“Malcolm and I go way back,” Finn Wolfhard begins.
While it might seem a little odd for someone as young as Wolfhard to be talking about going “way back” with anyone, the 18-year-old child star is in a unique position to have a little bit of authority with that kind of language. Thinking back to when he first crossed paths with one of his best friends and closest collaborators, Malcolm Craig, the memories can easily seem like a lifetime ago.
“We met doing a music video thing for this amazing punk band out of Chicago called PUP,” Wolfhard continues. “After that, we started playing music together… he was really the first guy I ever jammed with. Then we did this sort of day camp thing where you learn how to be in a rock band, make music, and jam with people and stuff. It was great.” The PUP music video (and his first encounter with Craig) was back in 2014 when Wolfhard was only 12, two years before he became an international sensation for his starring role in Netflix’s Stranger Things.
After that show launched him into the spotlight, the Vancouver-born actor and artist found himself with a fully booked schedule. He had a leading role in the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s It, starred in a variety of other films and television shows, loaned his voice to audiobooks and podcasts, and directed a short film. In 2021 alone, he’s worked on the new Ghostbusters, the new Pinocchio, Jesse Eisenberg’s new film When You Finish Saving the World, and more. Through it all, his friendship with Craig has been an invaluable outlet, especially on the creative front.
See, while most of Wolfhard’s name recognition stems from his acting gigs, he’s done a good job at staying connected to his love of music. With Craig, he had a vehicle for those expressions, eventually getting the ultimate chance to capitalize on the momentum in 2017, when the two formed the indie-rock band, Calpurnia, with Ayla Tesler-Mabe and Jack Anderson.
“Malcolm and I met Ayla, who introduced us to Jack because they were friends from school,” Wolfhard explains. “At first, we were just gonna make an EP in our basement for fun, but then this record label heard us and signed us pretty much immediately. They basically said, ‘Okay, who do you want to make this record with?’ That was amazing—Twin Peaks is my favorite band, so we said ‘Twin Peaks’ and it came together and happened.”
Looking back on how quickly Calpurnia fell together—and how fun it was to work alongside his heroes in the Chicago mainstay, Twin Peaks—the description Wolfhard conjured was: “It was like a dream.” While he’s had a career that easily eclipses the accomplishments of folks decades older than him, there’s an admirable sense of awareness and humility to the way he talks about things. When an album or artist he admires is mentioned, he lights up with excitement, and when he reflects on how lucky he’s been, there’s a noticeable earnestness backing up his words.
But Calpurnia was more than just a fun episode—as things began to progress and the project started to pick up steam, it quickly snowballed into a pretty big learning lesson.
“Life started to get really complicated,” Wolfhard said. “Touring got really hard because I’d finish up filming on set at 3 or 4 in the morning, hop on a plane, get to the city and play the show… but I’d be exhausted, so I wouldn’t have as much fun as I wanted to. We’re super privileged—the experience was fucking incredible—but it started to take a toll.” Eventually, the pressure became too much and Wolfhard found himself spread too thin—after much deliberation, he made the difficult decision to disband Calpurnia.
“I’m glad I had the strength to be like, ‘Yeah, this is too much for me,’” Wolfhard reflected. “Otherwise, I think it might’ve ruined what I love about music. I wish I could tell some kind of crazy, Oasis-style story or something, but the truth is that we were just a bunch of teenagers in a band, I was getting kinda sick of it and it just fizzled out, so I called it quits. Not everyone was happy, obviously—I’d be pretty unhappy if I was in a band that was touring and one of the members quit. But you’ve gotta do what you want with your life and sometimes that means breaking up a band. I still love all of them, though. I mean, I got to travel the world with my three best friends… it was amazing. I wouldn’t take anything back.”
But right as Wolfhard’s life started to cool off a bit in the post-Calpurnia period, the world changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas just a few months earlier he was longing for a break, he suddenly found himself with an excess of free time.
“Through the first few months of the pandemic, I feel like I went through the equivalent of three years of growth,” Wolfhard said. “I spent a lot of time alone, which gave me the perfect excuse to start looking inside of myself and ask the normal questions a lot of people my age ask. Existential questions, like, ‘Why am I here?’ Then, I got to think about stuff like, ‘Why do people like me? Why am I in this position?’ Up until that point, I never had the time to think about that stuff. Getting to finally dig through that was really helpful—I wouldn’t say that I was, like, an egotistical guy beforehand, but it certainly helped with my ego, making me a good person. I had time to figure out who I am… which is something I’m still doing.”
This period—albeit, born from a turbulent time—ultimately ushered in a paradigm shift for Wolfhard’s life. Thinking about who he is and what he really cares about, he began making moves to start being more mindful with his schedule… and one of the first things he wanted to prioritize was something he had loved doing since before any of the fortune or fame: playing music with Craig.
“When Malcolm and I started jamming together again, we were like ‘Oh, this is what it should be like,’” he said. Removing any of the pressure or contractual obligations from music-making, and having it just be a place where he could express himself and have some fun with a friend, instantly brought Wolfhard back to the same joy he felt as a kid when he first started playing instruments. “That’s when Malcolm and I realized we should just self-record and self-release everything.”
That was the birth of Wolfhard and Craig’s new band, The Aubreys, who made their official debut last year.
Built on the principle of keeping things as DIY as possible, the indie duo largely handles business by texting ideas back and forth. “With most of the stuff, it’d be like: I’d send him a voice memo to see what he thought, then he’d put drums and stuff on it and make it into a full demo,” Wolfhard said. “Or Malcolm would come in with something—he’s amazing because he keeps all of his songs secret.”
Here, Wolfhard’s voice lit up again. “That’s actually the thing I’m most proud of: Malcolm,” he said. “I’m over the moon proud of him. In Calpurnia, he was kinda just laying back and having fun as the drummer, but Malcolm is a true artist. It’s amazing to see. He writes songs that are so much more amazing and complex than anything I could ever imagine. It’s so funny, though, because we would be recording, trying to figure out what to do next, and we’d ask Malcolm, ‘Do you have anything?’ He’d be like, ‘No, not really.’ We’d say, ‘No, come on, you’re hiding something.’ Then he’d open up his iTunes and play a song he was working on and we’d be like ‘Holy shit, this is perfect! Why didn’t you show us this sooner?’ It was really fun.”
With that approach, Wolfhard, Craig, and their team—consisting of R Andrew Humphreys and Twin Peaks’ Cadien Lake James and Colin Croom—created Karaoke Alone, The Aubreys’ debut full-length, which dropped on November 5. Written and recorded over the course of the pandemic, Wolfhard feels as if it might be his favorite thing he’s made to date.
“This is the first thing I’ve written where I really wrote what I felt,” he explained. “I mean, to be honest, with Calpurnia, I was 14 and was just like, ‘Oh man, this is fun.’ The songs were fun, but they didn’t really mean anything. This is the first thing where I’m writing what I feel, which is more mature for me, I guess. They’re not heavy-duty lyrics or anything, but I really mean them.”
With songs that explore the trials and joys of youth—the loss of innocence, the dizzying impact of navigating a pandemic world while trying to become a person—the inventive indie arrangements and memorable melodic lilts lining Karaoke Alone make for a truly impressive debut, clad with danceable bops and moments of honest sincerity.
“What’s funny is, now, when I show this music to anyone, I break out in sweats,” Wolfhard said. “With the Calpurnia stuff, I’d be like ‘Check this out, it’s cool.’ But with this record, if I’m showing it to my friends or family, it is seriously nerve-racking. It feels entirely different. I’m really proud of it.”
Between the lo-fi drive of songs like “Blue” and the title track, and the ethereal soundscapes of tunes like “I Need To Leave The Theater” and “You’ll Have To Wait,” it’s clear that Wolfhard is striving for an artistic standard much deeper and more profound than one might expect. While on the surface, the album is a lot of fun, it also carries a weight to it that makes it more than just a flash of superficial enjoyment. Rather, it captures something deeper, something more revealing of who this modern cultural icon really is.
Releasing this record into the world now, there’s a healthy sense of relief and fulfillment in the air around Wolfhard. Finally getting to engage with music the way he’s always wanted to, he’s also finally getting his work schedule in line with his artistic impulses. And going forward with Craig by his side, the future looks wildly promising.
“This feels really great to say, but I actually don’t really know what we’re going to do next,” he said when asked about his plans. “For now, I’m taking a break for a few months just to hang out and be an adult for the first time. We don’t have a record label telling us what to do—we could do another single, another record, I really have no idea. What I do know is that we’ll keep writing songs. It’s all been really fun, so we’ll see what happens next.”
Photos by Cooper Fox