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Lola Kirke Is Finding Her Voice


Lola Kirke grew up in a world where everyone was famous and everyone made art. She also grew up in a world where rock music was made by men. These two facets of her unique childhood have shaped the path of her young but already remarkable life as an artist — and the order of the hyphens that precede her name.

The actress-turned-singer was born in London and raised in New York City music and fashion circles by her father, Simon Kirke, the drummer of English supergroup Bad Company, and her mother Lorraine Kirke, designer and owner of cult West Village boutique Geminola. Surrounded by artists as an adolescent, pursuing acting seemed natural to Lola, the youngest of the multi-talented Kirke brood who watched her sisters, actress Jemimah (of Girls fame) and doula-musician Domino go on to creative careers.

Kirke started acting when she was 10, attended Bard College, and had a breakout year in 2014 when she made her debut in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle co-starring as Hailey Rutledge, an aspiring classical oboist opposite Gael García Bernal, scored a role in David Fincher’s Gone Girl (as motel rat Greta, who befriends and then robs Amy), and was cast in Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s hilarious dramedy Mistress America.

“I only knew a world where music was dominated by men, and women had a very specific role as wives and girlfriends and daughters.”

The world of acting was one she entered with relative ease and didn’t doubt her place in. Music, however, which she’d been introduced to through a childhood on the peripheries of the hyper-masculine ’70s British rock scene via her father’s career, felt unwelcoming. “I started acting both professionally and as a hobby long before I dared to pick up an instrument or start writing songs,” she says. “I only knew a world where music was dominated by men, and women had a very specific role as wives and girlfriends and daughters.

It has taken the 28-year-old years and the discovery of a group of female musician peers to wrest herself from the role of “daughter of a rock star” — to carve out a space in music aside from the leather pants, pelvic thrusting, groupies and “baby, baby” lyrics of her father’s world, where she could see herself.

It’s a testament to the insidiously pervasive power of male-dominated, often-misogynistic rock culture, that a girl like Lola Kirke could grow up around such an abundance of female artist role models, and still feel that rock music was a boy’s birthright. “I was always intimidated to explore my own capabilities as a musician because of those roles that I saw,” she says.

One day in her early twenties, however, Kirke got her heart broken so badly that she didn’t have a choice but to start writing songs, and decided that, instead of leaving it up to either boyfriends or male musicians to save her, “I was gonna be the boy that I wanted to love me… And I started writing the songs I wanted to hear.

That was it. Kirke made time in her acting schedule to write and record. In 2016, she released her debut EP, EP via Spirit House Records: a hazy, melancholic four-song country-rock collection full of jangly guitars and aerial strings that evokes dusty California highways, rings with the wistful, lyrically vivid tones of Gram Parsons’ cosmic American, and recalls the warm, floating vocals of Bedouine (who Kirke cites as a favorite act today).

Now, she’s getting ready to release her first full length album, Heart Head West, set for release on August 10 via Downtown Records. Kirke has teased us through a couple of tastes this fall and summer — her mournful, self-probing love letter to a struggling friend “Monster,” and exploration of the limits placed on womanhood, “Supposed To.”

Today, she’s released a third single, “Sexy Song” — a warm, slow-building rumination on her relationship to her body, desire and self-worth that’s as sonically lovely as it is thematically rebellious. In the stunningly choreographed video, Kirke explores, caresses, manipulates, inspects and abuses her body: posing seductively then picking her own nose, running her hands down her hips, and then sticking her fingers down her throat, as real iPhone selfies glitch across the screen. The song and video capture both the volatility that often defines women’s relationships to their own bodies and sexualities, and the triumphant pleasure of reaching a truce with your body and desire. Although it peaks in declarations of hard-won self-love, as she decides on the chorus with an audible glint in her eye, “if you won’t love me tonight, I guess I’ll love me tonight,” it’s the kind of empowerment anthem that’s more interested in the messy, chaotic process, than the shiny end-result.

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Lola Kirke on cultivating her own voice in the world

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Lola Kirke is many things – musician, actor, producer, activist, and one of our NO.16 cover stars out in May. Kirke grew up in a household full of creatives (you may recognize her sister Jemima on HBO’s hit series Girls, or her father Simon Kirke, former drummer of Bad Company), and through that experience, she cultivated her own voice.

And now, she’s using it to better the entertainment industry in a plethora of projects. Mozart In The Jungle the long-running series in which she stars, has been received with critical acclaim, her forthcoming thriller Gemini, which stars Kirke and Zoe Kravitz, is one of the most anticipated films of the year. Kirke’s most recent project Active Adults, a love story of sorts that parallels her character Lily and her partner Malcolm’s lives to those of his grandparents’. The film tracks the couples, who are each grappling with similar questions about love, life, and identity.

As a woman in Trump’s America, an actress in Hollywood who is ready for the time to be up, and a vocal political ingenue Kirke thinks we can all be doing more.

How do you think the struggles of Malcolm and Lily’s generation differ from that of their grandparents’? How are they similar?
I think we live in a time and a society where people get to grow up a lot later. 30 is the new 20 and even that is still a young age to get married or have babies. There’s so much freedom and choice now but that can actually be a bit paralyzing.

Why do you think it’s so hard for young people to “make it” in New York (or any city)?
It seems like there’s an inflation of art and industry nowadays. On the one hand, it’s easier than ever to make your own content but on the other, there’s so much content that it can be hard to break through. Also, I feel like people typically “make it” in hyperspace on the internet instead of in actual spaces like New York City.

What does success, or “making it”, mean to you?
Success to me means being seen and heard and making other people feel that way too.

In the film, Lily feels pressure to return to the city and pursue lofty achievements, while Malcolm is content to remain in his grandfather’s community. Do you think this pressure is something most post-grads feel?
I think capitalistic culture breeds this idea that we aren’t good enough until we achieve something of great merit. So yes, I imagine a lot of young people feel a sense of urgency to prove themselves in the world. I certainly did. But I’ve always been like that. So maybe it’s not capitalism, maybe it’s just a kind of spirit.

What surprised you most about making this film?
What surprised me about making this film was essential that we could make it! It’s the only feature film I’ve ever produced so that was a real feat.

What’s the most important thing we can learn from the generations before us?
My grandpa once told me I didn’t have to take everything so seriously. I liked that.

Are there any women in the industry that you look up to who are at the forefront of this kind of change?
I love Lady Bird, I think that’s fucking great. There are lots of beautiful women filmmakers. I love the movie Mustang by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. I just want women to make whatever kind of films they want to make. And I think we need to make different kinds of films. I don’t see that many movies that are pushing cinema forward. I see a lot of movies that are keeping it exactly where it is. I think we need new voices.

It’s a pretty strange time in the industry. What’s been your biggest challenge?
I see how much being a woman does provide a problem in this industry. I mean, I think it does in all of the industries. I think it’s still very hard for women to get their films made.

There’s this quote by Susan Howe quote that says something to the effect of: “Why would I seek to align myself with the very systems of power that have shut me down?”
I’m all for equal pay, but I think that there’s a way in which we need to expand our idea of what it means to be a powerful woman, rather than it just meaning being an executive at a film company. I would like to see the industry change more than it’s pretending to right now.

Look out for the full interview in our MAY print issue, NO.16 “VOICES”.


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