Lola Kirke on Surviving Self-Doubt

Lola Kirke performs at Lost Lake on Wednesday, February 20.
Lola Kirke performs at Lost Lake on Wednesday, February 20.
Lili Pepper
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For nearly a decade, Lola Kirke has been making a name for herself as an actress, starring as Hayley Rutledge in the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle and playing major roles in films like Gone Girl, Mistress America and Untogether, in which she stars with her sister Jemima (of HBO’s Girls).

But more recently, she’s also been trying her hand as a singer-songwriter. On last year's debut, Heart Head West, Kirke had no problem putting her heart on the table for everyone to see. For instance, on the excellent opening cut, "Monster," she delves into themes of self-esteem: “I’m not a monster, just someone who wants to belong.”

“I definitely experience the gamut of emotions, but I have felt intensely lonely in my life, intensely angry or sad,” Kirke says. “But I’m actually really grateful for those things. I don’t see them as a negative. I’m 28 now, and I’ve always heard that when you’re 30, a lot of those feelings change. You stop caring so much about how insecure you are and how much other people have. I don’t know. And I feel like I’m just beginning to maybe glean a new paradigm of emotions, and I wonder how relevant those things will feel to me. But I am really grateful.”

While at Bard College, Kirke formed a country band and later went on to release her debut EP in 2016. She says she was drawn to country because it was the simplest kind of music for her to play. Kirke, whose father, Simon, was the drummer for Bad Company and Free, also wonders if there’s some deep-seated desire to confirm her American-ness, since she moved to New York City from London when she was five years old.

“I’ve always kind of felt like I had to work extra-hard to be here,” she says. “But I also think there’s just something inherently exciting about country music.”

Her love for country is particularly apparent on Heart Head West cuts like “Supposed To,” “Simon Says” and “Turn Away Your Heart,” while the reverb-soaked ballad “Out Yonder” is much dreamier and more relaxed. And throughout the album, Kirke’s vocals, which have just a touch of rasp, are the main focus, at times recalling Angel Olsen.

Kirke says she’ll sometimes write songs after a day on a film set, just to distill things.

“I think that songwriting has just always been a way for me to get in touch with myself and what I really think and feel about it,” she says. “I don’t know. I’m a multi-tasker. So if I make things while processing feelings, that feels way better than just processing my feelings.”

When turning those feeling into songs, Kirke says she’s plagued by self-doubt but not paralyzed by it.

“I think that there’s a major investment in being cool that a lot of people have,” she says. “It’s been really important for me to just realize that what’s cool is trying new things or trying anything instead of this making sure that you’re cool. I sometimes feel like it’s just better to write something than nothing, even if you don’t share it.”

She says she’s written a lot of songs recently, thinking, “This is literally the worst song I’ve ever heard,” but thought they were great at the time that she wrote them.

At 5 a.m. on an airplane, “I wrote this song that ended up being basically like a show tune about how horrible hippies are. I thought it was genius the entire plane ride," she recalls. "Then I tried to play it on guitar when I got to the hotel, and I was like, ‘This is terrible, but just keep trying.'”

Last week, Kirke released two new songs that celebrated Valentine’s Day, including “Lights On” and a cover of ’70s folk artist Ted Lucas’s “Baby Where You Are,” which is a duet with her partner, Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, who also produced the two songs and Heart Head West. Kirke also recently recorded a duet with Denver singer-songwriter Brent Cowles, whom she met at a songwriting retreat in Austin last summer, where they wrote a country song together. The song will be part of a four-song EP that includes three duets and one solo number.

Lola Kirke, with Alex Cameron & Roy Molloy and Pure Weed, 8 p.m. Wednesday, February 20, Lost Lake Lounge, sold out.

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