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Lola Kirke Found Her Newest Role Being ‘Country Curious’

Alexa King

Lovers of country music who become students of country music find their way inevitably to a jaw-dropping if poorly kept secret - that America’s genre most famous for sincerity and grass roots honesty rests on a long history of dressing up and acting out. White collar professionals put on overalls and floppy hats to play fiddle tunes on the early Grand Ole Opry. The singing cowboys were movie actors. It’s why one of the most famous books about country music history is partly titled “Fabricating Authenticity,” a rich and important subject for intellectual contemplation. For Lola Kirke it offered a path.

The actress turned songwriter and touring musician confronts the paradox in her single “Hey Y’all,” in which the “pearl snap pretty” protagonist is a lady from New York whose new man “makes me wanna pony up and move down south, ‘bless your heart’ coming out my mouth.” I know the feeling, as a southern-raised guy who didn’t grow a permanent southern accent (though I turn it on situationally). The story is true in spirit for Kirke as well. Born in London to an English dad and raised in New York City’s fashionable districts, Kirke became an actress who’s been visible and acclaimed on screens over the past ten years. All that time though she was honing her craft and paying her dues as a musician, one who’s grown ever-closer to Nashville’s story, moving here during the pandemic and releasing a couple of well-received recordings. The most recent is the EP Country Curious, where “He Says Y’all” comes from.

“I think that it was important for me to get it out of the way with a song. Like, Yes, I'm not from here,” she says in the interview we had for String Episode 273. “Like, who cares? Country music in its DNA, I do feel, is for everyone. I mean, I don't think it would make itself so clear (and) so vulnerable to people if it didn't want to be accessed by all people. So I don't think that you have to be from a certain place to sing it. And that's my declaration about it.”

So it’s with a big, well-earned “howdy” that Lola Kirke embarks on a conversation covering the evolution of her acting and her music careers and her upcoming debut on the Grand Ole Opry, set for this Friday when Country Curious is officially released. She’ll be wearing a dress owned by June Carter Cash, a deal brokered by Rosanne Cash, who’s become a friend and supporter of Kirke, including singing harmony vocals on the soon-to-be-released song “Karma,” which we were able to preview in this episode of the show.

I first encountered Lola in her breakout role as Haley Rutledge, a young oboe player making her way in symphonic music in New York City in the 2015 Amazon Studio series Mozart In The Jungle. She was also in the excellent movie Gone Girl and the comedy film Mistress America opposite Greta Gerwig. And there’s a lot more in her filmography. And through most of this time, Kirke was developing as a songwriter and nurturing her passion for country music - sometimes - as she tells us - flying home on a charter jet from Cannes only to get in her car to drive to play for a few people in a club hundreds of miles away from home.

Her father Simon Kirke was a founder of the band Free with singer Paul Rogers and then a founder of the long-running rock band Bad Company. She wanted to be a child star she says, and when she started taking auditions for roles around the end of college, things went almost magically well (until they didn't, which is another fascinating subject herein). Her music career got semi-serious while living in LA, with a debut EP in 2016, but real validation would come in 2021, when Third Man Records in Nashville agreed to release her already complete Lady For Sale. There’s a funny story behind that, and the album was and is quite arresting - a simulation of an early 1990s pop country album laced with serious lyrics about feminism and trauma.

But the parts of this talk I found most fascinating are about authenticity and role-playing. It’s clear from Lola’s Instagram that she loves a camera and dressing up (or dressing hardly at all in some cases) and inhabiting herself by inhabiting a series of personae.

“Not to sound too actor-y, but you can often live more truthfully, through the mask, right? Like, it's helpful to have an archetype I think. Authors used archetypes in literature because it allowed readers to enter more deeply into something that they wouldn't otherwise,” she tells me. “All genre has archetype in it, and that archetype holds different ideas. I think that country really holds a lot of freedom and playfulness, and fun, and humor, and heartbreak. And, you know, all of that mixed into one, with a cowboy hat on. And I think that it's fun to see yourself in these different roles.”

Enjoy a couple of performances by Lola captured at WMOT's Americana Day Stage in 2023.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>