Kiley Lotz, of the indie-rock band Petal, has two big dreams; similar in their righteousness, divergent in their likelihood of happening. See if you can spot which one is which.
The first: “I love New Jersey,” says Lotz (they/them/their) on the phone from Philadelphia. “My dream is to be a New Jersey resident, straight up, no joke. I grew up going to Ocean City as a kid, and I have a lot of great memories doing that with my family. I love driving through the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey, it’s so beautiful. And I like driving in Buttzville and Belvidere.”
The second: “My dream is to win the lottery,” says Lotz, “so I could give all my therapists money to pay off their student loans. My past therapists and current ones, I love them all; no one should have debt for being a therapist.”
Now, unless one refers to living in New Jersey as “winning the lottery”—and we’re here for that argument—the second dream, altruistic as it is, might be out of reach. Conversely, Lotz will get another taste of Garden State living when they play their first show since the pandemic started at the Perkins Art Center in Moorestown on Feb. 11.
Lotz will be playing two 45-minute sets, one set with Petal songs, and another dedicated to love songs. Even though the future New Jersey resident is looking forward to the show, they are also nervous about playing live again after a long time off.
“I’m a little terrified,” says Lotz. “It’s been so, so, so long. I have a mixture of excitement and nerves. As we are rehearsing, it will be a more intimate set in terms of the arrangements. I’ll be playing piano and my bandmate will be playing the guitar. Some of these songs I haven’t sang in three years. It’s interesting because some of these songs I don’t connect with anymore or they mean something different to me now.”
Even though Lotz has nerves about performing live for the first time in years, they still performed in the arts during the pandemic. But it was on the big screen.
“I got to act in my first film at the end of last year with Jared Harris from Mad Men and Chernobyl,” explains Lotz. “The movie is called Brave the Dark, and we filmed it in Lancaster. I don’t know when it will be out, but I’m so, so, so excited about it. I hope to continue to act professionally and play music. I spent some time in New York acting and then I started touring more and decided to take a step back from acting. Now that I’m older and can schedule myself a little better, hopefully I can continue to do both.”
Lotz is most known for their work with Petal, but before that, they attended the University of Scranton for theater. Lotz still carries the lessons learned at the University of Scranton with them today, and those lessons come in handy.
“I learned a lot on how to collaborate, and how to be a leader and a teammate,” says Lotz about their time as a theater student. “That program is neat because even if your concentration is in something specific, you still have to learn everything. I took scenic design courses, worked in the carpentry shop for three years, and stage management. You have to learn everything and I was so grateful for it. When I started touring, I wasn’t that stressed out because I could handle the planning and the moving of all the gear. I felt very comfortable juggling a lot of stuff because of the theater program.”
Lotz enjoys both performing in a theater production and performing music in front of people, but they do note the differences in both.
“I love performing in plays and acting in general because it’s a little bit outside of myself,” says Lotz. “I get to connect to the words, get to connect to the mission statement of the play, and get to connect to my castmates, and we’re storytelling and we get to escape. And as a performer of my own music, I don’t get to escape myself. It’s almost too much of a personal thing sometimes. They both bring a different catharsis and joy. I find myself happiest as a performer when I’m doing both actively.”
Once Lotz graduated college, they moved from their native Scranton to New York City to pursue acting, and performed in off-Broadway plays, but they were drawn to the relative stability that music and touring had to offer.
“When I lived in New York I was working three jobs and I was exhausted,” remembers Lotz. “I was saying no to tours just in case I got offered an acting job. I realized it didn’t make sense because I was turning down an opportunity to perform for the potential opportunity to perform.”
In their time trying to make it in the Big Apple, Lotz worked as a server, bartender, barista and taught art classes in a daycare.
“When you’re young, you are fed by your passion so that feels like enough, but eventually you get burnt out,” says Lotz. “But another passion of mine should be resting and taking care of myself or hanging out with friends.”
Since Lotz started Petal, they have released two studio albums Shame and Magic Gone. In Magic Gone, Lotz explored the themes of mental health, coming out as queer, acceptance and faith.
Even though they have been open about their personal life in previous records, Lotz wants to focus more on bigger societal problems in their new music that they have been working on.
“Moving forward in terms of my art, it won’t be the central thesis of the music I’m making,” says Lotz. “But, in the past, making records that helped me process all of that was integral so I was grateful that I had that outlet to share with people. But moving forward, I have other things that I am writing about and reflecting upon and really enjoying making art about.”
Lotz says that at the end of February there might be a surprise for fans of their music, who can expect more of a focus on the societal issues that America is facing.
“I wanted to take it outward a bit more,” says Lotz. “I wanted to write about these daily reckonings we have on questioning the status quo. People can expect more of a broader lens in that regard, and will be less of an internal look into my deepest darkest shit. I’ve gotten to a point now where I have shared so many of my hardest experiences in things that I feel most ashamed about with a lot of people. I think there’s strength in vulnerability and unity to be had in sharing experiences with one another, but I think it’s important as an artist to start reflecting on things that are bigger than my solitary experience.”
Some of the issues that Lotz will be addressing in their future music—with a new album coming this year—is the ongoing COVID pandemic, and the state of capitalism in general.
“We are all going through the pandemic and we are all witnessing late-stage capitalism and it’s hopeful collapse,” says Lotz. “We are all witnessing these huge, huge, huge, huge events all the time, and hopefully most people are taking a moment to reflect on how they have contributed to these events or how they haven’t contributed to them, or how they can change them and be radicalized towards justice, community, and healing to have a better more equitable future.
“It’s what I really wanted to focus on as a person, and as an artist. It was a moment for me to say, ‘What am I contributing to?’ or, ‘What space am I taking up that I don’t need to take up?” or “How do I move forward in this industry without contributing to the things that make this industry terrible?’’’
In terms of the sound for the new music, Lotz is inspired by music that they haven’t listened to in a while or have just started listening to.
“I’ve listened to a lot of Graham Parsons and Emmylou Harris,” says Lotz. “I grew up listening to Bill Withers, but I never listened to his whole catalog, and he’s such a prolific songwriter. And I listened to Donna Summers as well. I love disco and I loved it as a little kid. My favorite part of staying up late when I should have been sleeping was watching Pop-Up Video and anytime any disco or Donna Summers music came on, I loved it.”
Lotz is inspired by new music and a lot of the music they listen to now was music that they listened to on cassette tapes growing up in Scranton, when their parents would drive them around in a minivan with wood paneling on the side. Even though they are based in Philadelphia now, Lotz still has fond memories of Scranton, but realizes its problems and still sees hope for the future.
“Scranton is an interesting place because it’s a city, but small,” explains Lotz. “Eventually you get to know a lot of people, and it’s beautiful, and there’s a strong sense of community. My elementary school was in my backyard and I got to play with all the neighborhood kids growing up. I got to grow up in a diverse school district as well. But also Scranton is also a microcosm for what a lot of cities are facing, which is job aspects, very high rates of incarceration, and our former mayor got arrested for corruption. Now, Scranton has elected its first female mayor and openly gay city council member. There’s also the Black Scranton Project, which is pushing for the history of black people in Scranton to be told. There’s a lot of incredible talent, drive and perseverance that comes out of that city too.”
Petal will be playing at the Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown on Feb. 11. Ticket information can be found here Perkins,