Indie rock band Petite League is back! The band is releasing ‘Bloody Knuckles’ the first single off of their new album. Petite League is primarily Lorenzo Cook's creative outlet however he works closely with Henry Schoonmaker, Adam Greenberg and Kevin McCallum for live performances and recordings. Cook sat down with Underground Zine and discussed MySpace, writing music in quarantine, graphic design, the single ‘Bloody Knuckles’ and the release of their 6th album ‘Thrill Seeker.’
Hi Lorenzo. Could you please introduce yourself and who you are associated with Petite League?
My name is Lorenzo Cook. I started Petite League in late 2014/2015, when I was in college and I’ve been doing it ever since. Just kind of huffing it and doing it on my own for the most part, but I have my my buddies who I’ve had along the way who are in the live band and are a wall I can bounce ideas off of, and they tour with with me a lot whenever we're on the road, but it's pretty much a one man operation.
How would you define your sound?
It's changed so much over the years. I feel like when I first started I was just making the kind of music I listened to at the time. That's still the point– to make music that I like, but I think it went away from a more simple formula that if the song is good, it doesn't need to be overly complicated. I always preferred simple music, and not that we've gotten away from that entirely, but I think over the time of doing [Petite League], we've gotten better at writing and I've been more open to advice or collaboration, and it's made the instrumentation a little bit more interesting. I've always called [our music] powerpop. It exists in that world. It's catchy Indie rock music. Melodies are a top priority for me. Powerpop, lo-fi music or bedroom pop. I record everything in a bedroom if that counts?
How did you begin the musical journey?
When I was growing up in Brussels my neighbor started playing guitar together. My dad plays guitar, too, so we had guitars around the house, but I took a few lessons and I wasn't really into it. But once my neighbor got really invested in playing I followed suit. By the time I was 14, me and my neighbor, his name's Alex, and this kid Matt and this kid Einar who we went to school with, formed a band for a talent show. That was in the ninth grade and that lasted until I graduated. During that time, I got really invested in the business side of [music] and the marketing aspect of it. I really liked working with the imagery. I was really online with MySpace and Tumblr, and Facebook. It was a fun project for me beyond school. So I was in bands all throughout high school and a bit of middle school. And then after I started playing a side project from that band, which was called Spark Alaska, which was just me being a corny teenager, with an acoustic guitar. That was what led me into a whole new realm of self recording, which I had never done before. Figuring out I could sing and the chops behind what it takes to write music on my own is what eventually ended up leading to Petite League. So once I discovered there was more I could do, I just was like, ‘Well, I'm going to play the music I listened to.’
You mentioned in an interview that if someone did enough online sleuthing, you could find your first song called inspiration. I did the online sleuthing and I could not find it!
I might have to ask some people who would have it on their YouTubes unlisted. I’ll find it. That song is so bad, but also that song is pretty good. I haven't listened to it in years, but if I listened to it now I think I'd be impressed with the sort of unconscious awareness I have for writing a song. My parents were really encouraging. They knew it was a little kid song, but they heard the potential. That song still comes up with my parents. I feel like if I listened now, I wouldn't cringe as much, but I know the lyrics are really bad. But I think that the structure is there, and it has a chorus and verses that make sense. And I did that when I was like 13.
How do you feel that song kick-started your music career and how did it help your growth as an artist?
That song really set me off, I remember whispering it and not singing it because I was so nervous, even though I was alone. It really is just the origin of finding myself in music and knowing I could do it, even if it was corny. But I think at the end of the day that's all it takes is just knowing you can. And I think a lot of people can, but they don't know it. I was lucky enough to have tried really young. Knowing that it flowed out of me was a very important experience. Even now I can revisit that same feeling that it can just happen. I didn't set out to write a song, I just picked it up and I was like ‘Well, I know chords and I know how to hum.’ And that's all you really need. I think a lot of people are so blocked by ‘Oh, I could never do that, it's not possible.’ But people are genuinely, really intuitive with music. People think that they can't sing or can't play guitar. If you can play four chords, on any instrument, you can play that instrument. Anyone who says you can't is probably just an asshole. But that really was the case, I didn't know much beyond the few chords that I played and that that was a legitimate song! People have written songs with those same chords and those songs are enormous, so why couldn't I do it? Knowing that was so important.
You mentioned you used MySpace and Tumblr back in the day, can you walk us through how that's helped you with marketing your music now.
On MySpace, we were so young and I think that the appeal was that we were just young. My friend's mom had paid for studio space so we had time in a real studio so it sounded pretty good. I was also really lucky that my friends I was working with were exceptionally talented. The bassist is in a world touring band. The drummer, and then later, the synth player, as well, are in a band together and they were in the finals for Eurovision. And then the singer, my neighbor who I grew up playing guitar with, he's a singer-songwriter in Brussels. He's found a total niche and is an exceptional writer. It was this perfect thing where it just worked. I didn't feel like we were faking it, I felt like we belonged. It felt like if we just had the music, it felt like all we needed to do was put ourselves out there. Learning how to navigate these websites and stick out a little bit is super fun. I don't do it as much now, I got burnt out on it a long time ago. With MySpace it was like adding people all the time and generating fake hype and that bled over into everything else. Tumblr was a whole other thing where it just came at the right time and I had the right haircut. Just navigating those spaces it’s exhausting. I feel like I'm too old now and people are too good at it for me to really stand out in that way. People are so good at Tik Tok and I feel like if I had the energy that I had back then I'd be really good at that too. But now I like sitting with it and letting other people do it. I love Tik Tok, I love seeing what people do with music, I watch all of them. But I failed so hard at making my own. Understanding how to market yourself what does well online is so important. That led me to the world of graphic design. I take a lot of pride in the shirts I make and design, the album art and posters and everything we do. I spend so much time on that now. I think it's super important. That stems from understanding that good aesthetics and good design, will bring in a whole other group of people. There are people who definitely don't care about the music, but have bought a lot of the shirts. I think captivating people in multiple ways is important.
With the graphic design you do, how is it translating the music you make into a visual form for more people to consume, especially if they don't listen to the music?
I don't have the background in graphic design so I'm really just going off of things I think are good. It's difficult to set out and create a design that involves a theme that we're going with. It's not easy and it doesn't come naturally to me. But that’s part of why it's so rewarding when I get there. In my head [my design] is so directly related to the Grateful Dead designs. People are naturally drawn to skeletons and spooky, darker stuff. I feel like a lot of bands fall so short in their designs with shirts, and they really just do the bare minimum, which is fine. But I just think that it's such a wasted opportunity, you have a blank canvas, and people will wear your shirts like billboards. Growing up overseas it was really hard to buy merch because I didn't have enough money. But the shirts that I did have, I would wear all the time, they became my favorite shirts. Even beyond me liking those bands as much as I did at a certain point, and as I grew out of them, I would still wear the shirts because they felt cool. So I'm always considering teenage me and what kind of shirt he would wear. That's also why in the beginning we were selling shirts for $10 and I wasn't charging shipping, which in hindsight was a really bad idea. But I loved the idea that people out there were wearing it and I know these people were being asked what that was and I think that was part of the point. So I treat merch as a walking billboard so you might as well put some effort in it.
Do you feel the designs you're creating are reflective of the music that you're putting out? Or do you base it off looks?
I love like hardcore merch and the DIY punky thing, because I see people's merch and there's definitely aesthetic lines that they're following. I was going through a YouTube channel that posts a bunch of indie music, and I was looking at all the artwork that they posted for these different artists, and I was just seeing these trends in it. Part of me just wants to break away from a lot of these things. They're all really good and well designed and there's nothing objectively bad about it but you can tell that when they're making it or commissioning someone to make it they're all pulling from the same sources. Not to say that Petite League isn't pulling from references, but sometimes it's a lot more fun to mess around with a design like that *pointing to new T-shirt design* one that's more biker, metal, hard rock that doesn't necessarily fit, but is still new or fun for whoever is wearing it.
You’ve touched on how you grew up overseas, how do you feel as though that phase of your life has informed how you make music now?
I've always identified as American, despite growing up over there and going to school in a different language. Once I moved to the US, I felt it was home. I also identified with this music scene a lot. But a very obvious one to me is I grew up listening to a lot of British bands, because they were so much more accessible, and were coming over to Brussels a lot more. And my friends were European, so they were naturally drawn to that. So growing up on Arctic Monkeys they became a foundational piece in my understanding of indie rock music. Petite League is clearly influenced by early 2000s stuff, people immediately reference The Strokes. But if you listen closely, and if you're really well versed in that music, there's a lot of influence from British stuff in there. Bombay Bicycle Club comes up a lot and music that I grew up listening to that was not American. Obviously, when I found American indie rock music, I was a little bit more drawn to it. Because it was a little heavier, it felt a little bit more crunchy. There was something about it that felt more like me. But foundationally Foals, Bombay Bicycle Club, Arctic Monkeys, bands that I listened to when I was in high school definitely play a part in finding my sound now. And I think people could learn a lot from revisiting early UK indie stuff.
In the song St. Michael, you actually use a bit of French. How has it been meshing that part of your identity with the American music scene that you're in now?
That's something I've always wanted to do is to write a song in French, I've been a little afraid. It's not like we’re big in French speaking countries, but I like to remind people that I'm not just like a guy from Philly or something, there's a lot more nuance to it. I think that singing in a different language and being more upfront about roots and where I come from, which is what that song is really about, are the links of where I'm from. So that was a little easter egg. And I'm not sure people really noticed as much as I thought they would. But the French people knew, they knew what was up. But I would love to do more of that. I've written some songs in French. It's fun to write in a different language because finding a rhythm and a melody in a different language is so different. I don't know if it's good, I don't know if they’re corny, because I don't listen to that much French spoken music. But you have more liberties to say things that you wouldn't necessarily say writing in English because they're a little bit too overdone. So being a little bit corny, with English phrases, but in French was super liberating. It's also great to practice my French because I never get to do that.
Petite League has always been very experimental with genre and sound. ‘Raspberry Seeds’ is very folksy whereas ‘New York Girls’ is garage rock inspired. What was it like exploring different genres?
It's not a conscious thing. I don't ever set out thinking ‘I need to make this kind of song.’ Because I just don't think I'm that talented of a musician to begin with. To really set out with a vision to be a sort of hybrid of this band and this band is hard. At the end of the day, any one of those songs that you mentioned, could have been written in a different style. That's why ‘Raspberry Seeds’ has ‘Raspberry Vines,’ because originally that song wasn't supposed to be folksy. It's easy enough to just be like, ‘I'm gonna play that song on an acoustic guitar’ but once you do that, it just sounds so different. So what you're hearing across those different genres within the songs is me exploring what I can do and what I listened to in that time. And I just project my listening habits into what I'm playing. As the sound has evolved I listened back to those old records and I would love to be able to write like that again. But it's really difficult to go back once you've been hit with feedback like ‘this is your good song and these songs don't matter as much.’ With streaming you start to naturally sway in a certain direction, which is really bad. It's something that I think people like me would do better not looking at because it breaks up the natural cycle of things. You start trying to write something that you know people like. Now, it's more of a conscious effort to try to not do that and try to do what feels right to me, instead of worrying will this be the next ‘Not Always Happy?’ Because that song wasn't written with any intent other than ‘I think this is good, if I discovered this I'd be into it.’ That's really the only criteria. We've also gotten better at producing. I've also outsourced that more to my friend, Jonathan, who is a really talented sound engineer. He can take my really choppy DIY mixes and make them sound a little bit bigger. There’s been evolution in that sense. Lyrically I don't know if I would say it’s better because I listen to some of those old songs and I'm like ‘these are great. I don't know if I could write a song like this now.’ But the thought behind [the lyrics] are more intentional now and I try to think of the album as a whole instead of individual songs.
It's interesting that you think in terms of albums because within the albums there are so many different genres. Is that a conscious decision?
This time less than ever. With all the other records, I think to myself ‘I have all these songs and I just need one acoustic one.’ This time, I didn't bother with that. Because my goal was to keep writing until it feels like I have something that I can pick from and choose the songs I think will fit best together. But in the past it’s been like ‘these are the only 10 songs.’ Whereas this time I had around 17 [songs] and the album is gonna be 13 tracks. There was more emphasis on trying to have the same sort of feeling but not letting go of all the other instruments. There's some songs that are quieter, a little softer, but they're not just me with a guitar. Which I love doing but I felt like that's something I'd like to do on its own. Just me playing stripped music. I get so muddled in the effects and production whereas sometimes it's really nice to just strip that away and just practice with me and a microphone like how I started.
Petite League has always been so much of you and your music. Do you feel you’ll branch off and release your own music?
That’s such a hard question to answer, I think that Petite League will always be me. But Henry's involvement has grown a lot over these records and this is definitely his most involved record. This time I also brought in the other guys for a song, and they helped produce some of the stuff, so it was definitely more of a team effort. It's hard for me to let go of some of that control and be like ‘alright, man, you handle the bass for this whole song, I don't even care what you do, it's up to you.’ But it's nice to be a part of that and to feel that sort of enthusiasm that I feel so deeply, shared in the studio. I'm excited to see how people identify with the song we did together because there really hasn't been a song like that before. But Petite League will always be me, it is innately me. But I don't think that means that I can't be me in other ways, too. There's so many types of music that I'd like to explore more but Petite League is a priority right now. Eventually, there will be pieces of me and other spots but for now it's still me.
What was that experience being with other people in the studio?
It was so different. The way that I write is just sitting there, in front of my computer and playing something that I've written on the guitar and then trying to build from there on my own. And it can take a long time, or it can be really short, and it’s just sort of like a burst. But working with them, they're talented musicians, so it took away the stress of making all the decisions. Like ‘am I playing this well enough?’ ‘Is this the right part?’ And all of a sudden, we can discuss ‘is that worth doing?’ ‘Is this worth focusing on?’ Having four voices who are invested in something instead of doing it alone sped up that process. We had two practices where we wrote the song and then we were just like, ‘well, we have the foundation of it, let's just put it down.’ And then it was done. Then it was up to me to finish the lyrics and come up with that side of it. But it was faster and it was fun to have everyone's involvement and investment. [The song] feels different to me but I've been wrong so many times about what song I thought was going to do really well. So this could inadvertently be the new Petite League sound.
Which song did you work on together?
It's called ‘Disarray', it's the last song on the record. We wrote another song together as well that I think we’ll be releasing as a side project. It's actually the name of the album ‘Thrill Seeker.’ But [the song] sounded too much like Petite League’s roots with a little bit more post-punkness and it didn't end up fitting with the record. But it’s a fun song. We actually wrote the lyrics for it together, which was really fun too. And that was something I really wanted to experiment with, just taking a step back. Everyone adding their little parts to it was so fun and it took away all the pressure on me to come up with lyrics and mixing in everyone's great ideas turns it into something else completely. So that was a ton of fun. I wish it was on this record but I think it'll do better on its own.
You now have Bloody Knuckles coming out! How are you feeling about it being released?
I'm so excited for it to be released because it was one of the first songs that I started writing for this record. I had met this person, they were an urban explorer, so they were doing this super sketchy climbing with bridges and buildings and that was their thrill. We met and their stories were insane. It felt like the opposite of my life and the risks that they were taking are so much greater. I remember going home after that conversation, and just feeling so inspired by it. I get super emotional when I hear people talk about their passion, it hits me at my core. It's relatable beyond their passion, it's a universal feeling, and it's really personal, but we all understand it. Hearing them talk about it, I was like ‘this is so different from everything I understand. But I also totally get it. I know why you put your body on the line, I know why you put your safety at risk.’ It's all for that feeling that they get when they get there. I just think it's so romantic. It was the opposite of what it felt like to be in lockdown and to be burdened by the world but stuck in your room. It clicked in my head like, this is important for me to look into and relate to what I do. That's why the song flip flops between being about urban exploring and also just the fiery passion for anything. That's why I'm so excited for this one to come out because there's a few songs like this on the record and it's more like Petite League’s sound. It's also the oldest song on the record so it's sort of clearing out of some baggage
What's your favorite lyric from the song?
Hmmmm, actually the [lyric] I don't like is “Scars from a chain link accident// But we don't want to talk about that.”
I really loved that one when I listened. Why don't you like it?
My brother likes it too because it reminded him of our childhood friend who was climbing a chain link fence and got his arm stuck on a spike and it tore his whole arm up. That’s definitely where I got that lyric from. But I don't love the way I say it. But everyone else likes it, so I left it in.
So what’s your favorite line?
Probably the first verse. [The inspiration] came from this demo of ‘Can't Hardly Wait’ by The Replacements. The Replacements lyric isn't in the actual song but in the acoustic demo he has this whole line about breaking through a fence and climbing on top of a water tower. It's such poignant imagery about breaking and entering, not for a bad reason, just to explore. That was the idea in the first verse “She lives just one more chain link over// Back through the middle with the wire cutters over my shoulder” But I think my favorite line is “Back through the middle, just a petty criminal” It encompasses the whole song in a way.
Your last album was a self proclaimed quarantine album. How is this new album being out of quarantine?
I felt more liberated by it in the sense that I didn't allow myself to put a time limit on it. It was more like when it's done, it’ll be done. That was the antithesis of what it felt like to write music in lockdown because there was no ending, I can work until I don't want to work anymore and until it feels right, I'm going to just do it. Instead of [during quarantine] being forced into this idea that it's time and I need to figure this out because I'm losing my mind and I'm so bored and so alone all the time. And that it would feel nice to put something connective out there, which is what “Joyrider” felt like to me- this need to connect. It’s not that different, in the sense that I’m really excited to put out music again. But to just be involved in that process to a much greater extent than “Joyrider” because we can do a release show, we can go on tour, we can see people and we can experience music in a different setting. The idea of all that sounds so nice to me and actually being able to do an album rollout. Instead of putting an album out and being like ‘Cool, I hope you find time in between, the Netflix binging and trying not to lose your sanity, to listen to this record.’ There's a lot of spillover of COVID times in this record and in the themes and various lines. But it's also a record that was written in a time where I was really trying to break out of that too and re-learn how to experience people and have fun. So there's a lot more songs about being outside and being with people.
Thank you so much for sitting down with me today!
Thanks for talking with me
Words by Minna
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