The first time I came across REI AMI it was not through a well-intentioned pitch e-mail or by way of an eerily well-calculated Spotify algorithm. It was during an interview with FINNEAS, the sole producer and brother to Bille Eilish, and it was during that conversation above Hollywood Forever cemetery that I came to discover what exactly excited him so much about the up-and-coming artist with only three singles to her name.
At her core, REI AMI is an artist of duality quite like no other. It is not a duality carefully explored through a large body of work or multiple online personas but one expressed with a reckless abandon, often in less than three-minute outbursts. REI AMI takes the appeal of Gen Z’s distaste for strict genre conventions and sees just how far she can push it. “
MAKE IT MINE,” her debut single, opens in haunting fashion, painting a transfixing picture of ominous pop perfection. Yet, on the same track, we are introduced to an entirely differently REI AMI. Gone is the siren with her cutthroat delivery. Instead, we are thrown down the rabbit hole, left to dance a psychedelic waltz that quickly sputters out of existence. The effect is all the more pronounced on “SNOWCONE,” which balances an impressive chaotic bravado and acoustic melancholic bedroom pop with inimitable ease.
I had the chance to speak to REI AMI, on the set for an upcoming music video, about Sailor Moon, living a double life, and the importance of being both a sad and bad bitch.
Ones To Watch: Who is REI AMI?
REI AMI: REI AMI is me. I grew up watching a lot of Sailor Moon. There are two characters, Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury. Sailor Mars, her name is Rei, she’s like the more hot-headed, very direct, blunt, bad bitch. Then there’s Sailor Mercury, Ami, and she’s still a bad bitch but like, she’s more sweet and sensitive and reserved, and I thought those two characters best represented like, the two polar sides of my personality. I was like this is it! REI AMI sounds so dope. I have an emotional attachment to it. There’s value in that and also it just represents duality. It’s not having to choose between this or that. It’s about embracing both and I feel like I can do that in my music. The transitions, they make sense because I can go from twerking to crying (laughter). Bad bitch to sad bitch, you know?
This idea of duality, from your name to your music, is outright impossible to ignore.
REI AMI, this is who I am, I don’t have to pick and choose just like, let’s fucking go. With "MAKE IT MINE,” “SNOWCONE,” and “DICTATOR,” they all have transitions, so those are like straight REI AMI tracks. Some currently unreleased songs that I have are straight REI tracks or AMI tracks, and if I want to do both it’s REI AMI. But I know that, especially with “SNOWCONE,” my producer Elie and I wanted a drastic switch-up because I go through highs and lows, and I’m not alone in that.
“I want you to feel, and I want you to go from twerking, being a bad bitch to knowing it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be a bad bitch and still be sad.”
I think it’s a very human experience that everyone deals with, and I thought it would be really important and really cool to sonically represent that and allow my listeners to experience what I go through on a daily basis. The reception it’s gotten and the DMs from people telling me how much it meant to them was like the most validating, rewarding thing, because shit like, my song made you feel some type of way. That’s the goal. I want you to feel, and I want you to go from twerking, being a bad bitch to knowing it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be a bad bitch and still be sad.
Yeah, it really gave me the vibe of this girl killing it at the club and then going home and crying in her pillow.
Yes! Like, “Ugh, I hate my life!” Shit like that, we all go through it.
I discovered you in relatively unconventional fashion. FINNEAS, who loved your production—
—and co-signed the fuck out of me!
Yeah, it was an immediate co-sign! He was like, “I only have one One to Watch right now, and it’s REI AMI.”
Oh my God, I’m fucking dead. I just… What the fuck is going on in my life? Like, of all the people, the first song I ever heard from Billie was “COPYCAT,” and I’ve been following her since. She’s obviously a worldwide superstar, and FINNEAS, they work exclusively together, so that story was already so beautiful and appealing, and that’s very much like my producer and I. I work mainly with one collaborator because it works. You know, don’t fix what’s not broken. Obviously, I’m open-minded to working with other people, but what we have is so special, and I feel like I really see that in Billie and FINNEAS’ relationship. So, it was just a very validating thing to get it from FINNEAS. From all of the people, FINNEAS was like, “Yes, REI AMI is that bitch!” Thank you FINNEAS, thank you for understanding!
How did you start making music with your producer?
So, freshman year of college, which was like 5 years ago, so I’ve been recording and writing for five years. I didn’t release anything up until this year just because I felt that I wasn’t ready, and I was still trying to figure out who I was and what kind of message I wanted to spread. You know, I was a dumb bitch, and I was making a lot of sad, heartbreak R&B songs, because I thought that’s what people wanted to hear. R&B is the new pop, I love R&B, and I grew up on it. I was playing it so safe. I wasn’t taking risks. And for the longest time, I wasn’t having fun making music. Then I went through some real fucked up shit in my life earlier this year that spiraled me out of control and put me in a bad place both mentally and physically. I wanted to quit. I was like, “I haven’t released shit so it doesn’t fucking matter, no one’s going to know or care.” But then Elie was like, “No, pull up.”
I went to the studio, I got shitfaced, and he started making a beat. I had a hook written down and it ended up being “MAKE IT MINE.” And the weird breakdown in between was because I was so shitfaced and he intentionally did that so I would stumble on it because he wanted to know what drunk REI would say, and that’s what happened. We shot the video the same night—he literally got up from his producer desk and was like “Uh, so do you want to shoot the video tonight?” I was like, “Say less."
“Why would you want to make another song that sounds like 10 other songs out there? No, just fucking be you. There is no recipe, there is no equation.”
I love it! It feels so organic—all of your music does.
Literally, it’s just us fucking around and bullshitting. And that’s how it should be. That session was the most fun I’ve had in years, and that’s when I realized like if you’re not having fun writing, recording, if you’re not enjoying the process, you need to step back and re-evaluate your whole fucking approach. Like, what’s wrong? What’s good? And for the first time in such a long time, I felt so… myself. And take to mind, the production sonically, everything, is very left-field from what I was making, so I initially did not like the song. I was like this is so different, this is so weird. But then I was like wait, this is how it should be. Why would you want to make another song that sounds like 10 other songs out there? No, just fucking be you. There is no recipe, there is no equation. Fuck the equation, fuck what you want to hear. I want to make the shit that I want to listen to on the daily, on repeat for a week at a time.
I think that’s exactly what Billie and FINNEAS strove to do, and it seems like that’s where you’re headed with your music. There’s no one else out there where I’ve been like, "Shit, she’s a pretty good rapper,” right before throwing me into a sad bedroom pop spiral.
Yeah! And I love hip-hop, I really got into it in high school when my friend put me onto Kendrick’s Section.80. I don’t know much about that genre, because there’s so much to learn and so much that I need to understand and really dive into and study, but Section.80, in terms of storytelling and his vocal abilities, like Kendrick is not just a rapper, he’s a vocalist. The way he delivers vocally was so new to me, and it had such an impact on me. So, I’ve always been a huge fan of rap and hip-hop but I never thought I could do this until this year.
With “DICTATOR,” when I first wrote it, I had gotten my wisdom teeth taken out and I was high as fuck on Vicodin and I was like, “You know what, Imma fucking spit bars because I feel crazy right now.” The first half of “DICTATOR” was all written by myself, me in my room, high as fuck. I ripped a beat off of YouTube, I was like, “I’m going in!” and then I sent it to Elie and he was like “Pull up this weekend, it’ll be produced out and we’ll re-record it, and that’s what happened.”
What does your day-to-day life look like compared to this crazy music life?
(laughter) I am Hannah Montana. I have a full-time day job and they have no idea. I work for a custom packaging company and our biggest client is Sephora, so I oversee all of their international and domestic programs. It’s a nine-to-five, but it’s such a lax company that I can do music and be here and be places, but they have no idea. I’m the youngest in the company by like… a lot! So like they’re not going to be like, "Hey girl, what’s your Instagram, like add me!” (laughter) Like no one’s doing that shit. They think I’m just chilling in LA.
So, what’s next for you?
So I have a series of singles coming out next year with videos and then there’s a fuller length project—a mixtape dropping around May-June, followed by some live shows. It’s crazy, a lot of people are like, “When are you going on tour? When are you performing? I want to see you live!” And as much as I want to perform, I want to get it right. And being the neurotic person that I am, I’m not going to put on a show that’s half-assed. If fans are paying money and coming, giving me their time, I want to make sure it’s worthwhile and the energy I give out, I want it reciprocated. As much as I hate making them wait, like, hey, good things take time and I promise you, it’s going to be such a wild experience. I’m so excited like, oh my God I cannot wait!
With 2019, coming to an end, what was your favorite thing about the 2000s?
Well, okay, I’m sorry but early 2000s pop and music in general I mean come on, the classics like “Milkshakes,” 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop,” “Moneymaker” by Ludacris and Pharrell, the Pussycat Dolls, Fergie, old The Black Eyed Peas, you know. I think that obviously molded my sound like you know, Missy Elliot and Destiny’s Child and Beyonce—oh God when she was just rising and becoming that fucking monster you know? I think I miss 2000s music so much, and it always puts me in a good mood.
What’s your 2020 resolution or goal?
Okay, I mean I want to do COLORS, I want to do Genius videos, I want to do the Teen Vogue Playlist of Your Life, Pitchfork’s Over/Under, Song Association on Elle. I want to do all of those things because those shows on YouTube are how I found some of my favorite artists. I want to go on tour and I just want world domination. I want to go internationally like, ugh I have so many ideas. I want to release the dopest merch where my dog is the brand mascot. I guess touring would be like the ultimate, whether I go on a headlining tour or a supporting tour. Just to be able to go out there on the road and meet my fans. That’s an experience I’ve never had, and I’d love for 2020 to be the year where I do that.
What’s the one thing you wish you could tell 18-year-old REI AMI?
Stop giving a fuck. Just stop. At the end of the day, if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, especially when it comes to the music, stop, grow the fuck up and do what you want. Fuck what other people have to say. It took a long time for me to get there, and I believe synchronicity is very much real and timing is everything, but I just wish I cared a lot less about people and their opinions of me. Be a boss bitch! Goddammit! Stop being a little bitch. That’s exactly what I would say. “Stop being a little bitch, bitch!”
Who are your Ones to Watch?
Ant Saunders. Ant fucking Saunders. His voice is fucking incredible. “Yellow Hearts.” I haven’t been able to stop listening to that. It just puts me in such a good, uplifted, happy mood. His voice is just so rich and so mature.