There’s something rare about finding true artists these days. Perhaps we can say it’s society and its pressures, or convention and its means, but it’s a scarier thing than ever to actually follow that something inside you that desperately hurts if you deny. Which is why, in the simplest way, we’re grateful for Nora Kirkpatrick. Formerly of the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Nora’s now on her own in pursuit her craft and art. Which isn’t surprising considering she hails from farm laid fields of Iowa, from lands time has taught must go fallow for greater growth to come. It’s this going fallow, an age-old practice of patience from those who trade in means that rely upon the land, that can teach us all a little something about trusting in the work unseen. After all, above ground it looks barren, but in the warmth beneath, something magical stirs. And it’s this trust in taking care to tend the creative pastures that can be the hardest, and the most rewarding, of times. For Nora, she paused her public pursuit of music for a focused pursuit of acting. Its a path that, when she began, she had no prospects, no knowns, and no guarantees, but she had an itch. And, not surprisingly, by taking time to refill her creative reserves, she’s already found the kind of allure and draw that leaves us rapt. Effortless, that’s the goal, and we think she’s found it. We asked Nora a few questions to help uncover what stirs her to surrender, what piques her curiosity, and what it is about vintage that nearly always steals her heart.
Story and Interview by Miwa Sakamoto
Do you think style is important?
I think feeling comfortable in your own skin when you go out in public, or even by yourself for that matter, is important. I’m more comfortable if what I’m wearing outside looks like how I feel inside; so I’m one unit, internally and externally. Surround yourself with what you need to feel aligned and that will become your personal style.
What’s it about vintage?
Beyond the fact that it just fits me better than modern clothes, I love the history behind it. I like knowing that there was another lady somewhere, at sometime, who very likely made this dress for work, or for a dance, or to impress a boy. It makes me feel connected to those who’ve come before. This is why I love the cuts from the 1940’s, I find them to be very flattering and classy on the female figure.
What are you drawn to?
I’m drawn to challenging thoughts. People who challenge me, and make me question my viewpoints on things. I like to see how I interact in different situations so I don’t shy away from the uncomfortable, or the unknown. I feel those are the times in which I expand the corners of my personality.
Creativity and expression can be excessively draining, what do you do to refill the reserves?
I listen, I watch, I read, I go. Honestly, one good album, one episode of This American Life, one good museum exhibit, one good quote can turn an uninspired time into something very transformative. It’s usually the smallest things, or the stillest moments, that I find give space for something to come in. Usually, when I think I’m thinking about nothing, something comes.
What sorts of spaces do you seek?
I love abandoned things. Houses, forest dwellings, caves, things that used to have life but now do not. Growing up, the woods behind my house in Iowa were full of old knick-knacks and abandoned sheds. I spent everyday going through every “artifact” I could find, trying to map their origins.
What albums, books, art are your creativity?
Nina Simone is a huge emotional force when it comes to creativity. Her songs, for their time, or for any time for that matter, really pushed the envelope when it came to song structure and thematics. She let you into her inner struggles and outward hopes. Each song is like a diary entry and she doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. Whenever I need someone to remind me of the benefit of laying it all on the line, I listen to her.
As an avid reader, what books do you have to share?
“Working” by Studs Terkel, “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, “Brave New World” Aldous Huxley, and “This American Life” –NPR – Not a book, but just as informative if not more.
What do you think about time for reflection?
I would say since I was about 10, I ‘ve spent about two hours a day starring at a wall, day-dreaming. I think this may have been my early form of meditation, but I still do it. I sit awake and think for a few hours. It’s not even particularly on purpose, I often just find myself drifting off. A lot of good ideas come from this time.
It interests me to no end. I love to watch how you change as an actor the more information and life experience you accrue.
How do you feel about direction? Do we absolutely need direction in creativity, life, art?
I think there needs to be curiosity above all else. I try to follow the things that make my head spin, that make me interested. Whether that be acting, music, writing, sculpture, physics, history, whatever. For me, it’s more important to stay interested than to stay with one thing I decided upon ten years ago. Mostly everything I do in the art world seems to be connected in a way, so I try to encourage the differentiation of interests (rather than discouraging them, as is often done). I think everything sums up in the end, adding to who you are as a person, and who you are as an artist.
How do you feel about collaboration?
In most cases, with the right person, collaboration is such an exciting way to go. I find collaboration can take away a good portion of self-doubt before it sneaks in and slows you down. I love bouncing ideas off someone else — I find their rebuttal often shoots the idea so much higher than it was before. The back and forth leaves you with something far more whole. Yet there are certain circumstances where something must be done alone, and trying to meld two ideas together dilutes the original. As so often, it really depends upon the project.
There seems to be some unwritten societal (and self-imposed) rules we’re held to in creativity when we have to produce a product. How do you feel about these potential boundaries?
Sometimes it’s nice to have a deadline for something, it forces you to push through times of low inspiration, focusing on your process; but, of course, it’s the moments when it all just comes together that are the most freeing. My mother often tells me when I’m getting too caught up in not getting something just right that “the great is the enemy of the good.” Meaning, of course, striving for perfection can often leave you paralyzed and without a product at all. It’s a balancing act, everyone has their own standards for what is good and when something is good enough to be shown to the public. Without this disparity, the art world would be very homogeneous.
You seem to be drawn to experience as inspiration, but is there anything you don’t think you’ll ever need to try?