Lola Kirke has to make a confession. She could be on the verge of releasing her fabulously catchy second album, lady for saleat Third Man Records, but she’s never met the US indie label’s fairly famous founder, rock musician Jack White.
Stranger still, while Kirke is on her current US tour, the former White Stripes frontman is filming a new music video at her 1950s ranch home in Nashville. “Maybe I’ll meet him there when I get back?” she wonders as we meet on a rare rainy day in Los Angeles, a few hours before taking the stage at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood.
We hope they can hold it together when they are finally introduced. Kirke, 31, has been a fan since she was 11 and heard The White Stripes’ furious garage anthem “Fell In Love With A Girl.” “My friends and I listened to this song for hours,” she admits. “I loved that record.” However, White’s darker sound is nothing compared to Kirke’s own happily upbeat music, which takes cues from ’90s country-rock pioneer Tanya Tucker and singer Jo Dee Messina, and a little as an encore Adds 70’s disco and 80’s power pop.
But Kirke has something in common with White — none of the Nashville residents are native Southerners. Despite her throaty New York accent, she was born in London to Simon Kirke, drummer for classic rock bands Free and Bad Company, and designer Lorraine Dellal. They moved to the United States when she was a child and Kirke grew up in Manhattan with her older sisters girl, sex education and conversations with friends Actors Jemima and Domino, an A-list birthlady to stars like Amy Schumer.
As Kirke’s own film career began in 2014 with a supporting role in Ex girlfrienda breakthrough resulted in Noah Baumbach’s the following year Mistress America and a recurring part on Amazon Prime Mozart in the Jungle From 2014 to 2018 she spent a lot of time in Los Angeles. But now that she’s also a musician with a longtime love of country, Nashville makes even more sense. It’s an obsession that runs deep, evidenced not only in her songs but also in her monogrammed pink cowboy boots and tattooed in homage to The Band’s Rick Danko, whose tender 1977 solo song “Sip The Wine” she performs covered for a few years.
Aside from The White Stripes, Kirke has been obsessed with the Americana pioneers and Bob Dylan collaborators since she was a teenager. A freshman at New York’s Bard College, she made regular solo trips to The Ramble, a raw and ready night of concerts helmed by the band’s former drummer and vocalist Levon Helm until his death in 2012. She loved it so much that she even tried to work there, volunteering her services as a valet driver even though she couldn’t drive. “It was 2007 and I lived in the s***est dorm ever,” Kirke recalls. “I’d hire a cab and you’d have to book it days in advance to take you to Woodstock.” But it was worth hearing her heroine play tracks like 1975’s groovy “Ophelia.”
It was The Band’s earthy songs and the more psychedelic Gram Parsons that inspired Kirke’s Under the Radar 2018 debut. heart head west, a ballad-heavy album that showcased her light, smoky vocals as well as her love of vintage guitar tones. Its continuation, however, is a marked stylistic shift. “There was a long time when I made music that just wanted to sound like other music,” explains Kirke. “It’s a lot for me to be an actress and be like, ‘What part am I going to play?'” She pauses. “And so is I as a person who has no idea who the hell I am! I think I wanted to be this sad white girl with a guitar singing folk songs…”
In the early stages, her second album should also go in this direction, with a collection of “emo and heavy” tracks on the table, she says. Until Kirke’s producer Austin Jenkins of Texas psych-rockers White Denim — known for his collaboration with Grammy-winning artist Leon Bridges — had a simple suggestion. “Austin just said, ‘You’re a fun person, why don’t you make a fun record?'”
So Kirke did just that. The songs were good and she knew it. “My manager at the time bought them and I thought they were f***ing shoo-ins!” she says. And yet no label could convince her to record her. Kirke later expressed her frustration online, writing, “The demos I did for this record didn’t spark any interest … It was the same refrain: ‘You must be like 14 and massive on TikTok.’
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Just when it all seemed to be over, a neighbor in whose living room Kirke regularly hung out for impromptu karaoke sessions introduced her to the Third Man team. They were immediately struck by tracks like “Stay Drunk,” a brazen chart-country bop about cheating, the Stevie Nicks-style synthesizer swoon of “Pink Sky,” and the smacking Prince-like electronics of “Better Than Any Drug.” “. Finally finding that support was a relief, especially as she also struggled to get booked for film or television roles. “People in the industry, on the acting side, cited my weight as a problem, which felt humiliating,” Kirke later wrote on Instagram. She shakes her head when I mention it now. “It’s so fucking fucked up,” she says.
For Kirke it is a topic that is deeply rooted. “It’s been my whole life,” she says of the pressure to present her body in a certain way in order to be successful. “I come from a family of women who are very beautiful but also cared a lot about their appearance. I’ve somehow avoided every type of horrible eating disorder and have defiantly eaten my entire life and have great pleasure in eating.”
She laughs when she talks about the weight she’s gained during the pandemic. “I think I ate a lot during Covid,” she says. “I had no idea because I was staying at my boyfriend’s house and he’s really big and only had one mirror and it was really high up. So I didn’t try on my jeans until I got back to New York and they didn’t go down to my thighs.”
But now things are moving forward again. Around the same time she signed with Third Man, Kirke earned a spot in the huge lineup for winning time, HBO’s new drama about the LA Lakers, which premiered in March to rave reviews. She plays Karen West, wife of basketball team manager Jerry West (Jason Clarke). “I’m really moving into the mother-and-wife age now,” she notes of the rapid transition from being geniuses in their 20s to being mothers in their 30s. But despite her return to the small screen, she admits getting booked remains a struggle. “I got rejected about 40 times this week,” she says.
It may be frustrating, but Kirke readily admits that this comes with her very own brand of territory. “I don’t know if people know how to digest me because I do this thing and then this thing,” she says of screen, studio and stage. It’s true that it’s less rare — or terrifying — than it used to be, as Kirke joins a growing group of indie artists celebrated for both their music and their acting. There’s British actor Keeley Forsyth’s experimental singer-songwriter sound, stranger things Star Finn Wolfhard’s garage rocker Calpurnia and Zoë Kravitz’ electropop band Lolawolf for starters. Nevertheless, Kirke would sometimes like it if things were a bit simpler. “Part of me wishes I could just streamline whatever I am and whatever I do — but that’s just who I am!”
Lady For Sale is out April 29th via Third Man. Lola Kirke is touring the UK in June and September
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/lola-kirke-interview-new-album-b2066562.html Lola Kirke: “I wanted to be this sad white girl with a guitar singing folk songs”