"When I'm with these guys, it's like coming home," Zoë Kravitz says after her band, Lolawolf, finishes soundchecking for a sold-out show at Brooklyn's Rough Trade record store. The actress and singer is exhausted after a week of little sleep, and she stays curled up on the dressing room couch, her head resting against drummer Jimmy Giannopoulos. "When I'm with these guys and when we're on tour, it feels like vacation because these are my best buds. We get to go around the world and do what we like to do."
Right now, Kravitz's Lolawolf vacations fall between acting roles in increasingly bigger movies. This year, the 26-year-old appeared in Y.A. thriller Divergent, and in 2015, she'll return for its sequel, Insurgent, before joining Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. "With acting, I get employed. It's a job. I have to be places at certain times," she says. "Lolawolf is what I choose to do with my free time."
The band debuted at Manhattan's Mercury Lounge in November 2013 and this February they released a self-titled EP of occasionally dense electro-pop. Because Giannopoulos and keyboardist James Levy came from another band, Reputante, and Zoë's dad is rock star Lenny Kravitz, Lolawolf immediately generated word-of-mouth buzz. On their debut album, October's Calm Down, they proved that could stand on their own, playing Giannopoulos' hard hip-hop beats off Kravitz's smooth R&B melodies for an effect that's both rougher and sexier than anything on their first release.
"I was just thinking of when I go out dancing, what makes me want to dance," Kravitz says of Calm Down's influences. "It's all the stuff I grew up listening to, like all that early-2000s, late-Nineties stuff." The band cites the usual millennial canon – TLC, A Tribe Called Quest, Aaliyah, Timbaland and Missy Elliott – but it's the music of today that they all find most exciting. "I've heard people say that this is the worst year for hip-hop, but there's so much good shit out there," says Giannopoulos, excited that the conversation has shifted from the music he makes to the music he listens to. "There's so much cool shit that people care about. [Hip-hop fans] care about discovering new artists like that, where in rock they really don't have that."
This fall, Lolawolf took the album on the road when they opened for Lily Allen, Miley Cyrus and Warpaint within the span of a month, an experience Giannopoulos describes as "boot camp": "We did two shows at Terminal 5 with fuckin' Lily Allen, which were the biggest shows we had ever played by far. Then we went to Miley, where we played in front of 20,000 people and it was like, 'What the fuck?' That was this next level."
The trio had to quickly adapt, but Kravitz, it turned out, was a natural. "With Miley, we had a huge platform where we could walk 30 rows out into the crowd," says Giannopoulos. "First show, Zoë is like, 'Maybe at some point I'll take a few steps out.' First song, she just walks out all the way to the front and just starts fucking getting down." Levy, usually quiet, describes the experience as "grown-up fun."
Regardless of this large-scale success, the band prefers smaller shows at venues like Rough Trade. "It's nice to feel intimate," says Kravitz. "Those big arenas are so cool, but I feel a little bit disconnected because there's too many people to see who's there and what the vibe is."
On this Wednesday night, it doesn't take long for the crowd – which includes Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky, who co-starred in the group's "Jimmy Franco" video – to begin dancing. During the confident, cheeky "Bitch," the entire room bounces and screams as Kravitz shouts lyrics like "Who's a badass bitch that nobody heard?"
"It feels good to say 'I'm the best,'" says Giannopoulos, noting the influence of hip-hop. "We just came off a generation where that wasn't cool. Now everyone's being transparent as fuck and saying whatever they actually feel. It's insane most of the time, and it feels good."
"For the kind of music that we're making, you want to feel good," Kravitz adds. "You want to feel ballsy. You want to feel that cocky, fun thing. When I say 'badass bitch' and I see people singing along with it, I don't want them thinking of me as the badass bitch. You're now singing about you being the badass bitch. That makes me feel good, seeing people feelin' themselves."