitely a muse. I'm gearing up to write a song like “By Your Side” by Sade because it's so good. I'm really interested to see how being in a happy, healthy relationship turns into music. I am trying to channel it into really amazing love songs, because love songs make the world go ‘round.

Do you have other favorite love songs?

“I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder is my favorite love song. “You're Too Precious” by James Blake is another. “HENTAI” by Rosalía is not a love song, but it's so romantic to me.

How have you evolved as an artist since your 2018 record House with a Pool?

Oh my god. I feel like I've done a full 180. So much of my life has changed, and so much of my truth has come forward. I let a lot of time happen in between for me to completely recreate myself. I had to learn so much about patience and the willingness to sculpt. Now, I'm a refined and exciting version of myself. House with a Pool was great, but I was just learning how to walk. I'm not saying I know how to run right now—but I’ve got a steady footing.