Russo Reclaims Pop with Debut Album House with a Pool
Photos / Danielle DeFoe
Stylist / Donna Lisa
Hair / Johnny Stuntz at Crosby Carter Management
MUA / Lilly Keys @ Exclusive Artist Management
Story / Talullah Ruff
We approach a trailer at the dead of night, camera unsteady, to come upon the band crowded inside. The lens warps our view of dead-eyed stares, gritted teeth, and glistening sweat. Bodies bend against the walls and ceiling as if their frenetic playing is barely contained. Cailin Russo- bandleader, singer, and songwriter- is the only one who gives the camera any attention (primarily through an uninterested side-eye). Her calm immediately juxtaposes the rest of the band’s vigor: she is the centrality, standing tall in leather chaps as the camera swings around her. This is how the four-piece LA band Russo is introduced to us in their first ever music videos: with a bang.
You might have heard Cailin Russo’s name before. You might know her as the daughter of Unwritten Law’s Scott Russo, or the pouty blond love interest from Justin Bieber’s “Confident” and “All That Matters” videos. She was also an American Apparel model, and if you stumble upon her Instagram account (450,000 + followers and counting), you’ll understand why. Regardless, Cailin is no stranger to popularity.
Russo was born of the shift from Cailin’s solo work: her three previous singles “September Rose,” “Hierarchy,” and “Pink Sand” (2017) released to high praise from the likes of Harper’s Bazaar and hundreds of thousands of Spotify listeners. But with a transitioning sound, the music demanded support from a band.
“We all kind of clicked, it’s been really exciting and it’s all just come together so quickly. It became this mind of its own,” Cailin says. Haley Brownell, drummer and backing vocalist in Cailin’s solo act, had been roommates with Sean Ritchie. The two discussed Sean coming in to support Cailin’s new music on bass. With the combination of Tyler McCarthy on guitar, the band’s immediate rapport was undeniable. Sean agrees, “It’s just been one of those really fortunate circumstances where we all vibe really, really well together- and that’s not easy to find.”
Now- less than a year into the band’s relationship- they’ve amassed similar stats on their debut album House with a Pool, and opened for pop artists Jessie Ware and Madison Beer on tour.
The band cites heroic influences, such as Pink Floyd, No Doubt, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. The most obvious nod is “Lonely,” with a memorable ominous bassline, Cailin’s reverberated shrieks, and considerably starker production in relation to the album’s other songs. “Bad Things” also has the bones of a pop-rock head-nodder, resembling newer Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. The verses are similarly uncluttered in the way of instrumentation, leading the way for a harder hitting, fuzzed-out guitar and Cailin’s falsetto to lift the song in the chorus. The rest of the album has the feeling of that house with that pool: California air with a beat you can strut to, visions of the sunset over the mountains, lights reflecting the pool water on the wall…
This is not the gritty production or hard-hits of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Russo is a band contrived of the new pop-grunge: their recordings are radio-ready, but their true soul inhabits their live performances. “Interacting onstage and performing live … our chemistry just works well together, that is really where we are our most comfortable,” says Sean when asked about the band’s live dynamic. Sean discusses how the band’s space is onstage, and how easily it comes together is like no other band he’s been in before. Sean’s reverence for the band’s live energy is affirmed by the vitality they bring to the songs in an authentic setting. With no discernable backing tracks and glossy effects to hide behind, what’s left is simply the raw energy of a good band having fun playing their music.
While their style is not necessarily as cohesive as the “Lonely” video’s leopard prints and polka dots would suggest, both Cailin and Sean agree that style is important to each bandmate and something they’re all still figuring out. Both seemed prescient that their style so far- while nodding to ‘90s predecessors- is rooted in pop culture.
Either way, with the band’s towering influences, Cailin’s already established popularity, and a growing fan base, I ask Cailin how she aims to make her mark and affect her audience in this saturated landscape. “I think just being honest in situations is the way to connect with people… if you’re honest with the things you experience, chances are someone else has experienced it,” her voice rises as she becomes more impassioned. “Telling people what to do and being a role model, I don’t [think] that’s comfortable… I just try to be the best version of myself and then if people can connect and feel they can understand, then that would be ideal.”
While the deepest Russo may go on House With a Pool is “angsty” (as Cailin describes “Lonely”), the band is forging their way to eminence with infectious, grit-tinged pop and spirited live performances, proving to the masses that talent behind the recordings is not a dead art. This band is fun to look at, fun to listen to, and they know how to rock out for real- somebody alert the media that talent is trendy again.
Sean – billy Los Angeles jacket & pants, shoes – converse Hayley- I am Gia Top, style mafia pants, doc marten boots Cailin – rusty cuts jacket, I am Gia pants, modern vice boots Tyler – billy Los Angeles tee and shirt, off white jeans. Saint Laurent shoes (Tyler)
Tyler- Saint Laurent head to toe Cailin – billy Los Angeles Top, I am Gia pants. Hayley – style Mafia Top and pants. Sean – Laer jacket, vintage shirt, chapter pants
CONNECT WITH RUSSO: