Kiley Lotz, known primarily by her stage project name Petal, is uninterested in what appearances and aesthetics are expected of her. As a now-out bisexual woman, Lotz defies the stereotype of queer musicians — she is an indie-rock singer-songwriter whose main interest is in cutting to the emotion of a song, rather than creating a superfluous beat for fans to dance to.
When Lotz started writing her new album, Magic Gone, she knew that this would have to be her most personal project to date. After spending years dealing with her mental health and coming out of the closet, the artist certainly had a lot she wanted to talk about on this understated but entrancing record. With songs like “Better Than You” (live video premiering below) and “Tightrope,” Lotz opened herself up to the world.
“I wasn’t really trying to write songs that were answering certain questions or presenting answers exactly, as much as I was just trying to present very truthful accounts of what those experiences felt like,” she tells Billboard. “I get a little wary of trying to write songs that serve as some sort of guide, or answer, because I don’t have answers.”
Lotz talked to Billboard about the making of her second album, coming out, and why she hates hearing critics say that rock is “dead.”
You’ve described this as the most personal work you’ve ever created — one of the things you openly talk about on the record is your mental health. How did you want to manifest that into music?
With this record in particular, I just tried to be as … as non-judgmental as I could be with the songs that I was writing. Whether I was feeling really good or feeling really bad, I just wanted to let the songs happen. That’s pretty much the way I approached it, I guess. I also try really hard not to rush songwriting, which is why there’s usually about three years between my releases, that’s usually what it takes. I think that’s important, too, to just let the stuff happen on its own without it being a forced or contrived thing. Also making time to ensure recovery and take care of myself was the priority, so it gave a lot of space for the songs that I had written to have a break, and to maybe come back and listen to them, or maybe write new material from a different point of view.
I think that definitely worked. Since your last album, you also publicly came out. How did your queer identity play into the making of this album?
This is the first record where I could really, very openly write about coming out, as opposed to before where I hadn’t really even approached the subject with myself, let alone with other people. In that sense, I had talked about it with the people in my life who were very close to me, and then publicly, so it felt like a good opportunity to start writing about it. I think it’s presented in two very specific ways on the record. There’s “Shine,” which I think is a more positive, sort of optimistic take on it. Then there’s “Carve,” which is a little bit more of the anger of not knowing what coming out will be like, or addressing that part of myself to the people I love, what it could be, and the fear and anger in that decision.
I wasn’t really trying to write songs that were answering certain questions or presenting answers exactly, as much as I was just trying to present very truthful accounts of what those experiences felt like. People can kind of attach whatever meaning or relation to it that they have. Because I get a little wary of trying to write songs that serve as some sort of guide, or answer, because I don’t have answers as much as I have, like, experience to share.
I’ve spoken with a number of LGBTQ artists about being out in the industry, and something I’ve heard is that there’s almost a pressure to present a very specific, shimmery, bubblegum queer aesthetic to an audience. Is that something you’ve experienced.
Yeah, for sure. I don’t think that so much applies to my presentation as a musician, but just in my day-to-day life, I have really struggled with what I wear, and what I do with my hair. Like, feeling “queer enough,” or presenting a certain way, and the passing privilege of that. It can be challenging. I think the more important thing to me is that my music stands on its own, and I am open about who I am. I would want to encourage others to embrace those same things about themselves, no matter how they dress or what they look like. I think there’s all kinds of great queer representation out there that is bright and shiny and fun and loud, and also maybe different. There’s room for all of that, and aesthetic is just a personal choice for each individual. Like, Kehlani is so cool, and I love her music, and if you look at her versus Demi Lovato, who is very femme in her presentation as a queer person, I just think it’s good that there is variety in that. There’s tons of opportunity for people to look to all different kinds of queer people and their example.
You got to work with the producer Will Yip on this record. What was he like to work with?
He’s the best. He is a very, very good friend. We did Shame [Lotz’s previous album] together, and I think I was a little less confident in myself, but he was such a wonderful guiding hand in that. This time around, I felt more sure about what I wanted to make and how I wanted to do it, and he was just so down. He knows that studio like the back of his hand, so you say “I want to mic it like this so it sounds really like a live record.” You know, I was really referencing records from the ’70s that I love, where it just feels real and raw. It’s not totally polished, it feels like it’s a living, breathing piece of art from the first track to the end. He was really excited to do that, and so, we did a lot of the stuff in a live room. We recorded vocals in whole takes in the live room, and a lot of guitars in the live room, to just get that sound. He is such a versatile producer, and I think people forget that about him. He does work with these big hardcore and post-hardcore bands, but like Will started working with Miss Lauryn Hill, he has a big background in hip-hop. He just has this incredible ear, and he’s so passionate about his work, and he becomes another member of your band when you’re in the studio.
So now I’m fascinated to know — what ’70s albums were you listening to in order to prepare for this album?
Yeah, I was listening to a lot of Queen. Queen’s like my favorite band of all time, and Carole King and Nina Simone. With those artists and records, you can hear that they did full vocal takes because the vocals aren’t perfect all of the time. Especially on Tapestry, you can hear those bits where Carole King’s voice gets a little grainy, or a little guttural, and it’s really beautiful. Those are the moments that you really feel what she’s singing, and I think that’s important. On “Somebody to Love” when they get to the third verse and sing “I just gotta get out of this prison cell/ Someday I’m gonna be free,” I mean I could just cry talking about it. It’s so beautiful, so that was really what I wanted to do, was make sure that we tried to make something like that, where people could hear the truth of the songs. They’re not about tidy experiences, so I didn’t need the recording to tidy. Good art doesn’t mean it’s flawless, so that was something I wanted to try and stick to.
The other side of the coin too is … I love Kehlani, I love her latest record, and there is a lot of production on that record, but I fucking love it! I love the new Demi record, it’s just so good. I think there’s room for all of those things, and when you see those two live, their voices are obviously insane. But even something like the latest Kacey Musgraves release. There’s some production, but the translation live, I mean, her band is so tight, and her voice is really cool. I think it’s also cool, too, to see a record and a live performance as different. It’s ok to go and expect something different, and expecting this sort of regurgitation of the album is not necessarily a good thing, because then you could just save your money on a ticket — just stay home. It’s not the same experience! That’s something about music that I love, like, going to see Beyoncé versus listening to Beyoncé in my car, it’s like night and day. Both are great, both are wonderful.
There are still a slew of headlines out there proclaiming that “Rock Is Dead.” But it turns out that it’s not, and it’s really women who are leading the charge in the field of alternative rock especially. Is that something that bothers you, when critics declare that the genre is done when you and so many others are still making good rock music?
Oh yeah, it is super frustrating. Mostly because that just means they’re not paying attention. Like, if your definition of rock is only Julian Casablancas records, or if it’s only, like, Fleet Foxes, or if your definition of rock is only white men, then you are wrong. I just get irritated because there’s a lot of opinions that people like to throw out there, but they don’t like to do their homework. I’m not as much a fan of that completely either, I don’t think anyone is. Like, when you see a Pitchfork-type artist complaining about who won Grammys that year, and they’re like, people from Fleet Foxes, I’m like, “Were you trying to win Album of the Year at the Grammys?” Like, shut up, who cares? I loved 24K Magic, I thought it was a great record! Bruno Mars is an incredible live musician, the production on that record is amazing. On that album, he’s saying, “This is black music,” this is a person of color making black music, and he acknowledges that.
Any electric guitar music stems from black culture and black music, so I get frustrated when people say that rock is dead, because there are so many amazing POC and female artists killing it right now. Like, there’s Leon Bridges, there’s Mitski, Margaret Glaspy, like Slingshot Dakota has been one of my favorite loud, incredible bands. If you’re bored with rock music, then that’s because you’re lazy, and you’re not paying attention, and you probably only care about groups like The New Pornographers. Those are all wonderful musicians and stuff, but if that’s what you think, then I don’t feel sorry for you.
What’s coming down the pike for you? I know you’ve got your tour coming up, what can fans expect there?
Yeah, the tour with Camp Cope is coming up. We leave next week, I’m really excited. We’ve got great support, like Oceanator — Elise [Okusami] is this crazy talented songwriter from New York. We’ve got Sidney Gish, and Slingshot Dakota’s playing some shows, too, so it’s just a great lineup. So I hope people can get out to those shows, and we also have a new video for people coming out, too. So I’m excited about that! We’ve got a few dates in the U.K. and Europe in the fall. I have a lot of amazing help, the team we’ve got together on this record is the best. But yes, I am so excited, and I hope people really enjoy it!
Petal Tour Dates (all U.S. dates with Camp Cope)
June 20 – Philadelphia, PA – Philamoca^
June 21 – Philadelphia, PA – Philamoca*
June 22 – Cleveland, OH – Now That’s Class*
June 23 – Lansing, MI – Three Stacks Festival*
June 24 – Chicago, IL – Beat Kitchen*
June 26 – Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry*
June 27 – Madison, WI – High Noon Entry*
June 29 – Denver, CO – Marquis Theatre*
June 30 – Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court*
July 2 – Seattle, WA – The Vera Project*
July 3 – Portland, OR – Holocene*
July 5 – San Francisco, CA – The Rickshaw Shop~
July 6 – Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Theatre~
July 7- Santa Ana, CA – Constellation Room~
July 8 – La Jolla, CA – Che Café~
July 9 – Phoenix, AZ – Rebel Lounge~
July 11 – Dallas, TX – Club Dada~
July 12 – Austin, TX – Barracude~
July 13 – Houston, TX – White Oak Music Hall~
July 15 – Orlando, FL – Soundbar~
July 16 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade~
July 17 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle Back Room~
July 18 – Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel~
July 19 – Asbury Park, NJ – House of Independents~
July 20 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom~
July 21 – Boston, MA – The Sinclair~
July 22 – Wilkes-Barr, PA – Other Side (no Camp Cope)
October 29 – Cologne, DE – Studio 672
October 30 – Hamburg, DE – Turmzimmer
October 31 – Berlin, DE – Musik & Frieden
November 2 – Haldern, DE – Haldern Pop Bar
November 3 – Brussels, BE – AB Salon
November 6 – Brighton, UK – Hope & Ruin
November 7 – London, UK – The Islington
November 9 – Bristol, UK – Crofters
November 11 – Birmingham, UK – Hare & Hounds
November 12 – Manchester, UK – Gullivers
November 13 – Leeds, UK – Oporto
November 14 – Glasgow, UK – Hug & Pint
^ = Slingshot Dakota in support
* = Oceanator in support
~ = Sidney Gish in support