Finn Wolfhard Preserves the Aubreys as His DIY "Breeding Ground for Creativity"
With a self-recorded new single, "Running," the 'Stranger Things' star is making music on his own terms
Published Nov 08, 2023Right now, Finn Wolfhard should be preoccupied with Stranger Things, the fifth and final season of which was supposed to film this year. When Exclaim! reaches the actor on a Zoom call, however, he's in Portland in the midst of a road trip with his friends — exactly the kind of a thing a normal 20-year-old would do, and not a celebrity with 24 million Instagram followers.
"We drove up the coast, on the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway], and checked out Northern California and stuff," he explains. "So now we're just on the way back to Vancouver."
This moment of youthful freedom was afforded by the actors' strike, which brought production on Stranger Things to a halt back in May. Wolfhard has been spending the time since then in his hometown of Vancouver, where he's been living for around a year following a stint in Los Angeles. He's also been using his unexpectedly flexible schedule to make music with his garage rock duo the Aubreys, with whom he just released a new single, the ascendent slacker-psych pop ditty "Running."
"It's been great — being able to focus 100 percent on music is a really fun and rewarding thing to do," the singer-guitarist enthuses, going on to describe the extremely humble origins of the new single, which the band self-recorded in their jam space alongside fellow Vancouver indie rockers Punching Knives.
Wolfhard has been making music with his Aubreys bandmate, drummer Malcolm Craig, for half his life. He was just 10 when the pair met on the set of PUP's 2014 video for "Guilt Trip," in which Wolfhard played a young version of frontman Stefan Babcock.
"I started playing and jamming with other kids after that video came out, because I felt more confident that I could maybe play in a band because of these kids that I met, and playing with Malcolm."
By the time he and Craig formed their teenage four-piece Calpurnia, Stranger Things was already an enormous hit, thrusting the burgeoning band into the spotlight. While other songwriters have the chance to develop their craft in private, Wolfhard suddenly found himself on large festival stages as well as the cover of Exclaim! Magazine.
"A lot of people just thought it was a gimmick when I first started, because it's an easy thing to assume," Wolfhard reflects, calmly acknowledging the unique circumstances that have surrounded his music career. "We were basically ready to make an EP on our own, in our basement. And then we got a record deal offer. And so it was one of those things where it's like, 'Well, we can't say no to that.'"
Calpurnia broke up in late 2019 and the Aubreys released their first single just a couple months later, in early 2020. Unlike the sudden attention that was thrust upon Calpurnia, the Aubreys have been taking things more slowly, playing scattered shows and self-releasing the full-length Karaoke Alone in 2021 (produced by members of Twin Peaks, who also worked with Calpurnia). They've stayed out of the spotlight, as much as is possible for someone as famous as Wolfhard; acting remains his livelihood, while the Aubreys have become a DIY vehicle for self-expression rather than career ambition.
While fans tend to approach actors' musical side-projects with a healthy degree of skepticism, the most remarkable thing about the Aubreys is how easy it is to forget that the band features the kid from Stranger Things. Wolfhard is charismatic on the mic, on "Running" going from a drawling sing-speak in the verse to a giddy falsetto in the chorus, with the group's stylistic palette incorporating dreamy folk on this year's single "Kato" and synth-anchored new wave on Karaoke Alone's title track.
"Really, right now all I need is distribution," he says of his laid-back approach to the music biz. "Because I work so much as an actor, I just put [music] out and don't worry about a full-blown publicity release tour. That is something that I'm interested in doing, and putting out another full-length record one day and doing a tour and all that stuff. But I know that, when I go back to Stranger Things 5, I'll be tied up for the next little while."
He adds, "It'll never be quote-unquote traditional, because of the kind of career that I've had and the audience I have. But I do think that I'm finding my own way of using music as a breeding ground for creativity."
When balancing acting fame with being an indie musician, he has looked to his Stranger Things costar Joe Keery, who makes psych pop as Djo, as a guide. "When I met Joe, it was so inspiring to me — it made me want to start writing songs. So I would do little things and write little songs and get his advice," Wolfhard remembers. "He's always been a real lifeline when it comes to music for me, because he introduced me to a lot of people who really shaped the way that I look at music."
The Aubreys have even worked with Keery, who helped mix their 2020 single "Smoke Bomb." It's all part of the way Wolfhard has conducted his career with the Aubreys: assembling a community of friends and collaborators, and avoiding the machine of the music industry in favour of a DIY approach.
He's still tapped into where it all began: that PUP video in 2014. When I ask him if he ever speaks to the members of PUP, he's quick to answer.
"I just saw [guitarist] Steve [Sladkowski] the last time I was in Toronto, like probably a month and a bit ago. Stefan is someone I like to talk to and get advice from, as well, because I always try to stay in touch with people who were very influential in how I started to write and create music. So all those people — PUP, and Joe, and the Twin Peaks guys Cadien [Lake James] and Clay [Frankel] and Colin [Croom]. I wouldn't be as passionate about music or have found my way of doing it without them, so I try to keep contact with all of them."