Photo: Lauren Dunn
The first time I became familiar with REI AMI was at the tail end of an interview with FINNEAS, who played her debut single "MAKE IT MINE" in its entirety, noting the production change-ups and thematic juxtaposition with a childlike fascination. Now, some odd two years later, REI AMI is releasing her most ambitious project to date - FOIL, a ten-track mixtape that aims to capture the same distinctive mood shifts that defined her earliest singles while showcasing a marked evolution.
It is a lofty goal that pays in dividends, as through FOIL's ever-shifting run, REI AMI plays on the dual nature of her name - REI for the fiery Sailor Mars, AMI for empathic Sailor Mercury - to deliver a project that is rarely predictable and not lacking when it comes to standout moments. From brash, in-your-face hip-hop to quiet moments of introspection, the rapidly rising star gives credence to her self-described title of "hello kitty with a knife."
I had the chance to chat with REI AMI via e-mail ahead of the release of FOIL, where we delved into all the run-of-the-mill conversation topics: catching up about the past year, falling in love, and her dog stepping into her role as supreme leader and commander of her devoted fanbase.
Who is REI and who is AMI?
REI is Sailor Mars and AMI is Sailor Mercury from the Japanese anime Sailor Moon. REI is more of a bold, lots of attitude, in your face kind of girl and AMI is more reserved and timid. Both REI and AMI are foil characters of each other, and I resonate with both characters so I like to play their personas in my music.
How does this dual identity inform REI AMI and your sound?
I think the duality aspect definitely helps me experiment more with my sounds and styles. Rather than sticking to just one specific thing, I get to play around with all kinds of sounds. I grew up listening to tons of different music, so having this dual aspect gives me the freedom to experiment.
The idea of a foil to the main character is a staple in most narratives. Are REI and AMI foils to one another? If so, do you consider either side of you to be more of a principal character?
REI and AMI are direct foils to each other because they are so different from each other. REI is represented by the color red and AMI is represented by the color blue. AMI represents the more shy, reserved side of me. REI is more in-your-face and she's all about confidence and being proud of who you are. I don’t think either is more of a principal character than the other. It’s a Ying and Yang kind of thing; you can't have one without the other.
Has this past year affected how you approach music, or more broadly, life in general?
I think that the past year affected my approach when it comes to music and life because it made me realize that literally anything can be taken away from you overnight. It can be gone instantly; the country literally shut down and then we couldn’t leave. I feel like I gained a better sense of having gratitude for the things in my life and I didn’t realize just how much easier music-making was pre-pandemic. Then, during the pandemic, everything was stressful, and I felt very lost sometimes because I think the whole world was feeling lost. It’s kind of easy for you to feel directionless when you’re in the middle of a fucking pandemic. So I would definitely agree and say that the past year affected my approach in music making and art.
Go-to hangover cure? Asking for a friend.
Wow, I’m so glad you asked me this question because I literally had my hangover cure this morning. Pho. It will cure you! It will revive the dead; I swear to God. Just put some sriracha in it and it will wake you right up.
What was it like collaborating with Aminé and Lolo Zouaï for FOIL?
Collabing with Aminé and Lolo was amazing. Just the fact that these incredible artists are on my project is a huge honor. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get in the studio together because of the pandemic but you know everything happened so organically so I can't complain. With Aminé, we sent him a playlist of a bunch of unreleased songs and asked him to pick whatever one he resonated with the most. When he came back with "do it right," we were just so taken back because I just never thought that that would be the song he chose since it’s a slower, more reflective song. Regardless, I'm so glad that he chose "do it right" because he truly made that song so much bigger and better.
With Lolo, she surprised me actually. I had been in New York during Winter 2019 and I was in the studio with Stelios, her primary collaborator, and we tracked "Cherry Chapstick" with an empty verse. I kind of forgot all about it up until November of 2020 when Lolo just randomly hit me with the dropbox link. It was crazy because I was in San Francisco, her hometown, when she sent it. I listened to the entire song with her verse and I was so thrilled because she absolutely BODIED it. Shout out Lolo for just making my day and making so many of our fans excited about it.
What do you hope people take away from FOIL?
I really hope that people realize that it's okay to experiment; it's okay to have more than one aesthetic, it's okay to quit, it's okay to start! Life is life, don't be ashamed and try to hide certain parts of yourself. Whether they’re pretty or ugly, those parts make you who you are so embrace every flaw, mistake, etc. I really hope my fans can listen to this project and know that it is OK to be you entirely.
You've gone from releasing your debut single, "Make it Mine," inking a deal with Visionary Records / Sony Music Entertainment, to releasing your largest project to date, all within the span of two years. What's the most significant thing you've learned about yourself in the process?
Good things take time. I was actually supposed to drop the project back in fall 2020 but I pulled the brakes because I felt that the project, at the time, didn't accurately represent my life and headspace. I had just moved to LA, my team had grown significantly and… I fell in love! So instead, I took a couple months off to focus on the new music and I'm so glad I did. Those extra months gave me the time to live my life, it allowed me to reflect on my past and helped me learn so much about myself.
How is Kyo?
Kyo is amazing. She’s really stepped into her role as the supreme leader and commander of the Reibies so I’m really proud. I think she’s going to ask for a raise, but that’s a conversation that we will have once the project drops. I’ll keep you posted!
What's next for REI AMI?
I think the most immediate thing for me would be taking a fucking nap…but like yeah, merch is coming, tour, shows, lots of exciting things for my Reibies!
Who are your Ones To Watch?
Iamdoechii. My friend Doc, who’s also produced a couple tracks on FOIL, put
FOIL is available everywhere you can stream it.