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No Shame: After a mental health struggle, Petal’s Kiley Lotz is a light for others

October 31, 2018

Text by Lauren Silvestri. Image by Rachel Del Sordo.

The triumph of Kiley Lotz, better known by her stage name, Petal, seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. After relocating from New York City to Philadelphia, she returned to her hometown of Scranton early last year to enter treatment for her major depressive and panic disorders.

During treatment, she finally summoned, at the age of 25, the courage to admit to herself and others that she was queer.

“I think I always knew… but I didn’t really have examples of people who weren’t straight living their lives very publicly,” she says while sitting at a small table at Steap and Grind in Fishtown. “I just hit a breaking point where I was like, ‘If I don’t talk about this soon, I think it’s going to continue to negatively impact my life.’”

In her latest album, Magic Gone, a collection of mid-tempo pop-rock songs and contemplative ballads that she wrote over a three-year period before, during and after treatment, she wrestles with these internal struggles.

“I could have put out the record and not been specific about what [the songs are] about or what the topic is,” she explains, “but I made a conscious choice to talk about the content because I feel like it’s a universal struggle for people, and I want them to [feel] less shameful to talk about.”

The frankness of Magic Gone diverts from her previous and debut album, Shame.

“The album is so real,” states her friend and producer Will Yip, who also produced Shame and has witnessed Kiley’s evolution as an artist. “I can go on for days how she’s grown as a performer, writer, instrumentalist and singer. I don’t even consider it the same project. She’s a different beast now.”

Yip recalls how Lotz insisted on performing all the instruments on Magic Gone and recording vocals on full takes that showcase her emotional rawness and honesty.

“She’s growing into her true self, and it was a pleasure to capture on record,” he says.

Like the album cover for Magic Gone —which features Kiley crouching between a pale pink and cherry red backdrop—the songs capture a duality between more elaborate, produced songs, like the up-tempo “Better Than You” and the smoky, jazz-inspired “Shine” vs. the  more stripped-down, simple tracks like “I’m Sorry” and “Stardust.”

“They all equally strike me, but in different ways. You feel how crushing the vocals are,” says Yip.

Lotz’s big blue eyes widen with excitement when she discusses her recent tour in support of Magic Gone, which she kicked off at PhilaMOCA in June with Australian trio Camp Cope.

“The energy of the shows just felt really positive and safe and affirming for hopefully all kinds of people to come and have a good time,” she says, describing the mix of ages at the shows and the large amount of queer attendees. “I want to see how I can bring all different kinds of people together in the same space, and I feel like we were able to do that every time,” she continues.

While the album has been hailed by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, Lotz is most concerned with how others struggling with similar issues identify with the record.

“On this tour I had a lot of young women approach me and say they read about my story and listened to the record, and it helped them come out to their families, and that felt pretty surreal. I don’t take that very lightly at all,” she says. “The state of things in the world and in our country are just so bad right now, and anything I can do that contributes to hopefully making it a better, safer place for myself and others is all I can hope for,” she adds.

Now 27, Lotz has not only accepted herself but learned to like who she is.

“It’s the best [feeling] because at one point there was a very strong possibility that I wouldn’t get that opportunity,” she says.

She emphasizes though that it’s “not a linear process,” and she expects to have ups and downs throughout her recovery.

“Instead of avoiding feeling pain, I just let myself feel sad. I don’t have to react to the sadness, but I can live in it and ask for help or just go about my day. Actually feeling heartbreak for the first time was really kind of amazing,” she says.

Now refocused on her music career, Lotz refuses to become complacent with what she views as oppressive structures in the music industry. She laments the uphill struggle for women and queer people, as well as the lack of healthcare and limited resources for musicians. When she sought treatment for her mental health disorders, she had no healthcare at the time. Fortunately the nonprofit MusiCares gave her a grant.

“It literally saved my life,” she states.

As she explains the problems in the industry, she speaks faster and with steadfast determination, her expressive face lighting up.

“If you’re not actively trying to make something better, it’s going to be the same,” she says.

Lotz recently moved to Fishtown, and the Philly community inspires her activism by the active dialogues about gentrification and how to make Philly a better place for everyone. She notices the rainbow flag everywhere and says “it’s really special.”

While Lotz prepares to go overseas supporting Shakey Graves this fall, she continues attempting to find preventative solutions to issues regarding assault, addiction and healthcare in the music industry, as well as breaking down barriers for women and queer artists.

Because of her troubled journey, she understands the value in confronting those obstacles. She realizes she needs to take care of herself, and does not have to be perfect.

She offers some words of advice: “At any point you’re unhappy, you have every right to try and change that.”

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