Domino Kirke defines herself outside of her famous family
Domino Kirke will play Johnny Brenda's on Nov. 16.
When your family includes actress sisters Lola Kirke (Mozart in the Jungle) and Jemima Kirke (Girls), parents Simon Kirke (drummer for Free and Bad Company) and Lorraine Kirke (owner of Geminola, a vintage clothing store), and new husband Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl), you need to do something to define yourself. So Domino Kirke tried acting and theater. She started a music career at age 17 only to stop shortly after to become a doula (a person trained to assist pregnant women before, after, and during childbirth). Now she's returned to music with a highly personal debut solo album — the folkie epic Beyond Waves — and a brief, intimate tour that includes a gig at Johnny Brenda's on Sunday, Nov. 19.
Q: Despite people knowing you for music, you started off wanting to do theater, and have an acting career.
A: I did, though I also went to high school for music. I was a little nervous about having to take all that direction with acting. Music ultimately just made more sense to me. I don't know if I loved the idea of being someone else, attempting to be another character.
Q: Were you looking for a more honest medium, do you think? Since you preferred not to struggle being someone else, do you feel as if that is why the lyrics to your songs are so personal and direct?
A: I would say that, yeah. I have always been more of a truth-seeking person since I was quite young. I was always that person in my family. Music made more sense as it was just me. Anything else was too controlling.
Q: I interviewed your father years ago, and he seemed like a nice man, a sane man, despite the weirdness of the music biz. What did you get from him, and gather about the life of an artist growing up?
A: What I learned is that it's very hard to have both a family life and a touring life simultaneously. It was very challenging, especially back then. Touring was more grueling, and didn't lend itself to being a parent. So, once I had a child, I had to find another way of being in that business. I look back on his career, and it was just a lot of absence. It taught me what I didn't want.
Q: It’s certainly a different game now.
A: Oh yes, you no longer have to sleep on hotel floors or jump into moving vans to get to sound check on time. I feel lucky that there is another way.
Q: You were discovered at a young age, and made music with Mark Ronson. Do you remember the exact moment when you realized that the biz wasn’t for you?
A: It just sort of happened that I had this other route handed to me when I became pregnant with my son. I realized that some people built this career up prior to having children and could go back at it. I made a conscious decision to have my son and begin from scratch. I would not tour for periods of time or take him out of school to have him on the road with me. I wasn't going to have that same sort of negligence in my life where they put their art before their family.
Q: Thinking about the album, it’s very folkie, surprising with where and what you grew up. How did that come to pass?
A: The man who I wrote the record with, Luke Temple [from Here We Go Magic], is a dear friend, and I'm a big fan. He came up with this song, "Paranoid Flowers," and I loved his lush, Brazilian, folkie style. I wanted something simple, but rich for my record, so I told him that I wanted a dozen songs just like that, and I wanted to be able to play it live with just one person — if I have to at all. And of course, I have to. Though I always experimented with electronic music in the past, I wasn't invested in that sound. My heart has always been in folk. That's my home.
Q: With touring and the business of making music, do you miss being away from being a doula and your Carriage House Birth doula collective?
A: I have really put the time in, and created a collective from scratch with a few other women, and the business runs itself at present. I got it to a point where I could go back to my art — and now, my son is older, so I can talk to him about it. The work I do when I'm not making music is very much about service, helping women give birth or aiding in family planning. People do ask how I can do both. For me, art is also a service, being able to bring people peace or comfort for a time while listening. It's a way to stay connected to spirit.
Q: There are a lot of references to water, to fluidity on the album. Why?
A: I think the last five years has been about getting rid of the edges. I left my son's father, had positive breakthroughs with my family, got married. I allowed things to happen. I let my guard down. That's what water is for me.
Q: Most artists would move away from a famous family and assert their individuality but you sing out about it here, which is quite charming — a tribute to who you and yours are on “Friend of the Family.” Why?
A: That song came to me more organically than anything on the album. I wanted to pay homage to everybody who ever came through my life and my house — the creepy person I didn't know who slept on my couch, the people I didn't like at first. There's gratitude there. I think that me and my sisters were raised more by those situations rather than the people. Being in New York around creative types, the parenting went out the window, but the experiences were really rich. They colored us, for better and worse. I learned all about the world without needing to travel.
8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, Johnny Brenda's, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., $12, johnnybrendas.com