Late last month, Lola Kirke took the stage at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate the release of her debut, self-titled EP. Flanked by five other musicians (including her boyfriend, Wyndham Boylan, who also produced the record), she played bleeding-heart, country-dusted rock, marking her official foray into a professional music career. In that world, Kirke is still a relative unknown. For the tour she just completed—an 8-stop jaunt between New York and Los Angeles—she traveled in a small van with friends and collaborators, playing at intimate clubs along the way. And yet two weeks prior to the show at Baby’s All Right, the 26-year-old performer found herself on the cover of The Village Voice. That’s because, in Lola Kirke’s other life, she happens to be an actress on the cusp of stardom.
Kirke, who grew up in New York City to artistic parents (her father is the former drummer for the rock bands Free and Bad Company; her mother owned a popular clothing boutique in Manhattan's West Village), wanted to act since she was young. But when she left the city to study at Bard College in New York's Hudson Valley, other artistic pursuits began to take hold. While majoring in film theory, Kirke took up music, guitar, and singing with friends, and eventually formed an alt-country band, She Rose. But when Kirke returned to the city after graduation, with her sister Jemima a star thanks to her role on HBO’s Girls, the acting bug took over, and Kirke quickly found work, first in a small but pivotal role in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and then as one of two leads in Noah Baumbach’s well-received indie, Mistress America.
Now, Kirke sits at the top of casting lists across Hollywood and is one audition away from the role that will launch her to rarified movie stardom. But until that happens, Kirke is thrilled to follow her artistic muse wherever it leads her. She just wrapped her third season as the ambitious oboist Hailey on Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, and will next star opposite Jemima in writer Emma Forrest’s directorial debut, Untogether. We recently spoke with Kirke, who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles, about why she felt the need to start her music career now, how her college experience changed her life, and what she’s learned about Hollywood.
Props courtesy of ACME Brooklyn
Your acting career is taking off. Why focus on music at this moment?
Because I’m psychotic. [Laughs] No, that’s a really, really great question and one that I’ve kind of been asking myself. Music has always been a really deep hobby of mine, and I kind of separate it from the professional life that I am grateful to have. I was always writing music, and it was just such a great way of figuring out how I felt and making something great out of how I felt, instead of just feeling uncomfortable.
And how do you feel now that your music is out there in the world for people to hear?
I wanted to record, and then I was like, "Oh, I should put this out." And then I got terrified, which is kind of where I am now because it’s jeopardizing my relationship to the music that I make by taking it out of the realm of hobby and fun and putting it into a place where it could be scrutinized. I was actually talking to Zoë Kravitz about it, who is a good friend of mine and who is also an actress and musician, and I was like, "Do you ever get scared?" And she was like, “No, you just have to remember that you’re doing this music for you.” And so I’m trying to remember that.
It must be nice to express yourself with your own words because as an actress you’re saying someone else’s.
Totally. It’s funny, I was actually sitting next to the clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic the other day, and we were talking about the difference between being an accomplished jazz musician and an accomplished classical musician. His gripe with being a classical musician reminded me so much of what it was like to be an actor, because as a classical musician, he’s so good at interpreting other people’s work, and as a jazz musician, you have to be really good at improvising all the time. As a musician, you’re improvising with what life gives you and you’re creating something of your own within those circumstances.
Would you describe your sound as country?
I’m preferring Cosmic American as the genre. I stole that from another musician friend of mine.