lolawolf, the new band fronted by zoë kravitz, talks to us about their upcoming ep & keeping it diy in this exclusive interview. #soundcheck

February 3, 2014

Lolawolf is made up of frontwoman Zoë Kravitz and Jimmy and James from the band Reputante. Despite being a Hollywood actress and born into rock royalty (she’s the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet), Zoë has been keeping it DIY with Lolawolf. Their debut EP was self-produced in a variety of locations. Anchored by nostalgic 80’s synths and Zoë’s mature-yet-playful vocals, the self-titled EP finds a perfect balance between the dancefloor and a big pair of headphones. We recently spoke with the band about acting versus singing and making music on your own terms. The Lolawolf EP is coming out tomorrow (February 4th) on Innit Recordings. Click here to pre-order it.

Interview by Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor
Banner photo by Michael Leviton


Tell me about Lolawolf. How did it get started?

ZOË: James and Jimmy are just really good friends of mine. I was in LA working on a film and I needed something to do to keep me sane at night, so they came to LA to stay with me for a little bit—to keep me company. And we ended up making music every night. So that’s like how the first EP came to be.

You knew them through [their other band] Reputante?

ZOË: No, Jimmy was my neighbor in Williamsburg, and I met James through Jimmy. It was just kind of neighborhood stuff. He was DJing at a bar one night and we figured out that we lived near each other and we’d run into each other all the time. And we just became friends.

Is there something about the Brooklyn music scene that enables that kind of collaboration?

ZOË: I just think everyone’s really supportive, you know? New York can be a really judgmental, harsh place. And I’m lucky to stumble upon a group of artists that really support each other. That’s what everyone does for fun. Goes to each others shows or listen to each others new music. It’s really inspiring. I just wanted to be a part of that.

Definitely the New York scene can be pretty competitive. Do you feel like it’s been supportive of Lolawolf?

ZOË: So far yes. It’s awesome. We’ve gotten a really amazing response in general. Like I said, they just came to keep me company; give me something to do and just be creative. So the fact that people are hearing the music and responding the way that they are is quite a surprise. And a lovely one at that.

Are you thinking of this band as a side project from acting? Or are you prioritizing them both equally?

ZOË: It’s hard. Again, I’m surprised by the response that we’re getting, and the fact that it’s even moving forward the way that it is. Acting is definitely my job. I mean, I love it and it’s definitely a huge focus of mine. But whenever I’m not working, whenever I’m not making films, I’m making music. That’s what I do with my spare time. It’s interesting now trying to figure out how to balance the two. I’d like to make music more of a priority if I could, but I also love film making and I have to pay my rent, so we’ll see.

[The rest of the band buzzes in to Zoë’s apartment.]

What’s the difference to you between performing as an actor and performing with your band on stage?

ZOË: I think being on stage is a lot more vulnerable, you know? When you’re doing a film you’re pretending to be someone else, and you can blame other things if they don’t go the way you wanted them to—Jimmy! I’m on the fucking phone! Shut up!—you can blame the writing or the director or the set or whatever. But [on stage] it’s all you. It’s a lot more vulnerable that way.

Is having a band behind you a support mechanism for you, or as the frontwoman do you feel like you need to be responsible for them and conduct?

ZOË: No, not at all. That’s what makes it all work is that they’re my buddies. So I know they’re not going to steer me wrong. We’d be hanging out anyway—oh, thank you baby—See, Jimmy just brought me coffee cause he’s lovely! Yeah, so we’d be doing that anyway in someone’s basement or someone’s house, so if it happens to be on a stage somewhere, that’s cool.

You obviously come from an artistic family. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

ZOË: I never really thought about it, to be honest with you. It’s one of those things that just happened naturally. I don’t think anyone ever wondered if I was gonna be a doctor or something. I always performed as a kid for my grandparents. I was always a member of chorus. I was always in drama club. I was always making music and watching movies. It was just kind of the natural progression of things. It was never a question.

There was never that moment with your dad. “Trust me Zoë, just be an engineer…”

ZOË: No! We didn’t even have to have a conversation about it. It was just like “that’s what’s happening there.” [laughs] I went to college. I went to the acting conservatory at SUNY Purchase which was really amazing. That’s when my parents knew I was taking it seriously.

Were you making music at school too? Were you doing like musical theatre?

ZOË: Yeah, I was in a lot of musical theatre. And then we had these things called coffee houses, which were like open mic nights, and I’d sing at those too.

When you’re performing with the band, are you thinking about creating a character on stage?

ZOË: I used to do that a lot more, cause I’m like a musical theatre nerd. But I don’t really do that any more. I kind of stopped “performing” because it felt like it was distracting me from listening to what’s going on on stage. Like, when I’m on stage now I just try to focus on the music and what’s happening so you can fix things if they’re not going right.

There’s a lot of 80’s on your EP. Do you even remember the 80’s at all?

ZOË: No! I was born in ’88. That’s all Jimmy. Hey Jimmy, come here.

What is it about the 80’s that inspires you?

JIMMY: A lot of those 80’s songs have really good production. Even if you go back to like Kraftwerk and all that krautrock stuff, the way that pop was really special and then kind of went away in the 90’s. There’s something about that sound and the pop sensibilities they had that went with it is pretty awesome.

It sounds very vintage. Is it all soft synths or are you using any analog gear?

JIMMY: It’s all analog gear. Like that whole record was done on like a Moog Voyager, a Prophet, and a Juno. We used a Moogerfooger pedals and a Super Delay for delay and a real bass guitar. There might be guitar on the record, I’m not sure.

ZOË: On one song. Oh, actually, no.

JIMMY: Yeah there’s no guitar. And then there’s a lot of beats that I sample; 808s and stuff like that. But it’s all analog. We’re not using any soft synths.

Was that a priority for you, or was that just how it came out?

JIMMY: No that’s just always the way I personally do it. I just kind of love those kind of synths. I’ve been doing it for, you know, a while. I have a bunch of stuff. We worked in the box, because if you have the option of having a MIDI keyboard in front of you, then you have an infinite amount of sounds. You’re less creative when you have more tools—or at least I am.

So you feel like setting some limitations for you enhances your creativity?

JIMMY: [laughs] Absolutely! That’s what I wish I’d said.

Does that process inform the way you’re singing and crafting melodies?

ZOË: Yeah, the sounds that I’m hearing are gonna influence the kind of song that I write to it. I also feel like the set-up is a huge part of it. It’s always just like us in a living room or a kitchen with like two synths and a keyboard. That’s how we’ve always recorded everything so far. We’re not like in a studio. We don’t have tons of equipment around us.

JIMMY: I record everything in Adobe Audition on a $300 PC, you know?

ZOË: It’s a piece of shit. His PC is a piece of shit.

JIMMY: I have it set up the way that works for me. A good converter, a good compressor, a good mic, and you just make it work. We can easily pack the studio up. We recorded in five different places. We filled the car with this gear. We even were in her godfather’s house. In London we were in a hotel room. We were there and instead of going out and exploring we just stayed in the hotel room for fucking 15 hours and just recorded this song that made it onto the EP “Too Lovely.”

Would you ever want to work out of a studio, or is this your preferred way of working?

JIMMY: I did. Growing up, I was always going to studios. But I spent a couple of years just sitting in my room figuring out how to get the sound the way I want it to.

ZOË: If it ain’t broke…

JIMMY: Yeah. It just seems to work right now. If we want to do drums, we’ll go to a studio and we’ll do it. But we haven’t jumped into that world yet.

ZOË: We were just in the Bahamas and recorded a second EP. My dad has a studio there, and he was like “don’t you want to use this amazing studio on the beach?” And we were like “We’re gonna do it in the kitchen. Thank you.”

So that’s like your rebellion against Dad?

ZOË: It’s not though! I love that studio. When I’m in the studio though, I feel like I’m at work. If we’re in the kitchen, we could be making sandwiches or we could be making beats. Vibe is important.

JIMMY: I think an important thing for this band is that it’s not like “Oh it’s a band and they’re doing this sort of…thing.” We’re just going to keep putting music out randomly here and there. There’s never going to be a big crazy PR push or anything. We’re just going to do things as they come.

ZOË: And we’re also feeding off of the response. If people want to hear more, we’ll make more and put it out. If not, we’ll just sort of keep it to ourselves.

* Lolawolf is playing in New York on February 6 at The Westway.

Photo by Guy Eppel

Photo by Michael Leviton