Petite League, the latest project from Lorenzo Cook and Henry Schoonmaker, captures youthful angst and anxiety in vintage jangly pop sounds, repackaging typical identity issues into listenable, relatable snippets of modern life. Rips One Into The Night, the first album Cook has worked on to be pressed on vinyl, is due out soon, and Cook’s excitement is palpable. We caught up with him via email to learn more about his songwriting, seeing his record on vinyl and just how he created his vintage, yet oh-so-fresh sound.
VMP: You're an American, born in Rome, raised abroad, went to school in Syracuse and now live in New York. How does all of that fit into your sense of identity and building community? How did it influence what you were listening to growing up?
Lorenzo Cook: Identity has always been a weird thing for me. My parents did a good job of bridging the Atlantic and making our home pretty American culturally, but once we stepped outside, we were in the heart of Europe. My brother and I went to Belgian public school and then would come home and watch VHS recordings of Nickelodeon. It kept a sort of balance for us, I think. We ended up at an international school a little bit later where everyone was in a similar situation as third culture kids. It’s easier to be comfortable with your identity when you’re around other people in the same boat. My parents still live over there so I get to go back a lot. Brussels is still my hometown. I moved to Syracuse for school when I was 18 and I found a whole new truly American identity there. I owe Syracuse a lot. I don’t have the right to call it a hometown, but it acted as such in a lot of ways. I grew up listening to a lot of UK indie rock and the internet introduced me to the American landscape of music, but it wasn’t until I got to Syracuse that I really got to experience the basement and DIY scene in the U.S. Petite League wouldn’t exist without that foundation.
Your record is coming out this fall. What are your feelings leading up to it?
I’m excited! This is the first time I actually spent a whole year writing and recording for a record and I think that you can hear [that] in the sound and the way the songs are structured. I tried to expand a little bit vocally and there is definitely more variety in the sound track by track. Without much of a doubt in my mind, this is Petite League’s most complete album.
You work with Henry Schoonmaker on drums. Do you two collaborate a lot? What is your songwriting process like?
Henry is one of the most impressive musicians I have ever worked with. The writing process behind Petite League is a little irregular because I write and record everything with a click track, then, whenever we get an opportunity to hop in on any kind of makeshift studio available to us, Henry will record his parts. He’ll usually listen to the song for the first time while I’m figuring out how to set up the mics and then he’ll work out what he’ll do and bang it out in under an hour. Henry’s pretty vital to the process. Also, I have to give a shoutout to Adam Greenberg and Dan Pugh for the work they put in for the live shows.
You've managed to capture a vintage sound that still sounds fresh with some of the lo-fi aspects of your work. What are your inspirations?
Without much exaggeration, I’d say the early Petite League stuff was inspired by Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World.” Sorta that janky power pop sound with some edge. I listen to a wide variety of music but my favorites have always been melody driven, snotty pop songs. I think that all comes out in Petite League pretty obviously. I do think this new record is a bit more defining in terms of a Petite League sound as whole, though.
What challenges do you face when creating and releasing music?
I think the same roadblocks everyone gets caught up in. Writer’s block, second guessing yourself, trying to build something better than what you’d released previously. There’s a lot of self-induced pressure which is pretty draining, but it’s always worth it to put music out. It keeps you competitive with yourself, which can be a good thing.
What are you listening to lately?
I’ve been reading that “Meet Me in the Bathroom” book about the New York scene between 2001 and 2011, so I have been revisiting a lot of those bands and appreciating it all in a different light. I’ve also been rocking the new Alex G and Big Thief records like everyone else. I don’t know, I’m constantly jumping around between genres and time periods. I try and organize myself through my Spotify playlists to keep it together and not just create music mush in my brain. I also put out weekly playlists of all the stuff I’m listening to with a lot of new bands mixed in. I do some A&R consulting for some labels, so I’m always looking for anything cool.
Tell us some advice you'd give to aspiring artists.
I think if music is something you want to take seriously, it’s important to understand the industry as a whole. Way too many artists are missing out on opportunities or are being taken advantage of because they don’t understand the other side of music. Spotify actually does a great job of propping up independent artists and paying them, sign up for Songtrust and Soundexchange to collect your owed royalties, learn how to screen print your own merch, etc. I’ve actually written a quick guide for bands starting out here. I just get bummed out when people say there isn’t money in music or I hear about horrible deals where bands are giving up so much of their earnings to someone or a company that really didn’t do much to help them in the first place.
What has the vinyl creation process been like? What does it feel like to have your record come out that way?
Julio at The Native Sound, who is putting out Rips One Into The Night, has really made this all super easy. Getting a record of mine on vinyl has definitely been a goal but I don’t think I would ever have been able to do without help. It just makes it all feel so much more real and professional. I haven’t seen the records yet other than the test press but that alone was crazy to hold.
You moved from Syracuse to New York City to work in the music industry. Talk about that experience and how it influenced your writing.
Well, moving to New York in itself really had an effect on the writing process and structuring this record. New York just has that thing. I initially moved here because I thought I had a job in A&R pretty much worked out, but that fell through after 3 months of waiting during a really long application and interview process. I was taking a break from recording so I could focus on getting work and stuff, but when I didn’t get that job I needed to feel like I had something to hold on to. I spent the next few weeks blowing through my savings, exploring the city, and settling back into writing again. At the end of the day, I’m really glad that job didn’t work out. I’m working now and my job is flexible enough that I’ve been able to record, play shows and pay rent. That’s all I need. My girlfriend was also still in school this past year so I was able to go back up to Syracuse and get out of the city whenever.
Kat Harding is a music publicist and writer who lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with her loud kitty cat Goose. She often cries when excited at shows and can be found on twitter at @iwearaviators.
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