Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“When I'm stuck writing a song, I realize that the song
will stay with me until it needs to. It can be
a great friend and something to return to every single night.”
— Lola Kirke
Lola Kirke is an English-American actress and singer-songwriter. She starred in popular Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle (2014-18) and in Greta Gerwig’s Mistress America (2015). Kirke is the daughter of Simon Kirke, drummer for the English rock band Bad Company, and sister to Jemima Kirke of the HBO show Girls (2012-17). Her debut album is Heart Head West (2018).
Actress and singer-songwriter Lola Kirke began her musical journey in 2016 when she released her self-titled EP. The collection of four songs introduced her country rock influence and breathy vocals, a shift from her steadily growing acting career that includes major roles in Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle (2014-18), Mistress America (2015), and Gone Girl (2014). Kirke has since released three singles from her debut album, Heart Head West (2018), delving into themes of self-esteem, alienation, and longing. She recorded the album in East Los Angeles with partner and producer Wyndham Garnett. Kirke spoke with us about exploring the difference between acting and music, her album title, and her love of dad rock.
Where are you from?
I’m from New York, but I live in Los Angeles. I am also sort of from London.
When did you start making music?
In the early nineties, there were these keychains that you could talk into, and it would play yourself back to you. It was amazing. I think I wrote my first song on a Yak Pak when I was five. Then I took a long break and started making music again when I was 18 with a ukulele.
Who did you listen to growing up?
I listened to all sorts of different music. I’ve always been a dad rock fan. I remember waking up in the back seat of the car when I was a kid to the guitar solo in “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” that Led Zeppelin song, and being like, “What is this guys?” They told me what it was, and that was kind of the beginning of my introduction into rock’n’roll.
The music that inspires me the most now would be if you could take Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and draw a family tree that goes down. It would be Gene Clark, Gram Parsons, all of their solo bands. Then it would peter out into all these other bands. That would be the core of my musical taste.
How did you get started?
I had an all-girl country band in college. That was the first time I started playing music publicly. Then that petered out, and I was writing songs alone. I would always bring my guitar with me when I would shoot movies because being on location can be incredibly lonely.
When you’re a band and you tour with your friends, you’re going to a new place every single night. When you’re an actor, oftentimes, you’re completely alone and they just plop you into the middle of nowhere because they have really good tax incentives there. It sounds so corny, but my guitar kept me company. I found that songs actually kept me company too. When I’m stuck writing a song, I realize that the song will stay with me until it needs to. It can be a great friend and something to return to every single night.
My partner and the producer of both my record and EP, Wyndham Garnett, was like, “You should make a record,” and I was like, “Okay, cool.” Then we made a record and it was really fun.
“If there was a through line on this record, it might be about longing. Heart Head West was a line about a longing—specifically a longing to be where you aren’t.”
— Lola Kirke
When do you feel you got your first break?
Now. My first break as a musician. Right now people are actually paying attention to my music for the first time, separate from certain characters I’ve played. A lot of times I would play shows in the middle of nowhere for very few people, and people that would come would be fans of a character.
They wanted me to be an oboist because I played an oboist on TV for a while. It was exciting that people would show up in that way, but it was also like, “That’s not why I’m here.” Now people are beginning to pay attention to the music, and it’s a really strange feeling. It’s affirming in a way I never expected to be affirmed.
Your debut album is about to release. How did it come about?
It came about pretty organically. I had made this EP, and then I was touring the EP for a while with a bunch of musicians who were so supportive of me and liked the music. They were like, “You should make a record.” And when enough people say that to you, those things that feel like they might be far off or out of reach begin to seem like a possibility.
So, I got together with this group of musicians that I’d been playing with for a while, and we went to this studio in Boyle Heights. We recorded everything live to tape. All of the songs were written in 2017, and they are about a range of things. There’s not one specific through line, except things I think about excessively.
“A lot of my work is kind of born of low self-esteem, and I don’t know that I would have much to make if I wasn’t constantly trying to resolve something or affirm something for myself.”
— Lola Kirke
What is the meaning of the name Heart Head West?
It’s a version of a line from the song “Out Yonder”. If there was a through line on this record, it might be about longing. Heart Head West was a line about a longing—specifically a longing to be where you aren’t. The west is such a symbol of freedom, both personal and political.
What are some things that are important to you that you like to address through your music?
Specifically longing, not just longing for other people, but longing for things that you want for yourself. A lot of my work is kind of born of low self-esteem, and I don’t know that I would have much to make if I wasn’t constantly trying to resolve something or affirm something for myself.
I hope that other people can feel seen in their own struggles with self-love through my music. Music is capable of doing that because there are many artists who have made me feel like the deepest, darkest reaches of my soul are in good company.
“As an actor, I am using myself to become or express a different person… As a musician, I am becoming the greatest version of myself.”
— Lola Kirke
As a means of expression, how does that compare or contrast to your work as an actor?
I have so many questions about what acting really is, but as an actor, I am using myself to become or express a different person. If I do my job at my best, then people will believe that I am another person. As a musician, I am becoming the greatest version of myself. I’m coming into an awareness about that distinction. One is about transforming into other people, and one is about transforming into me.
Sons of an Illustrious Father
New York City band Sons of an Illustrious Father features musicians Lilah Larson, Ezra Miller and bassist Josh Aubin. They have released one EP, Sons (2015), and two albums: Revol (2016) and Deus Sex Machina: or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla (2018).
Amo Amo is rock band consisting of longtime friends Omar Velasco, Shane Mckillop (Gardens & Villa), Justin Flint, Love Femme and Alex Siegel. Their debut album, recorded by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, is scheduled for release this fall.
Emmylou Harris is an American singer-songwriter and musician who has released 30 albums over the span of her career and won 14 Grammys. She has worked with numerous artists including Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I already am grateful to get to collaborate with so many people. My friends are all incredible musicians. From my friend Cornelia Murr to Lilah Larson, who I was just playing with and who is in Sons of an Illustrious Father and Amo Amo. The list goes on, but those are people I’m already grateful to collaborate with. It would be cool if Emmylou Harris wanted to sing with me.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
People. I am very passionate about acting, reproductive rights, changing the world, being a source of love and light, and seeking out others who want to do the same. And happiness.
What’s your favorite book, film, and music right now?
I got turned onto this Fleetwood Mac record I never heard before called Future Games, which is really incredible. It’s pre-Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
I’m reading A Dream of Passion by Lee Stroudsburg right now. A lot of people think of acting as just this thing that people do, and not as an art form. It’s been really exciting for me to read about people who are not taking a passive approach towards acting, and to develop even more respect for this thing that I already love so much.
Written and directed by Robert Altman, Three Women (1977) is an American avant-garde drama film starring Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule. It depicts the relationship between a woman and her roommate in an mysterious California desert town.
I just rewatched Three Women. I said that was my favorite film when I was a teenager because I wanted to sound cool. I rewatched it a couple weeks ago, and I was like, “Oh, I didn’t get that movie at all.” Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule, all of those performances in that movie are incredible. And I love Robert Altman’s filmmaking.
›› ISSUE Feature: Fashion Series & Interview with Lola Kirke circa 2016