The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a treacherous time, but also a formative one. In this era littered with emotional landmines, there is plenty of pain and confusion, but there is also growth, clarity and, eventually, acceptance. It is this contrast, this progress through life, that Petal muses upon in her latest album.
Speaking from her home in Pennsylvania, Kiley Lotz – the artist behind Petal, supported by a rotation of musicians – speaks candidly about the events of the past few years that have inspired her latest album, ‘Magic Gone’.
Kiley’s musical career was born from a musical childhood. Her mother, a choir teacher, carted her around to rehearsals from a young age and it was here that an affinity with music developed. She was writing and singing as soon as she could.
“When I finally learnt some words, I started making up songs sitting on the floor playing with my toys, and they would be 20-minute-long songs about flowers and butterflies. My dad said he was impressed, but it was also a little exhausting being on the receiving end.”
She wrote her first proper song at 10, but it insists it was far too weird to be album-worthy. Soon she was learning piano and guitar, and finding inspiration in her favourite artists from Talking Heads and Fleetwood Mac to Whitney Houston and Queen.
“I was attracted to the voices that had that theatrical quality,” she explains, “where you could hear the emotion of everything they were singing.”
Eventually, Petal began thanks to a happy accident. Unsure that her short German name had the sound she was looking for and beginning to get more ambitious in her songwriting, Kiley decided she’d feel less self-conscious performing under another name. It didn’t initially work out, however.
“We started to play shows as Scout, and this one time all these people came thinking we were this other band named Scout which was a lot bigger than us.”
And so, plans changed. While recording the ‘Scout’ EP in 2013, Kiley and a friend Googled simple five letter words. She knew she wanted something feminine, but with a masculine look. One word stood out, and Petal was born. Two years later, her first LP ‘Shame’ was released on Run For Cover Records; an achingly beautiful album with songs written like photographs, capturing the clarity of a moment.
That is the story of how Kiley Lotz became a musician, her character arc. Having a sense of progression and purpose has been an important part of Kiley’s writing, a preference partly inspired by her love of theatre. In her songs, the story which drives her is her own.
Inspiration appears at all times, and writing a constant process. The bulk of her second album, she admits, had already been written before her ‘Shame’ LP had even been released. “I write slowly; I don’t like to force stuff to happen.”
“There’s always a point in time that is a stimulus for my songwriting,” she explains. “I can remember exactly when and where I was when the first line of the song came to me. I’m always jotting down memos in my phone, it’s like they just come out of nowhere and I have to try and catch it before they go away. It’s usually the result of a pretty intense feeling.”
The source of this intense feeling is pretty apparent. Since the release of her debut album, Kiley has undergone two significant changes in her life: her decision to come out as queer and leaving New York to undergo mental health treatment in her home state.
In reflecting on this journey, Kiley has formed ‘Magic Gone’ into two parts, with Side A, titled ‘Tightrope Walker’, documenting her time “before I came out and went to treatment” and Side B, ‘Miracle Clinger’, exploring her time in recovery having accepted her sexuality. As Kiley puts it, the story arc of the album is about “coming out and getting help within the landscape of encroaching adulthood.”
“Initially, it feels so bitter,” she reflects. “I can’t believe I didn’t see this before. There’s the anger that you didn’t have the foresight to deal with these things sooner, or that it’s just a joke. You feel resentful at the hand you’ve been dealt. After that initial anger and frustration, you have to deal with the reality of the situation, and then you’re on track to make peace with it.”
Reliving such raw emotions on stage, however, isn’t always easy. “Sometimes it does feel like picking scabs or filing away callouses you’ve built up over a long time. It’s painful to think about where you were because you still feel all those things.”
Ultimately, however, Kiley admits reliving such difficult emotions has helped her process her past.
“There is that feeling of catharsis, especially on songs like ‘Better Than You’ or ‘Something From Me’. Those are definitely songs from my paranoia, but it’s nice to give that voice a place.”
In both Kiley and her music, there is a strong sense of peace and hopefulness. The record starts in one place and ends in a very different one. The progression of Kiley’s journey has culminated in acceptance, a halo of brightness around her darker moments. That’s all that matters to her now, the numerical success of the album is secondary.
“It’s cool to have recognition for what you’re doing, of course you want that, but I want to stay focused on the writing and seeing how I can connect with other people. That’s the stuff that makes me love what I do. Everything else is just a perk. I wrote this record for myself, to process these events in my life.”