People used to tell Julia Wolf to smile more. Happily for all of us, the SUNY Purchase grad is now getting the last laugh.
It all started when the Queens-based singer-songwriter found she was receiving an awful lot of comments (mostly from men) on her appearance and face as she trudged through frustrating early career years where she just wanted to release music that aligned with her vision. Wolf had a crystal-clear goal for her sound, but she’d send demo after demo to producers only to get songs back that felt unrecognizable. When pushing back, she was labeled ‘nitpicky’ and ‘hard to work with.’ Recognizing her career was at-risk of stagnation, her father proposed they move back to Italy, where her family is from. (Eventually, they moved back to Queens.)
Now with a Times Square billboard and official Spotify single to her name — not to mention over 500,000 monthly Spotify listeners — she’s in the driver’s seat of her artistic journey and working with a producer who understands her path. Hitting back at the people who’ve tried to knock her down, she just released a sharp-tongued set of songs called ‘RBF: Part 1’ and ‘RBF: Part 2,’ claiming the ‘resting bitch face’ for her own and channeling it into empowering anthems.
Wolf checked in with Quadio about how she’s stayed true to her creative vision, what her life might’ve looked like if her family had moved to their native Italy instead of Queens, and why songwriting has turned her from an introverted high schooler to a budding pop sensation.
Start us at the beginning.
I really began to write songs in high school, when I would eat lunch alone; I was such a loner kid. It wasn’t until my music teacher told me that I needed to perform an original song if I wanted to perform in the senior showcase, which made me freak out. I was so embarrassed of myself back then, but I discovered that by writing music, I could let people know what’s going on without directly talking to them. And that’s what got me into really loving songwriting.
How would you define your sound now and who are your biggest influences?
My sound takes a lot of influence from hip hop. I love the 808s, I love the trap drums, but then at the same time, there are indie influences in there. But I've always loved rap — my number one is Jack Harlow. I’ve been a fan of his since before he blew up because his grind, work ethic and content are so inspiring. Ashnikko, SAINt JHN, Doja Cat, Drake — those are other big ones for me.
You studied songwriting at SUNY Purchase. Do you have any tips for people who are trying to do music and college full-time?
Try to learn as much as you can, put the hours in and teach yourself things because there are so many options out there. You can be self-sufficient and execute a lot of your creative assets on your own if you want it enough — sometimes, it’s the best way to find yourself and bring your artistic vision to life. Past that, and this is simple but very hard to stick with, you just need to never give up. Always have your goal list to go back to, always be attacking your to-dos, big and small. It’s about how badly you want it and how far you’re willing to go, even if there’s no end in sight.
You had several years where you were struggling to get your music heard. Because of that, your family nearly moved to your native Italy to see if that would help. Do you ever think about what your career would be like if that had happened?
I think about it all the time because the timing of the move to Queens, instead of Italy, worked so well. Choosing to stay here is the reason that we're talking right now. But people make it in the industry overseas first before in the States, so I thought, "Okay, maybe there's room for me over there to find my way." But honestly, we were going to move to such a small town, who knows what would have happened. I wouldn't have given up, but there would’ve been way more ‘what ifs.’ So I'm very happy that we stayed.
What did it feel like in your early days to feel like nobody was understanding your vision?
Before I met Jackson Foote, my producer, everything was a struggle. It felt like year after year of trial and error. I refused to put anything out, even though I went through all of college and got my degree, I still couldn't put anything out until it was absolutely perfect. The feedback I got was so frustrating — everyone was just calling me nitpicky, but I just felt like I was really dead set on what I wanted to make, and nobody was getting it. That was so alienating that I even taught myself how to produce, but the mixes still weren’t quite right until I began to work with Jackson.
As your career takes off, how do you maintain your authenticity as an artist?
I'm very ready for that challenge. I feel like up to this point, I've just promised myself to be completely true to who I am. The reaction from the fans and the DMs that I get saying how helpful it is to hear me talk about things, that’s what motivates me so much to just stay genuine. When I write songs, I find it important to only write on what I know and what I've experienced. I've tried writing about imaginary situations or other people’s stories, but it always comes out so corny. I just stick to the basics and I feel like that's what keeps it quality.
You sometimes weave Italian into your music. What’s it like writing in two languages, and how has the fan reception been? Would you ever consider doing a full project in Italian?
The fans have reacted well, and it's really exciting to see them show love for it. It’s definitely tricky to formulate what I want to say and, at the same time, make sure everything still rhymes. I thought it’d come naturally, but it can be difficult. I probably won’t do a full project in Italian, that’s not my priority, but maybe a song.
Let’s talk about RBF, the concept — and the song.
People have always told me to smile more, but to me, there’s a relaxing, empowering element to it. When you just act nice all the time, people mistake your kindness for weakness. I’ve been walked over so many times, often when trying to get my music out there, because I’ve just been polite and quiet. ‘RBF: Part 1’ is about the upside to having a resting bitch face.
‘RBF: Part 2’ is more of a way to defend myself about my resting bitch face. I explain how it’s not me being bitchy — it’s actually me being shy. And yet I get called standoffish when I’m not just sitting still and looking pretty. I know a lot of girls can relate — being told we’re hard to approach or difficult to work with — when really we’re just nervous and trying to keep our heads down. With these two parts of the song, I wanted to explain how RBF can be something to own, something to be empowered by, while also hitting back at people who have tried to tear me down for it.
Do you remember the first time someone told you you had an RBF?
I don’t remember the exact first time that a man told me to smile more, but it happens all the time, with catcalling on the street or just out at a party. “Oh babe, smile more,’ they’ll say. And I’m just like, ‘For you? Absolutely not.’ I’m just living my life, I’m doing me. I’m not going to change for anyone. But, truly, all the time, people say that to me. It would happen in sessions, too — men would try to explain to me how production works. I’d be told that a certain kick should be a different way, or whatever. And I was like, well-aware of how production worked the whole time. I taught myself how to produce... duh! So I cut all those people off, they didn’t serve me and my goals.
What is the Julia Wolf world that you hope to bring your fans into?
The world I want to build for fans is one that is female-centric and infused with horror, mythology and fantasy. I’ve taught myself photoshop so that I can craft a lot of my art for releases and social media, and I love to bring in darker elements, like glowing eyes, fangs, blood, coffins, you name it. My brand that I’m working on is called ‘Girls In Purgatory,’ which falls in line with that. Ultimately, I want to make a space for anyone to feel like they can be themselves. I’ve dealt with a lot of BS from people as I’ve tried to make it in this industry, just by being myself.