Their debut album may be called Calm Down, but actress Zoë Kravitz and her band, Lolawolf, are only on their way up.
Zoë Kravitz is all about facing her fears. “If it’s something that kind of scares me, I know I should do it,” she says. In fact, this brave philosophy is the very reason she’s speaking to me by phone post–sound check from Sydney, Australia, where her band, Lolawolf, is supporting Miley Cyrus. A year ago, Kravitz was cast in a dark comedy called The Road Within that required the already petite actress to lose 20 pounds for her role as an anorexic girl. “It was really dark and made me a little nervous and I didn’t want to do it—so I did it,” she says, laughing. The 25-year-old has been using singing and songwriting as an outlet for as long as she can remember, so it was only natural that she call upon friends Jimmy Giannopoulos and James Levy from the band Reputante for some musical therapy during such a trying time. “I was like, ‘Please come hang out. I’m not eating, I’m not drinking, I’m so cranky...’ I was losing my mind.” The result was Lolawolf, who just released their debut album, Calm Down, and have quickly gone from playing modest stages in their native Brooklyn to arenas around the world with the likes of Lily Allen and Ms. Bangerz herself.
Such a quick transition might be incomprehensible for anyone else, but when you’re the daughter of actress Lisa Bonet and musician and actor Lenny Kravitz, performance is invariably in your blood. “You just kind of adapt to your environment, you know?” she says, as though we’re discussing the weather and not singing in front of 13,000 people. “The stage last night had a runway that went into the audience, and I was like, ‘No way, I’m going to stay put at the mic.’ But once the show actually started, I was strutting up and down it and dancing. Afterwards, everyone backstage was like, ‘Hey, Beyoncé!’” She laughs. “Performing has always been something I’ve been really comfortable doing. I guess it’s one of those nature-versus-nurture things. Whether it comes from the fact that I was always around it, or if it’s because it’s in my bloodstream or because it’s just something I happen to love as well, I don’t really know the answer to that.”
Kravitz lived a dream of a childhood in the lush hills of L.A.’s Topanga Canyon in a home almost completely devoid of technology—“There were no phones, there were no televisions, there were no screens, no tablets”—leaving her to turn to the outdoors and her imagination to pass the time. “I would play with sticks and berries and go on hikes—I was a total little hippie nature child,” she recalls. “I think that’s why I like to spend my time making things.” Eventually, her interests shifted toward music. “I didn’t have anything else to entertain me, so I would buy a CD and listen to it in my room over and over again and open up the jacket and read the lyrics and learn the songs.” As a kid, Kravitz played a few instruments but soon learned that her talent was singing and songwriting—and acting, of course. Her performances in Showtime’s Californication, the movie X-Men: First Class, and most recently as Shailene Woodley’s best friend in the dystopian blockbuster Divergent, have a crackling authenticity—something that translates to her songwriting. Take the line “I could stare out your window/and fuck you tonight” from the band’s first single, “Drive (Los Angeles)” for instance. “I think it’s so weird when people are so shocked by someone being real and candid,” she says. “Like, it’s no big deal for Rihanna to talk about someone eating her birthday cake, but what I’m singing about is a shock? I think music should be personal. I don’t even usually realize what I’m writing about or what I’m going through at the time until after I’ve written a song, and then I’m like, “Whoa….’”
“She’s a very curious person and likes to be a fly on the wall in the room at first,” says Giannopoulos. “After whatever it is that clicks in her clicks, she begins to dig, react, and take chances.” Those chances were taken in the Bahamas and, later, Las Vegas, where the band wrote and recorded Calm Down. “We had a lot of creative energy that needed to be experienced and experimented with,” continues Giannopoulos. There’s a reason that Lolawolf is signed to his and Levy’s label, Innit: total and complete creative control. “We met with a few labels,” Kravitz says, “and we just really didn’t like when someone would tell us what to look or sound like. We don’t need a million-dollar studio or producer. We’re happy with the way it sounds.” There’s also a chance that any other record label would have turned its nose up at the DIY album art for Calm Down: a topless, wolf-headed Kravitz giving the finger with both hands. “I feel like this project has ended up the way it has because I’ve found somebody that understands my energy and my personality and how to string that through in the music,” Kravitz says of her “musical soul mate” Giannopoulos.
Like Kravitz herself, Calm Down is decidedly raw—a glitchy, scattered, sultry R&B album that’s far more experimental than it is pop. Afterparty anthem “AYO” jumps from piano to pounding percussion; “Bitch” boasts cinematic strings and a Gwen Stefani–esque chorus; ’80s-inspired ballad “What Love Is” features gentle, lovesick croons; and a distinct sensuality runs throughout. For Kravitz, all the songs hold a meaning of newfound independence. “It’s not just about being this independent woman—it’s also about the loneliness that comes with being independent.” She pauses in thought. “And the power that comes with it as well.”
Once Lolawolf finishes their tour with Cyrus, they’ll head back to the States for a mini West Coast tour with their friends L.A. band Warpaint. (“Those girls are the shit,” says Kravitz.) Then it’s back to Brooklyn. And in the meantime, Kravitz anticipates the release of four films: Dope (a drama co-starring Blake Anderson and produced by Pharrell), Insurgent (the second in the Divergent trilogy), Mad Max: Fury Road (the new installment of the apocalyptic classic), and a Gerardo Naranjo film co-starring Dakota Fanning and Evan Rachel Wood.
“When I step back and I look at my world, I feel like I’ve been let into The Cool Club and they’re going to discover me and be like, ‘You’re not supposed to be here!’” says the accomplished musician and actress. I want to remind her that not only was she basically born with an honorary membership to The Cool Club, but she also rightly earned a spot there on her own. Instead, I let her finish. “I’m kind of just baring myself and my soul all the time. Whenever you catch yourself in those moments that you’re being truly vulnerable, that’s when you know you’re doing it right.”