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With Her Acting Career On Fire, Lola Kirke Is Now Turning To Music

Radar
Photographed by Lauren Perlstein, Styled by Jenna Igneri, Hair by Blake Erik and Make up by Regina Harris, Props courtesy of ACME Brooklyn

“Picking up a guitar and playing it is actually kind of like a tiny political act”

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. 

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein
Styled by Jenna Igneri
Hair by Blake Erik
Makeup by Regina Harriss

Props courtesy of ACME Brooklyn

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein, Blouse by Chanel, skirt by J.Brand, shoes by Mansur Gavriel

You grew up in New York City with a father who was in a rock band. How did you settle on country?
I don’t know, I think, it just settled on me. I just connect to it the most. I don’t necessarily even think that it is fully country—I think that there are elements of country in the music. For whatever reason, the people that I identify with most musically come from a different time and a different place than I do. I think there’s a simplicity, and an honesty, to the kind of lyrics that end up in country music that for some reason never sounds tacky or anything. Gene Clark is kind of my favorite musician and the person I’d like to sound most like. He’s actually the person that coined "Cosmic American." I think he has a way of being profound and simple all at once.

When did music enter your life as a performer?
It was when I was at Bard. I think, I had aspirations to be a musician from a much younger age, but it always seemed like a very gendered pursuit, and that there wasn’t room to be a young girl playing music in like the early 2000s, even though I had the opportunity to. It just wasn’t in the air, and I do think that that’s changed a lot. I know a lot of younger girls for whom it’s very casual to, like, sit in a circle and jam with their girlfriends, which sounds great, but for me, I think that picking up a guitar and playing it is actually kind of like a tiny political act that I did to myself, because it was like, "Why the fuck can I not play?"

What was your time at Bard like, and how has it shaped who you are today?
I think Bard gave me the tremendous gift of moving out of New York City and living in a place where you can hear birds and there are trees. Living a rural lifestyle is a really beautiful thing to be able to do. I think that a lot of my hobbies exist in that landscape, as opposed to an urban environment. It drove me to not be so stimulated and obligated to do things all the time as you are in college. It gave me a lot of time to sit down and play guitar, or sit down and be an artist, or stand up and be an artist, and it kind of spoiled me with an audience all the time, because you’re in this tiny community where no one really has anything to do except watch other people perform.