You might have met Lola Kirke as Greta in David Fincher's Gone Girl, Tracy in Noah Baumbach's Mistress America, or as Hailey Rutledge in the Golden Globe winning Amazon show Mozart in the Jungle. This week we want you to meet Lola Kirke, the musician. Semaine catches the twenty-seven-year-old singer on her way to an artist residency in Nantucket, a tiny, isolated island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. “I’ve never been to one. I feel like a real adult; I am officially invited.” She smiles.
Earlier this summer, Lola released her first album, “Heart Head West,” a follow-up to her 2016 debut EP. “When I was younger, I didn’t believe in myself to have the sensibility, the magical power to do rock and roll. I still don’t honestly. I am going to this songwriting retreat terrified; I still feel like a fraud. A listener, a lover, but not a maker. But I had to take the opportunity.”
There was little chance that creativity was missing from Lola’s genetic code. Her father, Simon Kirke, is an English rock drummer best known as a member of Free and Bad Company, while her mother Lorraine owned a vintage clothing store In New York: Gemiola, which received widespread recognition when Kirke’s designs were featured in “Sex and the City.” Her sister Domino is a doula and a singer, and Jemima, a painter and actress, best known for her work on the culture-defining HBO series Girls (and also one of Semaine’s favourite past Tastemakers).
“I didn’t know there were other options than to be an artist” she laughs. “It’s amazing to grow up around so much color and vibrancy but artists entertain complex relationships to their emotions and personal lives, so it also came with deep pain and difficulty. My dad is very helpful in a classical way and talking to Jemima about acting is something I have grown to adore. I admire my sister Domino’s songwriting, and we often discuss the difficulties of the business. I have so much respect for all of them as artists. Even my mother is one. It’s the way that she sees colour and space: She is the true genius of the family. As I get older, I realize I took it for granted when I was younger, but she is just a savant.”
Her first music memory goes back as far as she can remember: “I remember falling asleep at the back of my parent's car, on a long drive and waking up to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zepplin, and it was at its climax. And I remember thinking: “What is this? I need to know everything about it”. Beginning at age 10, I started my encyclopedic pursuit of knowing everything that I could about rock and roll.” At Bard College, Lola formed an all-female country band of four friends with whom she performed her first gigs. “I had always seen and thought that making music was reserved for men. So I created my own all-girl country band. We did not consider ourselves to be skilled musicians, but it was a space to experiment. Country music is famously said to be three chords and the truth.”
The ten track album “rollicking and guitar-driven, overlaid with her lilting, smoky voice” as the New York Times describes it, was recorded with the help of Lola’s boyfriend Wyndham Garnett near their home in the San Rafael Hills area of Los Angeles. “You can hear a similarly deep reverence for the folk-rock heroes of the 1960s and '70s in Kirke’s twanged-out debut album, with nods to the Laurel Canyon scene of Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and particularly Gram Parsons” adds Newsweek. “Gram Parsons was this musician who came from Northern Florida but had a very southern sensibility,” explains Lola. “He loved country music. He had money and was able to hang out with rock stars like the Rolling Stones. It is because of him that you see this fusion between rock and roll and country music. I think it is from there that we get that term Cosmic American. You can look it up”.
‘The narrative focus of country became superimposed on the more urban concerns of rock so instead of statements of desire or anger followed by exclamatory choruses this new form takes the listener on often both a psychological and physical journey – short stories in three-minute forms”. Explains Michael Grimshaw about the meaning behind Cosmic American in his essay “Redneck Religion and Shitkickin’ Saviours: Gram Parsons, Theology and Country Music”. Yes, We’ve done our research. “I Identify with Cosmic American because I don’t consider myself a country musician. Country is such a vast and specialized field that I am inspired by but do not belong quite yet. In the same way, rock and roll has always been close to my heart. Maybe it’s country music with a drop of acid?”
Her album addresses incredibly personal topics: "Basically everything I thought about in 2017 - time, family, loss, social injustice, sex, drinking, longing - essentially everything I'd talk about with a close friend for 40 minutes." A creative release and freedom she was missing from her acting career: “Acting has always been an amazing mode of expression for me. But you can’t just really go and act. You can work on monologues in your own time, but you have to wait for somebody to cast you. That was something that appeals to me about writing songs. It was on my terms. I normally shoot a 15-hour day and then come home and write songs all night.”
However, exposing of one vulnerability can be challenging. “It is terrifying yet somehow interesting to read reviews.” She explains. “For so long, songwriting has been the most private thing in the world. It was something that happened between one and five in the morning when I was drunk and completely alone. It seems like such a wild ride; getting this record made and working with people that like it and want to push in this commercial way. Watching it transform from my private Idaho into this place where anybody can go. Seeing a response that goes from utter confusion, not liking it, or people loving it. It’s something I need to get used to. I had read reviews of films I have done before, and if a film doesn’t get a good review, well it’s not my problem. I know I did my best, that there are so many people involved in the film. But this review felt like a direct criticism of myself. I had to spiritually remind myself of that because it’s not that important at the end of the day.“
Lola spent much time touring and playing on stage with her band. “I am growing to love it, but it was confusing for a long time. I have always felt comfortable on stage as an actress, but there was a confidence that was completely missing from being on stage as a musician. The answer was doing it more. You can’t become great unless you are everything else on the way to being great. Sometimes that means being really shitty on stage. I discuss with my sister Domino the difference between performing and channeling. A lot of the songs that I’ve written are about things that are painful for me and sometimes those feelings get wrapped up again. I feel that emotion so strongly that I almost cry, but the thing is you can’t cry otherwise you sound like shit. Surrounding myself with musicians who support me both emotionally and musically. I have been fortunate to have found people who hold me up and make me able to shine to the best of my abilities.”
“Off-camera, Lola has amassed a reputation as a frank and outspokenly feminist celebrity figure. In April, after New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane described her character in the thriller Gemini as “hardly flattering,” quibbling with her baggy outfits and a “haircut from hell,” Kirke pushed back and sent the magazine a strongly worded letter to the editor” explains Newsweek. Her latest video, a collaboration with Mara McKevitt, is a tentative to reconcile how women represent themselves. “I was reading this amazing essay by Roxanne Gay about women in reality TV and gender. She defines gender as a performance of a performance, of a performance. Constantly mimicking itself and without ever having a true sense of what gender is. I find this idea very interesting: ‘the performance of gender.’ That there are so many things to rub up against in within that performance. One of them is sexual freedom. That song came from a place of not feeling like many songs address female sexual desire. The video is getting at that. I want to perform in my videos in a way I have not been invited to in film, yet. I want to play the role of a woman who is sexually frustrated; what a complicated character and performance that could be.”
“Every song I ever write comes from a place of heartbreak.” She explains when we ask about where she finds her inspiration from: “Not necessarily over a person but over the world or myself. I feel so grateful that songwriting became a tool for reconciling my sadness. Because for a long time I didn’t have anything. I was just sad. I’ve always only written songs from a place of extreme pressure...that makes me nervous because I’m heading to this songwriting retreat feeling super happy. However, I’m sure I will find something to be depressed about eventually.”
By Marie Winckler for Semaine.