Interview: Petal’s Kiley Lotz

By Megan Fair, Features Editor

ACRN was lucky enough to speak to Kiley Lotz after her return home from her tour with Tigers Jaw. The artistic engine behind the emotive and undeniably infectious rock project Petal was talkative and vibrant as we chatted on the phone. Full of honesty and passion, Lotz filled us in on writing the new record, her advice for non-men who are diving into music, living in New York and acting after graduating from the University of Scranton in 2013 as well as growing up in the Eastern Pennsylvania music community.

Are you home for awhile now?

Yep, yep, for now and we have a couple shows coming up in November, but we were out on the road for about a month and a half, I’d call it, with also rehearsing with the other band that I used for some of the dates, so I haven’t been kind of sedentary for a while. And I just started moving into my new house so I’m not really relaxing too much, but it’s still good to be home. 

 So you’re glad to be home?

Yeah, for a little bit. I’m kind of anxious to tour soon or play some shows now that the record is out, but it’ll all happen in good time, I’m sure.

The new album has received a ton of high praise, and I know not everyone cares about reviews, but how are you feeling about getting the record out?

I’m definitely excited that it’s finally out for people to hear, because I feel like the songs have been ready for awhile, so it can be a little nerve wracking, a little frustrating with logistics like getting the record pressed and all that, but yeah, now that it’s out and people have heard it, it’s truly exciting.

 You can’t really read reviews or take them too much to heart, but so far everyone has been pretty positive which is really amazing and exciting, and I definitely didn’t totally anticipate that. I think that, I don’t know, I’m always a bit of a pessimist, so I anticipate the worst just in case. [Laughter] Which is such a terrible way to think, but it’s a self-preservation thing, I guess. 

 The feedback so far has been really, really, exciting and encouraging, but you take it all with a grain of salt, because you do it because you love it, not for the nice things that people write up about it. 

 We’d been sitting on Shame for awhile, so I was getting to a point where I’ve been writing new material, and you always have that feeling like, “Oh, what I’m doing right now I like so much more!” So it was a nice to take a step back…and now that I’m coming back to the songs fresh I do like these songs, and I do think they translate well live. I’m excited to get to play them more. 

 How long ago did you write the material on Shame? 

I’ve written the songs over the course of three years-ish, not with the idea that these songs were going towards a full-length, just kind of writing. And it was over the course of me finishing school and moving to New York, so it wasn’t really a deliberate, direct process. It was a lot of writing things really rapidly. I realized I had enough material that I liked that we could definitely could do a full-length and Run For Cover wanted me to do a full-length too, so I thought, ‘Hey, we can finally do this now.’ It ended up having more of a theme and a consistent idea going through [the songs]. So in that way it’s definitely different from the EP, but I didn’t write all of them in a short amount of time. I’m happy with them! I feel like there’s a good mix of heavy and soft, even in the content too. I feel really happy with it, which is great. It’s a really nerve wracking sort of thing, I’d never been a studio like that to record, so it was really cool. 

How did you get connected with Run For Cover? 

So I had recorded the EP myself and had put it out on the Internet and screen printed a few CDs and was playing some shows, and I think it just got passed around on Tumblr and probably like a year after I put it out, Jeff [Casazza] emailed me, and I had only met him once before that, I think. He had emailed me and said he’d heard one of the songs and asked me to send him some more, and I did. And he was like, “Do you want to work together?” and I said, “Yes!” So that’s how that happened. 

 It’s been a good partnership. They’re really supportive of my work and what I want to do creatively and that’s really cool. 

I’m always curious how labels find artists and reach out. 

Honestly it’s a lot of word of mouth and what people are buzzing about, and I know Run For Cover doesn’t take submissions, and I think that’s because they like to go to shows and see bands and find out from other people who is writing really cool stuff. I think that’s really cool, because submissions are great, but they take a lot of time to sift through and maybe you don’t get the full experience. I got lucky—someone at the office heard [the EP] on Tumblr and like forwarded it on to Jeff, so I got lucky, but also I started it never having the intention of getting signed or anything like that. It was kind of a fun thing to do, and it turned into something bigger, which is great. 

 What was life like post graduation?

I got my degree in theater from the University of Scranton, so I lived in New York for two years, acting. The record was coming out and I wanted to tour more, so I left the city to do this for now. It’s scary, but exciting too because it’s still creative and I have a little more control of what I’m doing in terms of schedule and content. The past year has been pretty insane, in a good way. 

It sounds like a whirlwind! 

It’s been nuts! I’m trying to stay humble and enjoy it and meet as many as people as I can. It’s really cool to meet new bands and talk to people and see new places. I really haven’t travelled very much, so it’s cool to get out and see America.

How was living in New York and acting for two years? 

[Laughter] Uh, it was nuts. I 100% don’t regret it all. It was super hard, but it was really important and good that I did that for so many reasons. Acting is really competitive and there’s a lot of people in NY trying to do that, and, in my case, a lot of young women that look just like me. Everyone’s talented at that level, and so I spent the first year auditioning, not booking any work, but I wasn’t really going in and being myself, like I was wearing what the other girls were wearing, and I was acting the way I thought they wanted me to. I was like, ‘What the heck? Why am I not booking any work?! I don’t think I’m a bad actress, but what’s wrong here?’

 I was getting so frustrated, so I was there for a year, and I was finally like, ‘You know what, screw it! I’m wearing my clothes to auditions and I’m going wear my glasses, and I’m not trying to put on some thing that’s not me anymore when I go into the audition room.’ And the first audition I had after that realization, I ended up booking the job. That was really cool, and I got to do an off-broadway play with [Annie Golden] from Orange Is the New Black, and that was really a mind-blowing experience. 

It was kind of crazy because the character I ended up playing [in Underland] was so cool and really compelling and kind of nerdy, seemingly very meek person, and she ends up being a really strong character in the play. So it was really cool to do that. It was a crazy experience, and I made a lot of great friends out of that, connections creatively, people that I’m still working with on projects in theater, so that’s really exciting too.

But in the mean time, living in New York sounds glamorous and stuff, but I was working two or three jobs at a time and living off oatmeal. It was great too, in a way, because it really forced me to realize that I needed to take care of myself. I didn’t realize how much I struggled with mental health issues until I moved to New York. I kind of always knew I had something that was off, I just never got help or found the right help, I guess. 

But going there to the city and being there alone—and that schedule you’re on when you’re in New York and working these crazy jobs. It’s really taxing, so I started to experience my symptoms more intensely, and I kind of had a really bad breaking point, but it was great, because it kind of forced me to talk to my family and talk to my friends and get serious about getting help. And I did! I found a great doctor.

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-2-28-28-pm
Lotz in Underland. Photo by Hunter Canning for The New York Times.

How was New York post-getting help?

In year two, New York was so different than year one, basically, where I was still struggling financially and working crazy hours, but I had more of a handle on my wellness and realizing that taking care of myself and doing stuff that gets me hyped in the morning, even if I have to go work a day job—I still have these creative things that I’m doing that make me so happy, and I now have the tools to take care of myself with my health. That was really amazing. It was really tough. I now don’t live in New York. [Laughter] And I don’t know if I would go back right now, maybe someday I would, but I think now I’m kind of looking forward to just touring and having a slower pace to still have the energy to be creative and keep working. 

I do recommend [moving to New York]. If you’re thinking of doing it, do it! It’s really hard, but it’s the best life experience I could have gotten right out of school. It definitely forced me grow up and to be honest with myself and take more accountability for the kind of person I wanted to be in association with other people in terms of who I have around me, and how to maintain those relationships. 

I think about it sometimes and it’s like, ‘I can’t believe I actually did that and made it work.’ I mean, I moved there with $1000 and nowhere to live. I had no home, no job, and I lived on a couple couches for awhile, and everything falls into place. But you kind of learn that you’re capable of so much more when you’re under the gun, and you learn to really trust yourself. 

What were some of your reservations about acting that perhaps changed?  

It used to be embarrassing to be like, ‘Oh, I’m an actress,’ because basically you’re saying, ‘Oh, I’m a waitress.’ You know what I mean? Or, ‘Yeah, I work at a daycare.’ But now after doing it, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I am an actress!’ even if I still work at a daycare. I hate when people apologize for the fact that they are an artist as if they don’t contribute anything to the world. [Laughter] Just because you’re not an investment banker, entry-level at Morgan Stanley doesn’t mean you’re a piece of shit. You contribute something. Just because you have a less than glamorous day job doesn’t mean you’re not doing something good. That was a cool thing, where I feel a little less embarrassed to say what I actually do with my time when I’m not [at my day job.] 

Why do you think that is?

It’s become a weird thing where people seemed to be more embarrassed to say they’re a writer or a poet or ‘I go to school for this’ as if it’s not typical, and there’s nothing wrong with doing those [typical] jobs either, but I think if you’re a creative person and you love doing that one thing, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it.  

With your experience acting, I’m guessing you don’t get stage fright when you’re performing as Petal? Or is it two different types of nerves? 

I definitely get scared for both things. The only time I had stage fright, like literal pause and forget everything I’m supposed to do, was when I was still playing piano. With music, I think it’s more scary because those are my songs and my words and thoughts and ideas that I’m putting out there for people, so I feel like I’m setting myself a lot more to be judged as a person. 

Acting is different because you’re performing the playwright’s words and what the director is directing, so you are held more responsible for a couple different people. It’s very collaborative. And playing in a band is very collaborative as well, but I feel like in acting, I am not myself. I am a totally different entity, but I’m held responsible for the playwright’s words. I get more nervous [about that accountability] when I’m working on a play, whereas music is a very personal thing that I’m sharing that you normally wouldn’t share with a stranger. But I’m going to sing to sing it to them and hope that I don’t freak them out, that I don’t freak myself out, and that we have a mutually pleasurable experience. [Laughter] 

You spent a lot of time on the road with Tigers Jaw. Did you know them before you toured with them?

Yes, so we’re all from the same hometown, so I met them when I was like sixteen, I think? I was playing shows solo on the piano, and they were doing Tigers Jaw. I came up after them in our scene back home, so we were all friends. I recorded some solo stuff and then I went to college, I was really starting to write stuff and hear a full band sound in my head, and so I enlisted their help in figuring that out and started playing shows with a full band and they’d help out. I had a lot of friends who helped play shows for a long time. Eventually I just asked Ben and Brianna if they wanted to be in the band for Petal, and they said ‘Yes!’ which was really great. 

Obviously that tour was a lot of fun because they were doing a Tigers Jaw tour but we got to play together and we got to play some of the new songs. We recorded the record together—Ben had played drums and guitar and Bri played the bass and sang harmonies on the record. It was super fun, and Bri and I co-wrote a song on the record which was great. I had never co-written a song with anyone before, so I think that was really good for us to do together. 

They have been so encouraging. When I started playing shows on the piano I was doing this sort of Regina Spektor-y thing, I was obsessed with her. And that wasn’t really cool at the time, you know, it was more grungy punk. Everyone loved Against Me! and the Microphones which was a little more quiet but more fuzzy, that kind of stuff was happening. The Menzingers were from Scranton, so what I was doing was NOT COOL, but [Brianna and Ben] were very helpful and encouraging, and they pushed me to keep growing, and eventually it turned into this thing where I wanted more people behind me while I was doing it. It’s more fun to make music with other people. 

The Eastern PA scene is so weird, so much music comes from there, and it’s just crazy that we grew up in the same place. 

Eastern PA is a hub of really great music, so when I look up where bands are from, I’m always stunned by how many bands come from Pennsylvania.

Yeah! I met Brianna [Collins] and Ben [Walsh] when I was fifteen or sixteen, but I met some other people who are in well-known bands when I was nine or 10, when we were in youth choir [laughter]. Everyone’s inadvertently known each other for a really long time, and we all ended up making music and playing shows in our little scene. It was so great, there was a show every night, it was awesome. 

I wish we still had that going on, it doesn’t as much anymore, but we still have a holiday show every year. While I’m home I’m playing shows, which is fun, but I hope some younger kids pick up the torch and keep the Eastern PA scene rolling. 

Do you find that people approach you as a mentor or a figure for inspiration? Your music is very personal and that makes people feel connected, but does your music lend itself to people coming to you?

It’s all so very new and touring is still really new, but I have had people message me and reach out to me behind the merch table and say, “This EP helped me through a really terrible break up!” or this really hard time, and that’s always really cool to hear and exciting. I’m happy to hear those stories given they are supporting me too. It’s really surreal.

It kind of feels nerve wracking, in the the sense that I hope I’m giving good advice! It feels surreal to have a stranger come up to me and say that I’ve affected them in a big way. I don’t feel like I experience it like some musicians do…But it’s also the age of the internet where people can fire off a message to me on Facebook or Tumblr or whatever to tell me what they think of a song, and I always try to respond if I can. I didn’t anticipate that part, but I’m grateful people feel comfortable to approach me and say how my work has affected their life! I hold music very dear to me too. I’m sure if I met Regina Spektor I would freak out, I would totally freak out! Or if I met Ben Gibbard or like Beyoncé, I’d totally lose my shit. They all, in some capacity, have really helped me get through something or were a part of a fun and amazing time in my life. 

I am a little shy, so I hope it doesn’t come off as ungrateful or like I don’t want to talk, I can just be a little bashful sometimes. [Laughter] I’m always trying to remember not to look nervous and just smile at people. Sometimes I can’t, I’m a human! But I do my best. 

I deeply hate it when interviewers ask “What’s it like to be a female musician?” because it’s a lazy question, but we had a great conversation in person about the pressure placed on women to be great at music, and I’d love to hear your advice and philosophy for young non-men who want to get into music.

When you are a minority in a situation, people are going to be super critical of you no matter what. And it’s only because you are different to what the norm is, but that’s totally fine! More often than not you’ll rise to the occasion and knock it out of the park and kick ass. From my own personal experience as a woman, I definitely think that there’s this thing where I hear people say [about women], “They’re not even really that good at their instrument.” And I’m like, ‘Hmm…where is that critique coming from?’ and I really think there are unrealistic expectations of women if the way that if you’re in a world that you’re not totally associated with, you have show everyone you’re “just as good as the boys.” 

And that’s unfair, a little bit! What if you’re not? It doesn’t matter! You should be allowed to get up there and play and sing even if you’re not the best, because you’re working at it and you’re making something. I’m not an amazing guitar player; at best, I am serviceable [laughter]. I’m okay with that! I work really hard at it, but I’m also giving my songs more character because they aren’t as clean and totally perfectly finessed things—that’s unique to me! That’s something I’ve learned to embrace instead of feeling inadequate or feeling like I shouldn’t be doing this thing. 

There’s a lot of shame that we associate when we think we’re doing something where we don’t belong. I think that’s where women and people of color and LGBTIA people feel unwelcome in the scene, because they have these weird little interactions. It’s different and it’s better than it used to be, but we have a long way to go. I just hate the idea of anyone not doing something because they don’t feel it’s the place that they belong. No one gets to dictate that but you. You can be whatever you want to be, play whatever instrument you want, and you can sing however you want, make music with whomever you like to make music with.

I’ve had a lot of young women on this past tour who say, “I’m learning to play the guitar and I want to start a band because I don’t think I’m good enough yet,” or “I’m too scared to ask people to play with me,” or “I don’t think my songs are very good.” And I’m like, no! It makes me upset [laughter.] Your songs are great the way they are! I listen to shit I wrote and recorded when I was in high school and it makes my skin crawl, but it’s all part of it, it’s a growing thing! So I always say, ‘Who cares! Just do it!’ If someone has something to say about it, fuck them! They’re just salty because they probably think what you’re doing is really great or they don’t have the same bravery you have to get up there and share things with people. 

Yes, exactly! 

There are so many good examples for people to look to musician wise, who are not “bro,” and that’s a dangerous word too! Because there are a lot of good guys who make music, so I often feel bad quantifying all men in punk or DIY as a “a bro” because I have many friends who are men who make music and who are good people. But there is the undeniable fact that some people aren’t always welcome, and I’m really lucky that I’ve always been working with or playing with or surrounded by people who didn’t have that [negative] mentality or operate that way within playing and recording music.

Touring is another story because you’re going to meet all kind of people when you’re on the road. And in those situations, surround yourself with people who love you and care for your safety and know who you are and that you can tour and make music with and they are not going to try and shape your vision or tell you that you should not talk about what you’re passionate about. You need to support yourself and surround yourself with people who are like-minded. Be willing to learn from other people, but at the end of the day, unfair standards are always going to be there, and that sucks [laughter]. But if you’re with people who say messed up things or treat you differently or like you or others don’t belong, or treat you or describe you like a caricature, that’s not acceptable. We’ve seen that recently. 

And I’m sure that I’ve experienced things that are fucked up because I’m a woman, but I also know that what I’ve experienced is not the same and not as bad as what those who are trans, queer, of color experience. It’s so important to always stay alert and aware in situations for that reason. When you see something that’s not okay, say something! 

On a smaller scale if you’re a woman or marginalized person in a scene, write music! Play shows, don’t feel like you don’t belong. And if you feel like you don’t belong, don’t be afraid to find a new scene or other people who will support you and foster this creative thing that you’re doing. 

It’s everywhere too.

Yeah! Even in mainstream music, while it’s a very different industry, you see Nicki Minaj talking about this stuff all the time! She calls people out for being sexist too. And I have friends who say, “Nicki’s not a good rapper,” and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?!’ You can’t deny she’s a skilled and talented individual, you don’t have to like her style, but this is just guys that are hating! It’s this weird mentality of, if it’s a person who’s not your normal expectation, you’re going to be threatened by them. I think it makes people who are socially less powerful have way more power! What they do is way more impactful.

That’s why G.L.O.S.S. is a sick band, and that’s why I love Tigers Jaw! I love Brianna, I love how real she is and how she sticks up for herself and how funny she is.

I love strong women. I love strong allies. I think we can have such a better community with a better reputation for what we’re doing, but everyone needs to start holding themselves accountable for their actions, and not blaming it on their friends. [Laughter] You’re a person with a brain. You’re responsible for your band and what you and the other members say and what you represent and stand for. 

 A lot of my friends and I were saying that WHIRR sounded like middle schoolers with their apology. Like when you ask someone out over text and they turn you down and you say, “Haha! My friend sent that! Sorry!”

Yeah! My brother and I were sitting at the dinner table when we were kids and he spilled his whole cereal bowl on his lap, just dumped it on himself. And he was like, “She did it!” And I was like, “Me?!” He thought it just fell on him, he just would not say that he dumped it all over himself! [Laughter] You know what I mean? That’s what I reminded me of. 

The positive results of that were that it showed people will come together and say, “Hey! That’s not cool. You can’t do that, we’re better than that.” And we can say to those affected, “You’re making real art and what you’re doing is really brave and important!” 

It probably educated a lot of people, and it probably introduced a lot of people to G.L.O.S.S. which is awesome! Which is what should have been the primary focus any way. I think Run For Cover did what they had to do, I think they did the right thing. 

It’s a crazy world. [Laughter] I just don’t want anyone to ever not make music because they feel like they aren’t allowed to. 

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