Odetta Hartman and Lola Kirke Are Adventure Queens

The old friends talk motherhood, touring, psychics, magic dresses, and more.

Lola Kirke is a New York-raised, Nashville-based singer-songwriter and actress; Odetta Hartman is a New York-based singer-songwriter. Odetta’s new record, swansongs, is out today on Transgressive, so to celebrate, the two old friends got on the phone for a chat about it. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Lola Kirke: Once when I first got bangs, I really thought to myself, Has anyone ever died from bangs because they couldn’t see? But then today, I think that I answered the question — “Has anyone ever died from bangs, because they got electrocuted in a foreign country trying to blow their bangs out so they didn’t look like shit?” — and I feel like a lot of women in music can probably relate to that exact near-death experience.

Odetta Hartman: Definitely. It’s probably why I haven’t reverted back to bangs.

Lola: You had bangs when we were in Bucks Rock.

Odetta: Oh, yeah, iconic bangs.

Lola: [Laughs.] You had iconic bangs. I’m trying to get rid of these fuckers, but I keep doing the the thing where I try and get rid of them by continuing to cut them myself. It’s like girl math. I heard someone saying that at the airport yesterday — “It’s girl math!”

Odetta: So you just flew into London?

Lola: I just flew into London, and you’re about to fly into Paris.

Odetta: Yes, and hopefully going to come and see you in London.

Lola: I would love that.

Odetta: You are part of a country music festival in the UK, is that right? 

Lola: Yeah. It’s this thing called C2C — I realized it’s a play on the national anthem, “from sea to shining sea.” At least, that’s what I’m inferring. But it’s the most country music, even beyond Stagecoach, which is the country music Coachella. It’s, I think, the most country music thing I’ve ever been a part of. And I’m kind of nervous, because I’ve been used to being the most country girl in an indie world, as opposed to the most indie girl in a country world. 

Odetta: Alright, we’re going to have to unpack a lot of things, but you just said that it’s “the most country thing you’ve ever been a part of” — you just played the Grand Ole Opry, and you’re playing Stagecoach.

Lola: That’s true! [Laughs.] I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s just the old imposter syndrome.

Odetta: You’re killing it right now!

Lola: I’m glad it seems that way. And it feels that way — it feels that way on certain days. I feel like I’m slowly becoming more secure as a human being. Which is nice, because after a lifetime spent being desperately insecure, it’s a relief to finally be like, Oh, yeah, if I like something, then that’s good enough. I don’t need everyone else to like it. 

Odetta: I love that. What do you feel has been the turning point in that shift?

Lola: I think the turning point in that shift for me was just exhaustion, trying to get other people to like me and and what I’m making. I mean, both being an actress and making music — and making music in a time when there’s just so much music — [you’re] fighting for any kind of attention. And then for me, not feeling like the attention I was getting was good enough has just been a complete waste of time, and totally beside the point from what it was that I wanted to make music for. Which was to get laid and, you know, drink. [Laughs.] I’m just kidding. Then I think it’s just also just growing up, and getting into relationships in my personal life that feel much more aligned with time well spent. I mean, you just had a baby, so I’m sure that your values are completely shifting around that. I feel like we should talk about your journey into motherhood and making music, and trying to balance those two things.

Odetta: Well, we’re about to do a huge test run going out on the road for the first time. I was thinking back that my last major proper run was with you, pre-pandemic.

Lola: That was fun.

Odetta: That was so fun. But yeah, I’m about to do 13 shows in 15 days.

Lola: Oh, my god.

Odetta: All around Paris, Brussels, the UK, up to Glasgow, Dublin, back to London — and bringing the baby and bringing my mom. [Laughs.] So we’re trying to option the sitcom for Netflix. 

Lola: [Laughs.] You really gotta. Or at least, like, a TikTok channel. That’s amazing.

Odetta: Yeah, I’m really excited. I haven’t been playing in those cities since the last album campaign. The record’s going to come out when we’re in London, which is really exciting. My label is based there, Transgressive, so it feels like this really refreshing new chapter.There’s going to be some hiccups — some blow out diapers, I’m sure. 

Lola: Oh, yeah.

Odetta: The baby is so ready. We just flew to LA to do a little travel test run. And she’s already doing morning vocalizations, and I’m teaching her how to wrap cables, so…

Lola: [Laughs.] Oh, my god, perfect. 

Odetta: She’s going to be a great stagehand in the next couple of years.

Lola: I don’t doubt it. I feel like something I’ve always admired about you and your music is how self-contained you’re able to be. When we went on that tour together, it was like you were playing 14 instruments on stage at the same time, and had all the charisma. And there were bubbles and there were heart-shaped sunglasses… It just was this full experience, completely created by you. I mean, I grew up knowing you more from afar than in person until we were early in college. But then also knowing your family’s legacy in New York City — which was obviously Two Boots, my favorite pizzeria. I always lived at least one block from every Two Boots. But I feel like your family has this amazing tradition of fun and color and creating experiences for other people… I don’t know, it’s cool that you’re already including [your daughter] in in that tradition. 

Odetta: That’s really kind and sweet. 

Lola: Is that how you envisioned it? Because motherhood seemed like it took you by surprise, sort of.

Odetta: Oh, yeah. [Laughs.]

Lola: [Laughs.] Did you want to be a mom?

Odetta: Yeah, I’ve always dreamed of being a mom. And I think I had this fantasy of being the road mom with a road dog little baby. I wasn’t necessarily thinking it was going to line up with the release of my comeback album, but in a way it’s kind of perfect. And I mean, my parents were the coolest, and it’s been really interesting to step into this new role with both of them nearby, and reminiscing about how they would drag us to burlesque shows when we were two years old in the Lower East Side. Sometimes when I’m like, “Oh, man, should I be bringing my baby to this loud concert tonight?” My parents are like, “Yeah, that’s how you became the way that you are.” So I think that she’s already a very cultured and social baby. She was at her first art show at two weeks old, and she just lights up every room. She’s the biggest personality on the block — which, you know, makes sense. 

Lola: I feel relieved to hear that some parents are still raising their kids like it’s the ‘80s. 

Odetta: Oh, yeah. [Laughs.] 

Lola: I mean, I’m all about modalities of parenting that honor kids’ feelings a little bit more than at least my parents did, but also… it was cooler then! I think there’s a happy medium between [that and] kids knowing who’s boss, and it’s not them. And especially if their boss is someone that they can trust who’s like, “No, we’re going to go have a lot of fun…” I don’t know, that sounds incredible. What an adventure.

Odetta: Yeah. Well, stay tuned to the TikToks forthcoming about all the mishaps. [Laughs.] I’m really excited. And I think that we have a bunch of amazing ladies who have toed the path. One of my favorite memories from our tour was that crazy night that we had with Margo Price and Jenny Lewis—

Lola: Oh, my god.

Odetta: We were jamming after the show, behind the stage and barefoot drunk, and Margo, I think, had her baby on the tour bus at that point.

Lola: Yeah, she did. She had baby and mom, and I think her sister was there. I remember going between her bus and hitting her gravity bong, and then going to Jenny Lewis’s bus and hitting her gravity bong, and being like, Maybe having kids doesn’t really change a woman’s career in music that much. You just get a different kind of bong or whatever. But, yeah, that was an epic night.

Odetta: So fun. My feet were filthy.

Lola: I have photos!

Odetta: And another badass music mom in our constellation is, of course, Elle King, who produced your Country Curious EP.

Lola: Yes, she did. 

Odetta: And she went to camp with us.

Lola: I know. It’s really more like a badass Bucks Rock mom — that’s the overlap. I think that it’s really important to see, especially for me, because I want kids, too, That’s a part of my life that I hope I get to, and it’s inspiring to see women making that work. I mean, I think that you have to compromise if you want anything, but just seeing that you can still be a person — you don’t have to shift to be a mother, necessarily. You don’t have to become this whole new other person. I always wanted my mom to be more selfish with her time, to be more like, “This is what I want to do.” Because I feel so guilty about everything in my life, about taking any time in my life, and I think that having parents that are just like, “No, this is what I love, this is what I’m passionate about,” would probably really go a long way.

Odetta: Definitely. Speaking of raising kids in the ‘80s, did you grow up with the record Free To Be… You and Me?

Lola: No, what’s that?

Odetta: Oh, my gosh, it’s amazing. I’m going to send it to you. It’s this precursor to gentle parenting kids album that is featuring Harry Belafonte, and all kinds of just amazing cameos. There’s a song called “Parents Are People,” and it goes, “Mommies are people, people with children…” I’m looking at the lyrics — “Some mommies are ranchers or poetry makers or doctors or teachers or cleaners or bakers. Some mommies drive taxis or sing on TV — yeah, mommies can be almost anything they want to be!”

Lola: Wow, I gotta listen to that record. 

Odetta: It’s amazing. It’s going to be on repeat in the tour van as well. Is there anything that you have been listening to recently that you’re really stoked about or loving?

Lola: I’ve really been into the Robert Plant Alison Krauss records. I like the one that they put out a couple years ago. I feel like I’ve just increasingly become very adult contemporary — because I’m an adult now, you know? [Laughs.] I also love All the Roadrunning, the Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris record. So just great collaborations between male and female legends of their time.

Odetta: Love it. 

Lola: And then I really was listening to a lot of the later June Carter records that she put out. Now I’m talking adult adult contemporary, because she made these records when she was, like, 80.

Odetta: Geriatric contemporary.

Lola: Exactly, exactly. Another record that I just had a really great time with for the first time in a long time was The Wheel, the Rosanne Cash record. It reminds me of Court and Spark, and also Tango in the Night, the Fleetwood Mac record. It’s just so mature and sophisticated and sexy, and she had, like, four kids when she made that record. I mean, you were at school with Carrie [Crowell, Rosanne Cash’s daughter] probably at that time. 

Odetta: Yeah.

Lola: But anyway, those are my records. What are you listening to? 

Odetta: Uh, Baby Mozart exclusively. 

Lola: Oh, my god. Have you been playing Mozart for your baby on the violin?

Odetta: She doesn’t like the violin, actually. 

Lola: What!

Odetta: She’s like, “This is too high frequency.” She loves bass. She loves beats. It’s been really interesting to play instruments for her. The banjo, the guitar — she much prefers strumming to fingerpicking. Her new thing now is we have this portable Bose speaker and she just sits with it and holds it and feels it. 

Lola: Wow. 

Odetta: And we sing in the morning. She’s already so inherently musical, and just engaging with everything. It’s so cool. But I’m excited to get back on the road — when [Alex] Freedom and I travel together, instead of homework, it’s “road work,” and we just listen to entire discographies of artists and read about the histories of them. 

Lola: So you still enjoy listening to music?

Odetta: That’s a complicated question.

Lola: It’s my scariest question that I ask anyone. Because for me, I think a big part of making music has been this slow pull away from enjoying it simply in and of itself, to comparing myself to other musicians, to really just analyzing music in a certain way. I don’t know if that’s necessarily just because I make music now, but also I think because there’s just so much music, so I’m just like, “So why are you making this? What’s your intention?”

Odetta: To get laid and to get drunk, right? 

Lola: Yeah. I like that intention, though — that’s more interesting to me than other ones. But speaking of new music, your new record is coming out. What’s the name? I’ve been listening to the singles, which I fucking love.

Odetta: The record is called swansongs. I’m really excited. It was my first record that Freedom co-produced with Wyatt [Bertz]. Wyatt’s been on the road with you and me, and obviously we all went to Bard together. Freedom, who has been on the road with both of us, is just the greatest, gentlest person of all time. 

Lola: Truly.

Odetta: I was testing out some of these songs while we were on the road opening for you — we did kind of a punk version of “Goldilocks.” Then coming back from that tour in February 2020, we started demoing them out. Of course, things changed and we weren’t able to make music together, so we did almost the whole record remotely, which meant that it’s a lot more electronic and kind of hyperpop than was initially intended. But I think that’s cool and fun and exciting. 

Lola: Oh, it sounds so cool. I’ve always been blown away — and I think this is why you’ve had the success that you’ve had — it’s like freak folk, but in a way that nobody’s done before. I’ve always loved the way that you’ve been able to merge more electronic sounds with what is very, very rootsy. It’s so exciting.

Odetta: Oh, thanks. Honestly, it is exciting to hear it on stage when the sub basses come in on the big speakers, and I’ve just got my little banjo. So I’m really looking forward to doing some of the songs on the road. Freedom’s going to be joining me. I’m excited to bring the new material to the stage. We’ll still do some old stuff — it’s like a little blanky that we can’t get rid of. [Laughs.] But then I’ll come back to New York and hopefully do the whole album with Wyatt, and we’ll have a big celebration for that. I’ve been working on it for so many years. It’s really crazy to finally be at the finish line — which is also the starting line. 

Lola: Yes. They say in movies, when you make a movie, you make three different movies: the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you edit. And I feel like those phases are so true for making albums, too. You’re writing it, and then you record it, and then you tour it, and it does take on a new life. I remember talking to Cassandra Jenkins about this, but she had this approach for picking which songs went on her album by being like, “What words do I want to say for the next year?” Like, I’m going to have to sing these at least four months of the year, so I better really like them. 

Odetta: I love that. What’s your favorite line that gives you a little giggle when you sing it every show?

Lola: That’s a great question. There’s a line in “My House” where I say, “Maybe you can come home in 28 days, because we got a lotta love and a lotta bills to pay.” The song’s about kicking someone out of your house to go to rehab, and I feel like some people get that. I remember there was some Grateful Dead circle-spinning man that came to one of my shows in Toronto —  there’s been a few people that have picked out that line live, and they’ve all been dejected men, basically, who have been through that experience. So I’m always grateful. What’s your favorite line to sing live?

Odetta: I have a song called “Back on My Bullshit” — actually, it’s called “Giddyup.” It’s a country song. 

Lola: Of course, I remember that song.

Odetta: There’s some pretty searing lines in that one. There’s a line about “trending towards being abusive.” That has a lot of double layers, but that’s kind of the theme of this chapter that I’m in. With the swansongs, it’s coming from Swan Lake, so you have the White Swan, Odette, and then the Black Swan, Odile and these kind of evil twins. So everything has a double meaning. “I get happy when you’re happy,” in “Good Socks” — it’s like a really cute, two chord love song, but then if you think about it, it could also be something relating to co-dependence. Like, “I can’t be happy until you’re happy.” So that’s the secret behind this record.

Lola: I love that. 

Odetta: Requires some deep listening. But I wanted to go back to your relationship with Rosanne Cash, if we can. 

Lola: Yeah!

Odetta: And kind of segue that into something that I really want to ask about, which is: what did it feel like to put [June Carter’s] dress on at the Grand Ole Opry? I mean, your fashion — I always have loved it. And you also do a lot of commissions, so you have special tour outfits that are amazing. 

Lola: Yes. I like to drain my bank account as often as possible. I will say, I’ve been in London for, like, three hours and I’ve already bought a beautiful blue velvet vintage Vivienne Westwood skirt suit, and a beautiful mini skirt that I hope I wear every day. At least, I have to in order to justify it, because girl math. But the Rosanne Cash of it all basically came through, a psychic told me that I needed to work with her. And the psychic has been wrong before, but is mostly right. 

Odetta: It’s somebody you see regularly?

Lola: Yeah, you’ve met her — Peri, remember? My crazy, crazy, crazy birthday party the night before we went to DC. 

Odetta: Oh, yeah.

Lola: That night, she was there. But anyway, she told me I needed to work with Rosanne Cash. And then, lo and behold, a year or two later, I got an email from RC that was like, “Lola, I’ve trying to get in touch with you. Can you come work on this?” It was this workshop of this musical that she and John Leventhal had been working on. I did, and that was absolutely incredible. 

Then the dress actually came more through her daughter, Chelsea, who has become one of my really close friends in Nashville. The dress was just in my house in a garment bag, hanging up for months before this happened. When I would tell people that June Carter’s dress was in the house, there would be a, [gasps] “Should we go look at it?” It was just this bizarre thing to be there. And it fit me perfectly — I asked Chelsea, “This only fits me, right?” She was like, “No, the dress is magical. It actually fits any woman that puts it on,” because June was like the every woman. But the zipper was broken, and it’s kind of too historic to fix it — I don’t really trust too many tailors in Nashville. I’ve had some bad experiences. So she sewed me into it backstage. I don’t even think I still have processed what it was like to wear it. When I saw a video of it and the way it moved on stage, I was just like, Man, I didn’t even realize what a life this thing has. And honestly, I’ve never looked better, so that there’s that. 

I was very nervous about getting on that stage for a million reasons, but it’s a big dress to fill. But I did see that June documentary a couple weeks before — I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but June Carter had this whole other life before she had her second baby where she was an actress. She would fly to New York to study with Sanford Meisner during the week and hang out with James Dean and Elvis and all sorts of people. Then she would fly back on the weekends to do the Opry. What I loved so much about learning about that part of her — and then another songwriter named Cindy Walker, who was another country writer and actress — I loved learning of this bizarre tradition. And it makes sense. I mean, people like to express themselves in all different ways if they’re given to that already. But that made me feel like, OK, well, maybe I do kind of deserve this… You know, I didn’t grow up playing music in the way that you did, and I imagine that the relationship to even holding an instrument is just so different. For me, I’m still kind of scared of my instrument. I still don’t really know what I’m doing with it. It’s just a lot of passion, it’s not a lot of skill for me. 

Odetta: Don’t sell yourself short.

Lola: [Laughs.] But I’m learning more, and I love it. I’m learning now like, “Oh, no, I hate when you play that,” like when I’m playing with new people. Because I used to just be like, “Yeah, do whatever you want.” And now I’m like, “No, don’t do that. I don’t know what it is, but don’t do that.” It’s cool — I’m seeing myself learn as I get older. I love that. So it’s not necessarily selling myself short, it’s just being honest with myself. And through that, being able to really see the progress that I have. But anyway, that’s a very long-winded way of saying: it felt amazing wearing her dress, and I found myself being a little bit funnier and more charming than maybe I would have been without it.

Odetta: I wish I could have been there, but it looked and sounded amazing. And I want to say that something that I really admire about you is your endless commitment to the craft. I remember one day I came out to visit you in Los Angeles, and we just sat on your porch barefoot and talked about new songs that we were writing, and I was just so taken aback by how diligent you are with your routines and with your morning pages and your songwriting, and seeing the arc of that over many years. I also, on the road with you, took so much inspiration from your sacred morning routines and rituals. Maybe we can close with that as a little prayer to help me get grounded before I finish packing and fly. [Laughs.]

Lola: Well, I remember your morning rituals, too — you did a lot of yoga. I always loved sharing rooms with you because you would always stay up later than me, and amazingly never ever showed any sign of it the next day. And you would get up and just do yoga. So I believe in your ability to do both — because that’s ultimately what it is, right? I mean, it’s a volatile career path, and I think finding the balance in it is really hard. I commend you for seeking that balance with your baby, and also wanting to have this experience and give her that experience, because that’s really special.

Odetta: I’ve been joking that there’s actually a Venn diagram of touring and motherhood: you’re just never sleeping, you’re only eating granola bars and weird snacks at weird hours, you’ve become totally desensitized to public nudity, you’re carrying so many pounds of gear all the time. And you’re obsessed with gear — like, “What kind of pedal do you have? What stroller do you have?” It feels like a very natural shift. 

Lola: Wow, I never thought about it that way. I love that. I think that you’re going to have a really amazing adventure on these shows. I wish I could see it

Odetta: For me, Opry is like life goals, so I was trying to think — what is next from there?

Lola: Oh, god. I mean, I’m excited to go make another record. I’ve written hundreds of songs and I’m excited to record them and see how the sound evolves. I feel like for me, treating albums like movies — I don’t want to just make the same movie over and over again. I want to experiment with genre and theme and colors and whatever. So I’m excited to go there next. What about you? What’s next for you? Just fucking touring, releasing a record?

Odetta: Releasing a record, but I’m also excited to work on the next project. I already kind of know the theme and the idea. I have two records in my mind that I want to make, actually — one in Nashville and one in New Orleans. And this is my official getting on one knee: I would love to co-write with you. 

Lola: Oh, I would love to do that. I would be honored to co-write with you.

Odetta: I think that would be so fun.

Lola: Let’s set it up.

Odetta: Let’s do it. Yeah, I was really kind of stuck in the mud with swansongs, because the pandemic and just a million things. But the timing is divine, and it’s all happening exactly how it was supposed to. But I’m really excited for making some new work and getting back out on the road and and seeing friends. 

Lola: Hell yes.

Odetta: Remembering how to do those yoga stretches in the morning.

Lola: Yeah, do your yoga. That’s something good. But don’t forget: you are the adventure queen. I have always known that about you and always admired that about you. I think this is just going to be a different kind of adventure, but it’s going to be amazing. I’m so excited for you.

Odetta: Thank you. Same to you. So good to see you and chat.

Lola: I love you, Odetta!

Odetta: I love you! Have an amazing weekend in London, and see you out on the dusty road.

Odetta Hartman is New York-based singer-songwriter. Her latest record, swansongs, is out now on Transgressive.