Lola Kirke just finished shooting a three-day-long group sex scene. Closing out her latest role for a TV series, as the New York City- and Nashville-based actress, singer, and songwriter was the process of the all-consuming, and consummating, scene she also managed to hurt her foot. To top it all off, Kirke just had her wisdom teeth removed and is supposed to be sedated on painkillers but is instead attempting to make it to the acupuncturist and walk her dog. Days like this are partially the norm for Kirke, who is chatting as she runs errands.
For the past four years, Kirke remained busy on the big screen, including her lead role in Gone Girl in 2014, the 2015 Noah Baumbach-directed Mistress America, Amazon series Mozart In The Jungle, and her most recent American Woman in 2019. It was recent experiences in acting that also prompted Kirke to write about the reality checks of the destructive social norms that women adapt to and live by for the sake of art on her second album Lady for Sale (Third Man Records).
Working as an actress Kirke has personally felt discriminated against for her appearance, whether by her weight or by parts of her body that didn’t align with specific Hollywood norms, which she admits made it difficult to find work by early 2021.
“I wrote ‘Lady for Sale’ to poke fun at a culture that not only accepts but rewards self commodification,” says Kirke. “It is about how being the agent of your own objectification can be so empowering. Even though it’s empowering within a system designed to keep you down, so you keep participating in it.”
In a lengthy Instagram post breaking down the concept around Lady for Sale, Kirke was very candid about the specific rejections she faced in acting and music. “My weight was a problem by Hollywood standards, and I needed to be 14 and massive on Tiktok if I was gonna make it in music,” she shares.
Pushed between the highs and lows of being told she was “untalented, fat,” or needed to shave, Kirke started working out some of her frustrations in song. “I have spent a lot of my life generating my self-worth externally and being fairly successful at it, having that taken away from me was painful,” shares Kirke. “So, I did what I am sometimes smart enough to do with my discomfort: write it out but make it country.”
Kirke said that the turndowns made her question why she was making art in the first place. “The real reason I wanted to make art is because, for me, it is one of the most profound ways to experience a sense of community, instead of loneliness, the feeling of joy, and a proximity to beauty in a world that can feel very, very ugly,” says Kirke. “I wanted to share that with others, the way so many brave artists have shared that with me.”
Though there are other ways to generate an audience and reach people by going more mainstream, like going viral in music, says Kirke, she’s always preferred the alternative route.
“There’s this alternative way that I find to be more fulfilling creatively, which is being who you are and devoting yourself to a life that is about raw beauty and challenge,” says Kirke. “I feel like that’s the artist’s way, and sometimes that can be really hard to accept when you want to be part of the culture at large and you don’t want to be alternative.”
Calling the album Lady for Sale was also intentional, a description of how it felt to make it as a woman in the arts. Lady for Sale calls out social media and a current culture derivative of self-loathing that can often lead to a domino effect of other breakdowns, from her opening croon on “Broken Families,” featuring Courtney Marie Andrews, the more upbeat pop of “If I Win” and synth-tickled “Better Thank Any Drug,” and ’80s country-tipped “Lady for Sale.”
“The song is told as a story about somebody else, but in reality, it was looking at my desire to be able to be for sale, and there’s something toxic about that, but it certainly needs to be acknowledged,” says Kirke of the title track. “At least I feel it does. I can’t let it ruin my life because it will make my life.”
If there’s an overall theme to Lady for Sale it’s a story about falling in love, says Kirke. “I think that we were really looking at this genre of ’80s-’90s country, and that was the launching point,” she says, from the retro country-pop of “Pink Sky,” “Stay Drunk,” “The Crime,” “Fall in Love Again,” “No Secrets,” and more sentimental closer “By Your Side.”
She adds, “The rest of the record is very much centered around the experience of falling in love when you shouldn’t, which I suppose is another kind of expression of desire, so in a way that’s the throughline of this song and the rest of the record.”
For Kirke, songwriting was always rooted in the personal epiphanies she often has writing alone late at night. “I actually just did that last night,” she says. “I got back from shooting the orgy scene and I didn’t want to just go to sleep, so I sat down and I wrote a song.
“I don’t know what it will be or what it is,” says Kirke, “but it was just such a nice way of being with myself.”
Photo Credit: Zack Michael