Nora Kirkpatrick is feisty, funny and fabulously talented. A composer and musician – most notably, she plays accordion as a member of Edward Sharp and Magnetic Zeroes — she also acts, perhaps most recognizably as Dwight’s girlfriend on the last season of “The Office.” Her c.v. also includes performances with the Upright Citizens Brigade and for Funny or Die.
Did we mention that she is gorgeous and has a vintage dress collection that is (literally) straight out of a fashion magazine?
We caught up with her at the Firefly Festival in Dover, DE, for a chat on a shady patch of grass between sets, where she shared thoughts on music streaming, a new reality show idea, and why the Magnetic Zeros are a culture but definitely not a cult.
Weeping Elvis: You got here a little while ago and go on stage in about two hours. Do you get a chance to figure out who else is playing at these festivals?
Nora Kirkpatrick: I look at it, I always do. I’m excited, Kendrick Lamar plays right? He plays right before us and then right after us is someone really good too…
Let’s look it up, I forget…MGMT.
…and we have the Alabama Shakes who we play with a lot, so that’s exciting. I’ve been seeing Jim James a lot backstage and we saw Tom Petty the other day at Bonnaroo.
And you’re gone tomorrow?
Yeah we always leave at like 2:00 in the morning and then we wake up in a different city. It’s kind of exciting. It’s like time traveling. It’s a little disorienting but lots of fun because you get up and then it’s exciting to see what’s around you. I always have certain things I look for, like vintage stores, coffee shops, and museums. I have a bike, we all have bikes. So as soon as we get there, we get up, get coffee and like get on my bike. I have a good six hours of roaming before we have to do anything.
How many are with you on this tour?
Well there are 10 in the band. We have 12 with us on this tour because we needed some more people, and then we have like nine on the crew. We have two buses, a semi and an RV. And we have two babies on the road and a lot of girlfriends, so there’s a lot of us. Now that I’m thinking about it, there are probably like 30 or so (people). And 17 bikes….we have a whole bike trailer.
Well, this becomes your priority, so this is your schedule. I’ve had to go back and forth a bit, but it came to a place where I couldn’t leave tour anymore because it was too hard for the band to play missing a person. So yeah, it got a little complicated. I’ve had to turn down some roles, but it’s great, it’s a good problem to have, so I’m happy to be balancing those two best I can.
Are there other people in the band who similarly have to balance?
No, I don’t think so. Because I mean they all do other things, but they can do them on their own time. I think acting is kind of a thing where you don’t necessarily make your own schedule. So if they needed me for the summer I can’t necessarily be like, yeah, but you can pick and choose my days. You kind of have to commit fully, so my schedule gets a little bit more tricky.
Can you imagine a Justin Timberlake moment where you say, I’m done with this music thing for a while, I’m going to focus on acting?
Well he keeps going back and forth. I can see that happening, but I think I will always be going back and forth. I’m excited about this new album and I really wanted to come on this tour and do all of this. There might be a time where I might say you know I need to go do a film and then join up later, but I think that’s all beautiful. You know, everyone is really supportive of each others’ endeavors. We have painters and photographers and solo artists; it’s a pretty eclectic group of artists.
I’ve read a lot about how you all met each other in a personal sense, but tell me about how the different musical pieces came together.
I was playing accordion and I was acting. I had just gotten out of college from UCLA and then I met Jade [Castrinos] and Alex [Ebert] at Burning Man through friends. It sounds like such a hippy-dippy thing, it was my one and only time at Burning Man and they were looking for a keyboardist/accordionist, so they invited me to come in and start recording….that was like six years ago.
And you played accordion before that?
Well, I always played the organ and I wanted to be more mobile, because you can’t take that around, so I mean that’s why I picked it up. But I mean I don’t play crazy polka accordion. That is very difficult. We don’t need any of that in our band, so I kind of use it as more of an organ I would say.
I’d like to ask you about music streaming. Pandora has made news recently by seeking to lower the fees it pays to compensate artists and songwriters for streaming their music.
I didn’t even know Pandora paid artists per stream. Do they? Our bassist works for Pandora. Should have asked him. I don’t know….I’m so equivocal about that stuff. I mean Pandora is so great….I mostly use it to hear older music that maybe I can’t find other places, but it’s great that it spreads so wide and people get to hear this music all over the world, but it is also important to make a living off of what you’re doing. I don’t know; Spotify and all that stuff, it’s interesting. I can see how it’s the future, I just hope that it works out in a way that….I buy all my music. If I listen to it and I want to buy it, I don’t think I’ve ever grabbed anything from anyone, so I feel like it’s important to be respectful and honest in your own life about like the exchange of goods and things like that. But at the same time I also think it’s great that it’s free. I don’t know, I don’t have a problem with it either way, I feel like it will all be fine.
What do you say to people who describe your following as sort of cultish? How do you react when people suggest a cult of personality around Alex Ebert?
I get it, but it’s silly. I feel like people want to create drama in a very drama-free environment. I think we’re really about spreading a positive message and being happy and inclusive, and I think if they want to think that is cultish and put a negative spin on it, then go for it. But that’s so far from anyone’s intention. Often times in interviews I’ve had to say, “You know, we’re functioning members of society, we pay taxes, several of us have college degrees, many of us are in relationships with children, you know married, and we’re very normal people.” It’s just because there’s a lot of us and, Alex is a very forward front man. I don’t know why that would be a cult… I think it’s more an invitation to a culture. This is kind of the way we live, these are the kinds of things we’re concerned about, and this is how we’re walking through this life. If you’re interested in that or if you align with that, then I think people are like, “I want to latch on,” because it makes sense to them for some reason. I think we are all doing that in small ways in our own lives, based on what books you’re reading or what TV shows you watch. It’s the kind of lifestyle or interest that you align with. So in that sense, I think it’s awesome and it’s the greatest thing you can have as a band, something familiar to people so that they want to be a part of it. Which I think is great. I still don’t think that’s a cult, I think that’s something about like-minded spirits. People from so many different walks of life come to our shows and I think that’s the best thing about it. It’s not just like young, free teenagers. We have all different kinds of people and I think that’s the coolest part about it.
Tell me more about the culture.
We are a group of like-minded people which is why we came together. We’re health conscious and many of us are, I don’t want to say politically active — I would say politically conscious — and we have a host of charities that we’re involved with. I don’t know, we’re not pushing a certain agenda, I just think …I know that’s not what you meant, I’m just talking this out myself. You know it’s almost like hindsight is 20/20, but I’m not quite there yet. It’s hard to look back and say like we represented this, it’s more like we’re all on this journey together and we are walking it as a band, as much as other people are walking it, so…
There are values, but it’s hard to dilute them down to, like, we’re about inclusion and equality, because everyone is about those things. Even if I narrowed it down in a word I would be like we are pushing “that” and I don’t even know what “that” is, but it’s kind of unsaid….I think it’s more of a feeling than, well, “They stand for this, this and this and so do I.” It’s more of like, “Oh, it feels like that to me.” I think it has to be an unsaid feeling. Curiosity for me is a big one, I don’t think we claim to represent anything, but are curious about everything, which, for me at least, seems to be kind of a good way to go through life.
What does everyone ask you that you are tired of answering? What does no one ever ask you, but you think about a lot?
They just mostly ask about how we write songs together and how we met. One of the things we think about a lot is our rider. We’re a very health conscious band, and the rider includes the food they give you backstage; you get to give them an order beforehand. We’re very specific. I always thought there should be a reality show called “Pimp My Rider,” like that show “Pimp My Ride,” because we’ve gotten it down to a science where we can create like 15 to 20 meals now based on what is in the rider, just basic ingredients. It was a four-year process, whittling it down, giving it some thought, like hmm, I don’t think we need two tubs of hummus, really specific stuff. We have a juicer, we’re juicing all the time. I mean keeping your health up on tour is really a challenge…we have drawers and drawers of vitamins. There’s a heavy yoga contingency… I’m always learning about some new vitamin. Someone told me about one today, some natural serotonin thing. Everyone is worried about waking up in darkness as opposed to having sunlight because the buses are pitch black in the bunks. Sure we sound like hippies, but it’s like…yeah, alright, that’s fine.
I read somewhere that you like to travel, which is sort of mind blowing for me given all the traveling you do anyway.
I love traveling. I like to go on adventures. We all like to go on adventures. I try to do a trip alone every year. I hiked Machu Picchu with a friend, and I went to Africa alone for a while. I think it’s important to get out of your comfort zone. That’s why I like to go alone because it pushes your limits and of forces you to do some serious self-reflection that maybe you wouldn’t do if you had somebody there comforting you or knew who you were and it forces you to interact with people you may not have otherwise interacted with. I like to push…I like to grow faster than maybe the natural rate so I like to put myself in uncomfortable situations or do things I would have never thought to do or thought I could do just to kind of see, just to get past it and like go forward faster.
How does that get reflected into the music?
I don’t know how that gets reflected into the music. I guess the music is like a constant diary or reflection of the changes. I mean the style of our music is getting crazier and crazier, so many more instruments. Now I have three keyboards, an accordion, and we’re adding marimbas. We’re adding things left and right. I think with the new sounds we’re hearing, the new places we’re going, the new influences, it just keeps getting bigger, which is exciting and such a challenge to play. This new album is a challenge, but it’s so much fun when you get it.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ self-titled third album is now available. You can catch them and their bicycles on tour throughout the summer. Watch the video from the first single off the new album, “Better Days.”