Domino Kirke and Penn Badgley have a strict no-shoes policy. Before I can join Domino Kirke on her very cool-looking yellow couch (past the skateboards and bikes, in front of the massive windows), I’ve been strongly encouraged to leave my shoes at the door. It’s the final obstacle of my morning, which has involved trekking past artisan chocolate shops and multiple advertisements masquerading as street art. Like a certain lonely boy, the recently married couple lives in the kind of Brooklyn loft that fictional New York artists often inhabit—a reconverted factory with exposed wood columns and gleaming amenities, just one atmospheric cab ride away from the big city.
While Kirke and Badgley’s tabloid credentials are numerous and easily caricatured—former teen drama star meets and marries a doula/musician who also happens to be rock ’n’ roll royalty, and they live hipster-ly ever after—Kirke is kind and humble in person. Pulling back her mermaid-length hair with tattoo-covered fingers, she confesses that her debut album Beyond Waves, released Friday, might not be slated for mainstream success. “I was nervous to release it, to be honest, because it’s just so artful—it doesn’t have many hooks,” she laughs. “It’s not the [record] where I’m like this is it, now I’m done,” she adds. “I’m really happy with it, but I also feel like this is just the beginning.”
Kirke may feel like she’s just getting started, but the 34-year-old is far from an industry neophyte. She was, in her own words, raised by two artists—her mother Lorraine is an “interior decorator” and “very creative person,” and her father Simon is best known as the drummer for the English rock band Bad Company. While Kirke “definitely admired” the careers of the artists she grew up around, she also learned to be wary of musicians early on. “It was never about the art they were making, it was more about the way they lived their lives,” she reflects on lessons she learned from her parents’ peers. “So I think the notes I was taking was on how not to act as a person in the world when you weren’t making music. I was like OK, don’t do the drugs, definitely don’t drink too much, and maybe try not to marry a musician?”
Between her artist parents, “It Girl” sisters, and actor husband, Kirke doesn’t seem to have managed much distance from the glamorous world she grew up in. Still, she explains, “When I met Penn he was an actor but he wasn’t working, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go back to work, and I was kind of into that! Because he felt like he’d seen it all and been so in the limelight and he was kind of over it, and needed to take a break from of it. So when we met I was sort of like, ‘I could get down with this—you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you’ve been there.’” She pauses, adding, “But now he’s acting again, so I guess we’re just getting ready for the next wave of insanity.”
Kirke remembers first taking up piano at age 6; after her family moved from London to New York, she attended LaGuardia High School, where she continued studying piano and classical voice. She began performing at “charming, cozy, old school places,” like singer-songwriter nights at The Bitter End. Kirke graduated from Greenwich Village at the tender age of 17, playing her first “real show” at Joe’s Pub. She was discovered at the gig, promptly signed, and the rest was history. Or, it could have been. “I got to play with incredible musicians, but it happened really fast,” Kirke explains. “I couldn’t believe it was all happening, and so by the time I was like 18, 19, I sort of took a break and was just like, ‘I’m not ready for this.’”
A few years later the singer was primed for her next big break. She teamed up with her friend Jordan Galland and formed DOMINO, which Kirke describes as “more of a pop outfit.”
“We all grew up in New York so we all knew a lot of well-known, crazy music people,” she recalls. “Mark Ronson was a dear friend through family and through growing up in New York, being in that scene, and Mark came to a show and really liked it and asked us to join his record label Allido records, or all I do records, and that was sort of a development deal. At the time Amy Winehouse was just kind of coming about, and Mark was releasing his first solo record which was all those cover songs, and it was a very busy time in that world. We were the babies of that crew. And the same thing happened where I was like, ‘This isn’t it either.’ I was getting a lot of experience playing shows and performing, but I still didn’t feel like I was able to… like I was performing me. It felt sort of inauthentic.”
While Kirke was familiar with celebrity, she’s described herself as slightly “scared off” by the intensity of working and living alongside Ronson’s crew. “That whole scene, I didn’t feel better than it, I was just like, ‘This isn’t how I want my music to go out there, this isn’t the vehicle for me,’” She explains. “I just think that time felt like it was really for them, and we needed a bit more attention than they were actually able to give us because they were so busy with Amy and so busy with Lily [Allen]. And we got to go on tour with Lily which was really awesome, and we played with huge bands opening for them, and I loved it, but I couldn’t shake that feeling of ‘This isn’t it.’”
Next, Kirke met the father of her now 8-year-old son, Cassius, and started playing bluegrass music with him. They moved to Virginia and went on tour. When they came back, she was pregnant. She took a break—“not a conscious break!”—from her musical career to raise her son. To pay the bills, Kirke took up unconventional employment as a doula. Kirke credits her own “traumatic” childbirth experience as the impetus for her work. “I experienced natural childbirth and then I experienced a lot of interventions,” she says, carefully. “But I didn’t die and neither did he, and I’m here to tell the tale… So I have a lot of respect for maternal health care and the system and the way it’s done, but I’m also a little wary of it, so I have a lot to offer.”
Kirke began by shadowing a friend, and quickly learned that there was quite a demand for doulas. “There’s such a need for it, there’s so much need for that sort of support when you’re going through that transition in your life,” she explains, adding that transitioning from pregnancy to parenthood can be “pretty terrifying, actually… I felt so fulfilled and I felt like I was being of service and putting down my ‘music hat’ for a while. It felt really nice to not focus on that—very cleansing.” While Kirke doesn’t “really take births at the moment,” she admits she still has doula clients lined up through the end of the year. “Even my husband’s like, you don’t need to work right now—I’m working!” She jokes. “Because we sort of switch off, so he’s like, just relax. But it’s not about bringing home the money anymore… I keep doing this because it keeps me going.”
Despite copping to taking two calls from a client just last night, Kirke explains that, back when she was working to make rent, “I was going to like six or eight births a month, really just coming home, sleeping, and then going back out.” Still, she laughs, “It was really amazing to say that that was my job. I was like, who gets to do this? I would finish a birth and be on the subway and wanting to tell everyone on the train what I just saw—it’s awesome to be able to call it work.”
When Kirke co-founded Carriage House Birth, a doula collective, it was out of a “tiny tiny space in Brooklyn.” These days, they offer classes and continuous care—birth education, lactation support, grief and loss counseling, and even doula training. “After four years we had a pretty intense curriculum… It was just like a thick schedule,” Kirke laughs. “And then of course this happened with Trump and suddenly everybody was like, ‘We need to hold more space,’ so we literally moved to a bigger space, and we just opened up our doors and allowed people to come in and do whatever they wanted, basically.
“I think just holding space for people right now feels more important than ever,” she continues. “We work with a lot of LGBTQ folks, and even in our curriculums for doula training, we don’t call them pregnant women anymore, we call them pregnant people. We get trans families in, lesbian families, gay families all the time, and they’re very mad because of the way they’re treated when they enter a hospital… So there’s a whole new world of support that Carriage House is really trying to spearhead.”
For now, Kirke is trying to focus on her new music and re-acclimate to the industry she left behind. “I’m always catching up—it’s sort of wildly different now! No one listens to CDs anymore,” she muses, sounding genuinely awed. “Who even owns a CD? I used to bring my CDs to shows and it was like a guarantee that everyone would buy one. Nope! Not anymore.” Still, growing pains aside, Kirke maintains that she’s finally ready to assert herself as an artist, whether that means a tour, more albums, or even a collaboration with her actor-musician husband. “He’s an amazing musician in his own right and has a wonderful voice, he’s a really great songwriter,” she gushes. “Down the road we’ll definitely want to work together on something… I mean, if he’s not going to suddenly be a crazy TV star again. Which would be fine! We’ll see.”