Indie songwriter Petal finds power in vulnerability

With her first album as Petal, Kiley Lotz announced herself as a songwriter with preternatural ability to explore immense love and immense pain. The record was, after all, named Shame, and its slow-burning indie rock songs depicted the trials of caring for others and yourself. But on its successor, Magic Gone, Lotz has swapped shame for a purifying anger, resulting in some of her most powerful and intimate music yet. And, as she puts it, it all started in an acting class.

Lotz’s love affair with acting has always run parallel to her career as a musician. While completing a degree in theater, she recorded and self-released her debut EP, which soon caught the attention of the renowned Boston alternative label Run for Cover Records. She was even rehearsing an off-Broadway play during the creation of Shame. For Lotz, acting and performing as Petal produce a similar type of catharsis. “They feel very akin, in the sense that I feel a certain level of detachment from myself and feel a little bit more connected to the unfiltered present,” she said. “When I’m in a play or playing a show, all I have to do is be in the moment. It feels like an act of mindfulness.”

But despite the confessional nature of her early work, Lotz still felt like she was holding back. Contending with mental illness and her sexual identity made every day a performance, as she attempted to prove to herself and others that she was happy and healthy. A moment of realization came during a class with the prestigious acting coach Matthew Corozine, who called her out for never allowing herself to experience the anger inside. “That is so true,” Lotz said, “I was so terrified of acknowledging the anger I felt at my difficulties in life, with suicidal ideation and mental illness and being closeted, and on this record I let myself voice all those things, which felt really good.”

As Lotz embraced her rage (and herself), she began to write music imbued with power. On “Tightrope” she sings, “I felt an ancient scream come out my mouth”—an instant of pure release where she rejects the internalized pain of living in hiding. No wonder she views it as the most pivotal moment of the album. Meanwhile, on the plaintive title track, premiering here today, she juxtaposes gentle vocals and warm guitar lines with an assertive eulogy to a crumbling relationship. Lyrically, it’s some of her most affecting music to date.

The record also marked a flowering of Lotz’s solo artistry. She’s always counted a community of Pennsylvania artists as close friends and collaborators: The Menzingers lent her their van for one of her first tours, and Adam McIlwee of Wicca Phase Springs Eternal played bass and guitar in early shows. She created her debut album with fellow Scrantonians Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw. With Magic Gone, she jettisoned that life preserver and played guitar, bass, and piano and organ on the record—every instrument but the drums.

Spending time with Magic Gone is an emotional experience, but witnessing its creator’s journey into health and self-confidence is undeniably powerful.  “The record’s about embracing the stuff that you want to shun and owning it,” Lotz said. “For a while, I thought my magic trick was being able to play this person in public who seemed to be happy and have it all together, and now I see the magic really is surrender and vulnerability and sharing of weakness.”

Maybe this album will encourage you to share yours.

Check out the audio for “Magic Gone,” which we’re pleased to premiere here.