Music is a force that speaks to you. It can lull you into conversations, it can open your mind to lots of different ideas, it can even work as a kind of diary, letting you figure out things through its path. Kiley Lotz has used Petal’s debut as a vessel for a lot of personal experiences, finding writing a way of articulating thoughts she couldn’t otherwise pin down. In turn, ‘Shame’ is an utterly wonderful and assured expression of some of the most vulnerable experiences in life.
Growing up a musician, the journey to find the voice that’s out there today is one that took her everywhere, from Cyndi Lauper to Serj Tankian. “I grew up studying and playing classical piano and singing in a classical youth choir so my daily music life was kind of regimented at a young age. I always loved rock and roll music and was really fascinated with the history around it. I loved watching documentaries and my parents would show us music they liked. I couldn’t really get enough. Growing up I was obsessed with Buddy Holly, Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin, Queen, Warren Zevon, and Cyndi Lauper. My brother was into Green Day, System of a Down and Taking Back Sunday and I started to really enjoy that too.
“When I was 13 or 14, my camp counsellor gave me Regina Spektor’s ‘Soviet Kitsch’ CD and I was also really into The OC, and those two things totally changed it for me. Regina Spektor changed my life. Until I heard her I thought piano was only really for classical purposes or accompanying other musicians. To hear her super theatrical playing and singing and the lyrical content just killed me. I couldn’t stop listening to it. I don’t think I would have considered song writing at all if it weren’t for her and that record.
“And then The OC soundtracks were pivotal because they had such a wide range of music on the show that would have been more sub-culture at the time. I knew who Beck was but had never really heard anything else by him, and then they had Modest Mouse, Bell X1, Nada Surf, Imogen Heap, Ryan Adams… It all was so exciting and different to me. Death Cab for Cutie ended up being the favourite thing I took from those soundtracks because I loved how simple and honest the lyrics were and all the different guitar tones they used. When I finally got someone to burn ‘Transatlanticism’ for me in 8th grade I don’t think I ever left my room. I had so many great music moments at so many ages. I’m lucky I grew up in a musical house, that I was given lessons on instruments, and that my camp counsellor slipped me some CDs.”
Music isn’t her only creative outlet; Kiley has worked in theatre too, but how much do those interests seep into each other? “There’s definitely overlap! I think there’s nothing really like live performance. Storytelling is really incredible. It always amazes me to watch the audience/performer dynamic. Given everyones busy and crazy lives, it is amazing when a large group of people is willing to be silent and listen to a play or a singer or watch a ballet and allow themselves to be affected. It’s also really amazing to me that every time a band plays a show, or a play is performed, it is a solitary event.
“When I had the opportunity to see Neutral Milk Hotel last year I cried like a baby the whole time. Obviously it was awesome, but also because that show would only happen that night the way it did and the words that were said the way they would be said and the energy of the audience in that room on that really cold day would only make that show THAT show. The next night it would be all new people, a whole new day, all new events leading up to it. Acting is the same. No performance will be the same and you never know what will happen. Live performance is kind of addictive in that way and really magical.”
When it comes to her debut being released into the world, she is understandably “excited and very nervous. It’s a very personal record and I hope that it will be empowering for people to hear and not a downer. I know for me getting to write the songs and record those songs with my best friends was hard but overall really cathartic and fun. I hope it helps people to not feel like they’re alone.”
“Words kind of float through,” muses Kiley. “I jot them down as quickly as I can before I lose them. I have a ton of weird voice memos on my phone. Most of my songs come together in a very quick way where I have to fight to keep up with it and not be too judgmental.
“I think personal experiences for me become a lot of my writing. Song writing has been a very valuable tool for me as a person. For this record in particular I wrote it while moving to New York City and beginning the process of getting treatment for my depression and anxiety disorders. I think sometimes I felt helpless in situations where I couldn’t help a person I loved or I didn’t really understand what I was going through, so writing became a way to work stuff out. You can create conversations and situations that would be ideal. Try and find some answers.”
“’Camera Lens’ and ‘Heaven’ are special to me because they were just simple and truthful things that I had had a hard time articulating in real life. The first because I felt a lot of guilt for how my disorders affected people close to me, and the second because it was a way of telling the person I love the most that I see a future together. ‘The Fire’, which is the song that Brianna [Collins, occasional Petal member] and I wrote together, was good to write because it was about an experience her and I and some friends had with a cyber stalker who eventually came to our town. We wrote some from their perspective and ours. It was a very scary time where we felt sort of helpless. But that was a good way to work through it.”
When it boils down to it, there’s a twinkling of hope that can come from the darkest of moments, and that’s the main thing to hopefully impart on the listener. “The things that might seem like negative aspects of you, or bad experiences you had that you did nothing to provoke, things you wish you could change, you don’t have to carry them alone,” Kiley says. “The things that make you different make you powerful, and that any pain you’ve felt can lead to some beautiful things and people.
“I hope people feel inspired, I guess, maybe to make something of their own out of anything that feels negative in their lives.”
Taken from the November issue of Upset, out now – order your copy here. Petal’s album ‘Shame’ is out now.