"I may have done the things that I've done, but I'm not going to let [them] become my story," is the defiant claim Cailin Russo makes on her new EP, The Drama. Though she passionately tells me this over the phone, she didn't have to. It's a clear narrative that writes itself across the intertwined melodies of the EP's contending guitars and heated drums.
Fittingly, The Drama follows L.A.-based Russo's story – ending an unhealthy relationship, and starting a healthy one with herself. "I was in a relationship with somebody who made me feel so bad all the time. I guess the word for that is 'manipulative.' I couldn't help but write songs about how much I was in the wrong, but I was never in the wrong. In reality, he really fucked me. There's a turning point in the EP where I'm like, 'actually, this is bullshit.'" Her muted rage is splattered all over the seven-track release, liberating her from the confines of a heartbreak formula. There is no slow ballad asking for him back, no tears cried over sullied memories. Just a girl with a razor sharp voice and a fleet of battle-ready instrumentals at her heels. "I was able to package how I'm feeling so nicely in a cathartic way," she shares excitedly before exclaiming "she's back and better than ever, baby!"
Even over the phone, entire coastlines apart, Russo's magnetic energy pulls me in. Her words aren't chosen carefully, they're stripped naked for everyone to see the person they represent without a shadow of a doubt. "Fucking" is revealed to be a favoured adjective, and it immediately puts me at ease. It's clear this is a woman who isn't trying to hide, she's trying to be heard. A desire she brazenly pens on the opening track "Declaration" — a suave alt-rock composition marked by a thrumming bass line and sultry vocals. Coolly announcing "this is a declaration of a fuck up", she shares this gritty anthem with anyone who is willing to admit they're only human, after all.
"I love making things poetic and embellishing them but I'm never going to be the girl who's singing about any tormented souls, or fucking death, or making it more than it needs to be." It's a stark statement from a songwriter, but perhaps one that needs to be said more often. Russo's greatest strength isn't found in her audacious vocals or ability to make punk more accessible. It's in the fearless way she dives right into a song, ignorant to the rules and accepting of any words that come to mind. From the simplicity of "You Touch Me, I Touch You Back" to the raw confessions of "Sicko".
Listening to The Drama, you'd be hard-pressed to name a more honest or refreshing voice. Perhaps it's the rebellious marriage of synth pop and punk rock, or the undressed lyrics that build her up so much, but whatever it is — it's all unapologetically her own. A practice she faithfully lives by, and suggests others do the same. "Always listen to your gut. It will not lie to you," she fervently starts on her most prized piece of advice. "I think your intuition is your strongest suit as a woman. To truly make it and understand who you want to be, you have to be honest with yourself. Be patient and persevere. Nobody else can be you. So you have to take what you are and fucking drive it to the fucking moon."
Whether she's made it to the moon yet or not, we won't know. Because in her words, she admits to not knowing whether she even scratched the surface of what she wants to do with her art. But if this is surface, I am happy to lend a shovel and start digging.
Catch Russo alongside Brasko at her EP release party tonight at the Moroccan Lounge.