In September Noisey premiered “Drive,” by New York based band Lolawolf. Although their identity was shrouded in silence, their music was enough. I called out the singer’s vocals as “lusty and insouciant, [with] a restless, give-fuck-tear to her tones.” Turns out that singer is Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet), while the band is made up of members of Reputante (signed separately to Julian Casablancas’ label Cult Records; check out their new video here).
“I mean if it were up to me, I would still have people not know who makes the music,” says 24-year-old Zoë. “In this day and age people are so quick to judge and they love to hate and it’s fine, but I don’t have the intention of being a popstar. I don’t really care if people like it or not, but if they do, that’s awesome.”
When musicians trot out any permutation of the line, “I make music for myself and if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus,” you’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes so hard you strained the tendons in your sockets. But for a girl whose family tree, combined with her day job as an actress, means the spotlight and tabloid scrutiny is part of the package, you can see understand her stance. Despite this, Zoë doesn’t come off wary or guarded. On the contrary, she’s upfront, and an easy, open conversationalist. For her, music is an outlet, and the culmination of her downtime creativity is the band’s forthcoming seven-song EP of slinky, twilit, 80s-tinged pop, which includes the breathless, vinyl-crackled “Wanna Have Fun”—a song that tackles the inevitable messiness of a three-way relationship (see the premiere of their first ever video above).
I caught up with Zoë just after she touched down from a shoot in Toronto, ahead of Lolawolf’s debut show at New York’s Mercury Lounge this Thursday. After that they’ll play London on November 13 and from there, Zoë’s off to Australia for reshoots of Mad Max: Fury Road (out in 2014). But in the meantime we talked about music, movies, style, the dark hole that is internet commentary, and that time she encountered Stevie Wonder in her kitchen.
Lolawolf. Photo by Guy Eppel.
You used to play in a band called Elevator Fight where the music was much more rock-leaning. How did your time in that band inform the music you make now?
Zoë: Those guys are amazing, they’re still good friends of mine and I learned a lot from them, but mostly I feel like they taught me how to collaborate, which is one of my favorite ways to make music. I’ll write a song on my own, but I like to collaborate with different people and once you do that, I think it’s hard to go back.
Would you say acting is more in your comfort zone than music?
Both of them are out of my comfort zone, which is good. That’s what I like about it. Acting is a passion, but it's also a career that I’m pursuing, whereas music is what I do in my spare time. I don’t like to be static, so whenever I’m not working, that’s what I end up doing.
When did you think about seriously making music?
I've yet to do that, even with the stuff we’ve made for Lolawolf. I was shooting a film in LA and it was a really difficult role for me and at night I needed something to keep my mind off of it. So a couple of my friends from New York came out and we would make music at night. It was something to do together. I didn’t make this music with the intention of it being heard by anyone.
What was the role that was so difficult?
It was this film called The Road Within, an indie film [with Dev Patel and Rober Sheehan], which is a remake of a German film that was made a few years ago. I played an anorexic, I lost 20lbs, I was hardly eating, and I was like 90lbs. It was gnarly. It took me through a lot emotionally and physically so at night I needed something to take my mind off that.
Do you like the comparative immediacy of music versus doing a film?
Probably, because I’m an impatient person. So when I make a film, I want it to be done tomorrow and I want to see what it’s like. But it’s also nice because you get to make something and then you can step away from it. If I made a film and then watched it the next day, I’d still be so in that headspace, whereas now I’ll see it in a year totally differently. I’ll have moved on and I’m not going to judge everything I’ve done, I’m going to just watch it, hopefully, for what it is and that is, in the end, a nice thing to have. The only thing about music is it’s in your hands and you have to be brave enough to let it go when it’s done. It’s so easy to keep tweaking shit and nothing’s ever perfect.
With “Wanna Have Fun” it sounds like it’s about a threesome gone awry.
That’s definitely part of it. I wrote that song with James [Levy] who’s the lead singer of Reputante and that was one of the first songs we wrote one rainy day in Brooklyn. He wrote that line!
Of course he did!
Yeah, so I don’t know where he’s drawing that from!
“Chainz” is definitely the most "pop" song on the EP.
Yeah, all the songs just start with us messing around and that one has a fun, 80s dance thing, which is not my instinct. I like when a song sounds happy and makes you want to dance, and then when you listen to the lyrics, they’re kind of fucked up. So that’s what was happening there. That song is about when you want to own somebody and you can’t let them go. We all tend to do that in relationships: our egos just want to own the person we love.
What music or artist made an impactful impression on you from an early age?
I had a major crush on Fiona Apple, she was a big deal for me. Her lyrics are incredible. I loved ska music and I used to listen to a lot of Sublime and early No Doubt.
Fiona Apple’s lyrics are intensely personal and hard-hitting. Is it important to you for your lyrics to resonate?
I think you can always hear when someone’s not trying express themselves through what they’re saying. If you’re just trying to make pop music, maybe the lyrics don’t matter. People want to listen to a certain kind of pop music to escape anyway, they don’t want to be hit with the real shit. It’s the same thing with a big action movie that lacks depth: that’s the kind of movie they’re trying to make and people are going to those movies to escape and be entertained. They’re not going to see an independent film that’s going to make them cry and break down. For me, because I’m not trying to do this as a career necessarily, I’m not trying to make a hit, and I’m not trying to get it on the radio. So if I’m not honest, then I don’t know what I’m doing it for.
I imagine that you were exposed to music constantly growing up…
It’s funny because it wasn’t shoved down my throat, it was just a part of our lives. I associate so many albums with certain times in my childhood, with seasons. Like my mom would always play Van Morrison in the morning. I know every lyric to every Bob Marley song ever because she would always play him. With my father I met a lot of amazing musicians and he exposed me to jazz and old R&B and soul like Otis Redding. And I got to meet Stevie Wonder.
Yeah he would come to the house sometimes. He sang “Isn’t She Lovely” to me once in the kitchen and it blew my mind! I was probably 13. It was nuts.
How do you feel onstage?
I feel nervous, but it’s like I have to overcome something and I like that. I have this thing before I go on any stage—whether it’s a play or a show—and it’s like, okay, how do I get out of it? I could tell them I’m sick, I always think, okay there’s a way out of this situation! And then, obviously, you just shut the fuck up and get onstage. I like the emotional journey I have to go through and then by the end of it I’m usually having a great time. But I definitely have to break through some walls first.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your music?
My godmother, Cree Summer, who was on A Different World with my mom. She’s an amazing musician who put out a record in the early 2000s and she kind of got fucked over by a label, which is unfortunate because it’s a beautiful record. She is a strong woman who wrote intelligent, fun music, and I’ve always been really inspired by her.
Clichéd question alert: How would you describe your style?
Hah! I like that you don’t like asking me that question. At least you’re aware. My style is not very cohesive. It’s usually inspired by things I’m watching or reading, so it’s always changing. If I’m watching a lot of 30s movies or Cirque du Soleil or if I’m listening to a hip-hop record, it’ll definitely influences what I wear the next day.
Wait. What are you wearing when you watch Cirque du Soleil?
Oh my God! Are you kidding! Me and my mom—I saw her a few months ago—and she had these striped pants on with a vest. We have a lot of old 30s clothes and old weird clown outfits. Like, I went to the circus yesterday and I was like, "I want to look like that!" So we do things like that**.**
What’s the best thing you’ve stolen out of your parents' wardrobes?
That’s a good question. I have a really good t-shirt I stole from my dad. It’s really thin and old and it has Einstein on it. I love it. I have so much stuff from my mom. She’s always handed me down really awesome dresses or she gave me a bunch of velvet jackets that she used to wear all the time that are awesome.
Is there anyone in the music world whose style you admire?
Janis Joplin—I love the way she looks, she’s just the coolest.
I feel like you have an affinity with the 70s…
Yeah, I’m always like, I wish I was alive in the 70s or the 60s. I mean honestly I wish I was alive in the 30s, but I wish I was white and in the 30s. There’s something so romantic about the clothes and the music, the jazz and Chicago; I’m obsessed.
What movie will you never tire of watching?
Reality Bites! My favorite fucking movie, I can quote every word to it, I’ve watched it about 800 times. Nothing that happens, but they capture that time so perfectly. It’s so good.
And Winona looks so good in it too.
Oh my God, she’s such a babe in it and Ethan’s such a babe. It’s the perfect film.
Even though Ethan has terrible facial hair, you’d still do him, wouldn’t you?
I know! But it works. It was that granola, 90s dirty thing and I liked it!
So you’re just going to do these two shows and then you’re gonna go back to movies and we won’t know when we'll see you again?
Yeah I guess. It’s a weird thing. I guess it also depends how people respond to the music and the rest of the EP. If people really dig it, I’d love to play more shows. But I’m not going to be a ridiculously self-indulgent person and play shows that no one wants to go to!
How much attention do you pay to what’s written about you? Do you stay away from it?
Yeah pretty much. It really hurt my feelings a lot when I was much younger. Obviously when you’re 17 and people are writing things about you at first it seems flattering and kind of cool and then it’s weird. Googling yourself is a dark, dark scary hole from hell that I’ll never do again. People are really mean. And it’s interesting because if you’re at all in the public eye, you’re not a human being to people you’re an idea of whatever people feel when they look at you. Like I represent to some people, this socialite-y, fashion-y, bitch girl and that’s not at all who I am. Anyone who knows me knows that’s not at all who I am, but I also don’t really feel the need to take the time to prove people wrong. If they want to judge me, they can go ahead and do that I guess.
How do you feel about the way people write about women in the public eye, both online and in the media in general?
It’s awful. You see these things online, someone’s fat, someone’s ugly and it’s so incredibly negative. It’s hard enough being a woman, you have so many insecurities, not that men don’t have insecurities, but we’re constantly obsessing over our bodies and what we look like and there’s images of perfect models being shoved down our throats. It’s a really dangerous thing, especially when I was doing that film and playing an anorexic, the body image thing is really intense and it can fuck your brain up and it’s scary and sad and it’s not a way to live. So anyway I try stay away from it because I’m only human and if I read something mean about me it makes me feel bad.
Do you draw inspiration from New York?
Definitely. New York is a big part of who I am. I’ve been here since high school and definitely those years of 15, 16, 17, are so important in terms of who you’re gonna be. The energy of New York is amazing to me. I’m constantly inspired by the buzz of what’s happening here. In LA it’s really easy to lay around and do nothing.
And also because you can’t drive so where are you gonna go?
Ha! Yeah! That’s a good point. You’ve listened closely to the lyrics my dear!
Lolawolf’s eponymous EP is out on 1.21.13 via Innit Recordings
Lolawolf / Reputante Tour Dates
11.7 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge
11.13 - London, UK - Shacklwell Arms
Kim is Noisey’s Style Editor and she’s on Twitter - .