words: Cipriana Quann
photo: Brad Ogbonna
Born from a recipe of unlikely circumstances, this is no ordinary girl-meets-boy band. Welcome to NY based group Lolawolf, fronted by vocalist Zoe Kravitz and backed by Reputante members Jimmy Giannopoulos and James Levy. If you think this is just another contrived juxtaposition for just another band think again. Ultimately, Lolawolf is the fated outcome of vulnerability, chance/happenstance and comradely support.
Preparing for the interview in Zoe's Brooklyn duplex, I hear an infectious laugh as she casually lays her head on James lap while resting her feet on Jimmy's. Deep in conversation, on first glance the trio may look like a reenactment of The Breakfast Club. But as I had a chance to peel back the layers of their intimate bond, I soon realized their union goes much deeper than their cool clique exterior might suggest. They possess a genuine foundation of deeply rooted friendship based on years of history and honesty, which would serve as the most beneficial coping mechanism during the toughest moment of Zoe's filming career.
Co-starring with Robert Sheehan and Dev Patel in the comedic drama A Road Within, in which she portrays an anorexic woman, Zoe was brought back to that place of darkness that she had succumbed to years ago. She has battled her own issues with eating disorders and her work in the film left her feeling a need to escape the familiarity of those "demons" from her past that had begun to shadow over her once again. She needed a source of light. The light she found was music. Deciding to self-medicate with Jimmy and James on what they translated as "a song-a-day rule,” they began creating music every night after filming. Soon all of those therapeutic late night sessions would not only unveil the sound of their first EP but breathe life into Lolawolf.
Derived from the names of Zoe's younger siblings, Lolawolf produces a genuine depiction of emotions set against heavily influenced 80's electro-pop and analog beats. Though, the creation of the EP seemed to be effortless, the sounds therein communicate an arduous, gut-wrenching component revealed by forthright lyrics such as, "I'd put you in chains if I could change who you are," and "I wanna know what love is/ I really hope that it's not you." The listener immediately gets a sense that these are not your typical happy-go-lucky love songs.
As nonchalant as the air around this triple threat might seem, Zoe, along with seasoned musicians Jimmy and James, possess a unequivocally strong work ethic, divulging intimate moments from their youth--including a friendship with Eddie Vedder--memories as new musicians in the NY scene, and why it was imperative to release their self-titled EP through their own label (Innit Recordings). You might just find Lolawolf shows a side that may take you by surprise.
Greenroom: I know you have been asked this a 1001 times so here is the 1002nd time, but the collaboration of the Lolawolf EP wasn't planned but happened while you were filming A Road Within, a German remake in which you portray an anorexic woman. Can you tell me about that experience?
Zoe Kravitz: Basically I was playing an anorexic and I was very hungry and very grumpy, and at night would kind of go really stir crazy ‘cause I couldn't eat, I couldn't drink. I couldn't go out and I was grumpy as fuck so I wasn't being social either. I felt like I needed something to do that was productive and positive, like an outlet of some kind. So they [James and Jimmy] came to visit me and were like, "Let’s just record some music for fun." And we did, it was like therapy for me.
GR: You recorded music every night?
ZK: Yeah we needed a song a day rule so kinda of like wherever we ended, usually we would let it go and come back to it later, and start something fresh every day.
GR: Earlier you told me that you had just returned from recording another EP-worth of material in the Bahamas. How long did it take you to complete that project?
ZK: Seven days, seven songs.
Jimmy Giannopoulos: We did everything and went with nothing.
ZK: We had a few beats.
JG: A few sketches, we went with two of them.
ZK: But yeah we started it from scratch.
GR: Jimmy, you were responsible for getting the band together?
JG: No I think everyone kind of is. I've known James for a long time, we just never really did music together.
James Levy: We worked at the same bar, not at the same time.
JG: And then we started fucking around and making music.
ZK: Its all so organic, which is what I love about it. The first time we recorded, the three of us, was the song “Wanna Have Fun.” It was a rainy day and we had nothing to do so we wrote a song.
GR: What was the inspiration behind the songwriting of the first EP, since many of the tracks stem from love and heartbreak?
ZK: [laughs] Yeah, I was fresh out of a breakup when we wrote this EP so I guess that showed pretty clear.
GR: You recently signed with Cult Records, an independent label headed by Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes. What convinced you to sign with this label?
JG: James knows that whole gang [Cult] from a long time ago and at this point I feel like in his life, in all of our lives, what's the difference?
JL: You just want to be part of something cool and Sean [Har Mar Superstar] really did it.
JG: You’re not signed to a label to become famous, you sign with people to be a part of something; it’s cool, it’s fun, it’s like family and thats how you get through. So that seemed like the most appropriate place to go.
GR: Jimmy, you mentioned earlier that you haven’t had a job in over a year?
JG: Well, I couched-surfed all year, you know, thats just what I did. I've crashed at Zoe's place when she’s gone.
ZK: It's funny, he makes it seem like he doesn't have a job; he is the hardest working person that I know. He’s like in five bands, producing music, writing, traveling, going back and forth, writing for people, recording their shit, coming back having rehearsal, organizing rehearsal. He doesn't have a 9-5 job but he is literally the most motivated person I know. Its crazy!
GR: Some parents preach about a "backup plan" when it comes to the arts because they don't think of being an artist as a real career. Did you have to deal with that issue in your youth?
JL: CONSTANTLY...it was a nightmare. [Turns to Zoe] I know for you though--
ZK: Well I come from a family of artists so it was almost if I had become a Doctor they would have been like "What are you doing? REALLY? Okay, REALLY?" So yeah, I never really thought about that, for which I'm so blessed. I know that's not normal. I was always acting as a kid and just kind of did it and never had to think about it, and I’m very blessed to have that when most people don't.
GR: Musically, what is the decade you are most inspired by and why?
ZK: We were just talking about this yesterday because the EP that is coming out now has this crazy 80's vibe.
JL: I feel like it is this decade, it's fresh.
ZK: Like ancient future shit.
JL: [Smiles] Ancient future shit.
GR: First memory of music or something musically that made a major impact when you were younger?
JL: The first thing I got into was Prince, Cream, that's when I started liking music.
ZK: It's weird for me because I grew up around music a lot, so I feel like I have these memories of being very young with my Mom. She always had music on, a lot of Bob Marley, Van Morrison, but I didn't appreciate it until later, it was ingrained into my head and I knew all the music but I didn't really appreciate it and then I went through this phase where I was like 13 or 14 living in Miami and the music scene’s not great there so it was a lot of what was on the radio. And then I remember moving to New York when I was 15. I discovered The Beatles, Nirvana and Prince. I remember listening to Nevermind and my mind being blown and living in a city where you can put on headphones and walk around all day, you discover new music that way.
JL: Like The Beatles.
ZK: I remember coming home after I went to Virgin and bought Abbey Road and my Dad was like, "THANK GOD, I was worried for a while." [Laughs] I remember putting that on and it just blowing my mind.
JG: First music memories I have are being in my Dad's car and hearing Lionel Richie and Bruce Springsteen and my Dad being like "Jimmy, this is Lionel Richie." [Laughs as he impersonates his Greek father] And I was like, "What the fuck is this?” I mean I was really, really young. I remember another huge memory walking down the street on the sidewalks of Chicago and hearing The Beastie Boys and I remember hearing it in my cousin's room when their first record came out, like in '86. I was so young and I was like, "What is this?” I knew about grunge but I was still pretty young and then when I was thirteen I actually met Eddie Vedder and then became friends with him as a kid and he invited me to Pearl Jam shows. He took me to all these places, I went to Australia, I got to go to all these cool shows.
ZK: So fucking cool, I mean [Jimmy] told me this story but really casually six months ago.
JG: With Eddie though, there was no crazy shit going on, I was pushed away from it. I remember when I was twenty and I was like, "There are so many fucking hot girls here." And he said, "Be a gentleman.” Those words were so important to me because I expected to hear something else. My friends were like, "Yeah, you should fuck her.” You know, we were punks. And Eddie said, "No, you have to be cool.” You remember that and then you become that person and you say that to your friends.
ZK: He tells me to be a gentleman all the time. [Laughs]
GR: Zoe, musically, it seems you have been influenced by your parents but also by your Godmother, Cree Summer. You have stated, "She kind of got fucked over by a label.” What did you learn from her experience?
ZK: Yeah, she did. When I was twelve she put this album out and it was just shitty timing, the second the album came out the label split up or something, so she just got dropped and they owned it too so she couldn't put it out--so fucked up, such a good record. I was around when she wrote that record, I saw the evolution of all those songs, I was there when she was recording it, that was like the soundtrack of my life, because we were playing it all the time. She was family so that was one of the first times I saw the whole creative process. Just seeing a strong woman on stage, she's just badass. So yeah. She still makes music and her opinion means so much, I am so excited to play her our new stuff.
GR: Did Cree's experience influence your attitude about the importance of creative control?
ZK: Yeah, absolutely! My Dad, he owns all his masters. I mean it's different now, a different day and age. She could have maybe done something different had it been now and maybe just leaked it on the fucking internet and then what are you going to do? Back then you couldn't do that so things are just very different now.
GR: With A Road Within what do you think the audience will take away from your role, especially regarding body image?
ZK: I took the role because it was a fantastic role and fantastic script. I have gone through my own issues with eating disorders and body image and I kind of wanted to turn that into art, like if you have some demons inside of you, it's really good to exercise them that way and try to turn them around. It was scary for me, because I feel I have come really far with my own self-acceptance and to go back in like that--it was really vulnerable going back down the rabbit hole, you never know if you are going to come back out. Which is why music is really, really important to me.
It's crazy how people see body image, I was 90 pounds and people would tell me how fantastic I looked, especially in LA where everyone was like, "Oh my God, you look GREAT!" And I was like, “I look like a small child, I look sick.” And then trying to keep my own brain straight after the film, knowing I had to gain this weight back, I didn't want to stay that way. It was really scary, very vulnerable.
GR: Jimmy and James, what did you think when you saw Zoe while she was filming A Road Within?
JG: She took it pretty serious and did the research. She was telling me about different websites she saw, how people hide it, move food around on their plate.
ZK: There's like these “pro ana” websites where people who are anorexic talk to each other on how to disguise when you're not eating, hitting yourself in the stomach so you're not hungry, it's so sad. There are so many people all over the world who don't have food and here we are throwing it up or not eating it because we want to look like these skinny little boys or something. It's really, really sad. I don't have the answer by any means but it's something very real. I'm one of the victims of trying to overcome that disgusting thing the media pushes out--I have been affected by it too. I don't know, I hope people feel empowered by the film.
GR: What do see in the future for Lolawolf?
ZK: I feel like we always come off like we don't care, because we are so like, "I don't know." But we care! We just genuinely don't know what we're doing, it's just one day at a time.
JG: Yup, pretty much.
ZK: We care. People are responding well to the music and that's amazing!
JG: I think we are very day-to-day people, that is one thing we have in common. We are like, “How can we be creative, fulfilled and have fun?”
JG: That was one of the reasons for starting the label, how can we do this so we don't have to… Some people do a record and are like, “We can't record this or have a budget.” We are very self-sufficient and do everything by ourselves, everything!
ZK: We went to the Bahamas and my Dad has an amazing studio there--like fucking AMAZING. And he was like, “Use the studio.” And we were like, "Um, we are just going to record in the kitchen.”
JL: Yeah we brought all of our own shit!
ZK: We were like, “It's just better for us if we record in the kitchen.” We had our two speakers.
JG: We had monitors as carry-ons.
ZK: [Laughs] Yeah, I walk up to them in the airport and they are holding speakers, that was their carry-ons. And we just like that vibe better, because then again it doesn't feel like work, we're in the living room and we could be doing anything right now but this is what we want to be doing.