December 17, 2019
Tune-In Tuesdays #49: What Sounds like PETRA? Straight-Up Pop, Being Goofy, Getting Personal, and Loving Your Family
Last week, with spoke with PETRA via telephone to learn more about her album, her work as a musician, and her family life.
How would you summarize your music to new listeners in just three words?
I would call it straight-up pop, and that’s kind of what I’ve been playing with while talking about my new music.
I feel a lot of music now has a lot of different, extravagant categories, and I’m always like, “I don’t know how to describe it because music is so subjective these days.”
It’s not just pop, it’s not just rock, it’s not just one of any genre. But a lot of my influences come from the ’70s, so there’s a lot of disco, Cher, and Fleetwood Mac that have influenced the sound that I have.
There’s also a lot of 2000’s pop I loved listening to while writing this album, which really influenced the sound of the production.
What is the New York City music scene like and how has living in NYC impacted your work as an artist?
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The music scene in New York is one of the most loving to be in, but it’s also one of the most gritty at the same time.
One thing that I really love about this scene is there’s so much honesty with other musicians in terms of sharing work, collaborating, or making new connections.
There’s just a lot of person-to-person interaction that I don’t think you would get anywhere else because New York is all about grinding, hustling, being honest and open with each other, and the idea of trying to improve each other at the same time.
At the same time, New York is a city where everything moves a mile a minute, so you have people who are like, “How do we get to the next thing? How do we get to the next gig? How do we get this next opportunity?”
It’s definitely a balance of both things.
In terms of having an impact on me as a musician, it’s made me more honest with myself as a songwriter.
Obviously with pop music – or most mainstream music – there’s “We went to the club! We went drinking! We went dancing! …And then we woke up hungover,” music, and then there’s different music I’ve heard going to open mics or different shows that have a very raw honesty you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
That’s something I’ve incorporated a lot into my music, especially with the songs on [Dancing Without You].
What’s one thing you can get in NYC that you can’t get anywhere else?
It kind of goes back to the honesty you get in the music scene, and the drive.
I’ve gone to a bunch of different cities for music before: I’ve played in Nashville, Tenn., Los Angelos, Calif., and then New York City, N.Y. There’s just such a different energy, it’s like a constant, vibrating motion. There’s always something undiscovered, or a thing you want to do.
There’s this undeniable hustle [in NYC] that you are so addicted to you want to be apart of. It really motivates me as an artist every day.
I say, “I want to be apart of this scene. How can I be more involved?” Never, “Oh, you know, I’ll do it later and relax.” I want to get going and make stuff happen.
It’s that constant drive and hustle that makes you want to keep going, keep going, keep going – even though some days you’re working a 23 hour day, and then the next day you’re working ANOTHER 23 hour day!
Whenever I look at my calendar the night before – and I block out sections of my day for all the different things I’m gonna do – I’m like, “Alright, it’s another one of those days! Let’s go, another big day ahead of us.” I’m never like, “Oh God, it’s another one of those days.”
It’s good, though! I think it’s helpful. As an artist, I feel like I can get lost in my own head sometimes. Of course it’s about the art that I do, but there’s a want to keep creating, keep writing, and keep chasing the next dream, in a very cliche way to say it.
But there’s an energy that makes you want to keep going, so that’s why I really love the city. It’s a very fun and motivating place to be.
Throughout your career, you’ve had the opportunity to play all around the world, from various states throughout the US all the way to Japan. Where are some of your favorite places you’ve performed at and why?
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#FBF to last Saturday. I finally got to live out my @stevienicks dream of prancing around the stage with a tambourine. I can’t wait till the next show. Y’all are in-freaking-credible! ?: @cvasquezfilm .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #petramusic #soundslikepetra #dancingwithoutyou #newmusicalert #flashbackfriday #taylorguitars #roland #womeninmusic #womeninmusic #femalemusicians #womenwhorock #musicianslifestyle #liveconcert #bandphotography #livemusicrocks #femaleguitarists #momentsofmine #livephotography #upcomingsinger #singingismypassion #performingartists #rawvoice #giglife #singersofig #stagelife #aspiringsinger #independentartists #musicianstoday #singerspotlight
Japan was definitely one of the most memorable tours I’ve ever been on.
It was my first tour, let alone my first international tour, where I was headlining.
There was such a different energy. At each show, the audiences were so different and the way they reacted to the music was so lovely.
I didn’t even know anybody there listened to my music when I went, but after my shows I had little presents that listeners and audience members gave me. It was insane!
I’ve had lovely things that happen after shows, but I never thought my music would reach Japan or even reach outside of New York. To have that happen in a place where I don’t know anything, I just showed up to perform, it was pretty fascinating and one of the most amazing surprises I’ve ever had.
There were other moments where I’d play slow songs and there would be people slow dancing. It was very much a different reaction than every place I’ve ever been to, but that tour was so memorable. It was such a wonderful experience.
Another really memorable tour I went on was two years ago when I was Drake Bell’s opener. For those two weeks, I basically hopped in a minivan with two of my best friends – like, my mom’s old 2005 Kia Sedona minivan – and we drove across the country.
It was such a big tour! Everyone had their escalades and 18-wheelers, and I was there with my mom’s almost-broken down minivan. We had to call triple A like five times for it.
It was such a fun tour because I did a lot of grassroots elements with my music. It was just my acoustic guitar and I didn’t realize the shows were going to be so big – there were about 5,000 people at each show.
It’s really cool to think I just grabbed my acoustic guitar and two of my best friends and drove across the country for two weeks. That was really memorable and I really had a lot of fun there.
Both sound so cool! Would you mind telling us a bit more about opening for Drake Bell? When we first saw that online, we were like, “Whaaaat! Drake and Josh – that Drake Bell?”
Yeah! He is a really sweet guy. I got to meet him a bunch during the tour of course, and opening for him was my first opening act performance. I had never done one before and like I was saying before, I played the entire two weeks acoustically. That was really fun because I wanted to try something different.
I had asked them if it was okay if I just went on tour with my acoustic guitar, and they were like, “That’s fine! It’s up to you.” I feel like that element in that particular space during my set – it was not a very long set, either – it allowed me to get more personal with each person that was in the audience. There was call and response, some people singing along.
I did a cover and it felt like something everyone could be apart of, rather than “Okay, I’m on the stage performing and you guys are there.” It allowed me to interact with people on a more personal level.
I got to work with Guitar Center as my sponsors on that tour, and I did a behind the scenes take over on their Snapchat. We did a lot of live coverage while I was on the road, and it was just such a wonderful experience.
It was like traveling with two of my best friends and it was such a good time. We tried so many different foods, we had our car broken down in the middle of Ohio for hours, but all of that added to the trip so much more than it took away or made it stressful.
It was a really, really great opportunity and a wonderful tour.
In October, you released the playful music video for your single “Luckboy.” Could you give us a behind the scenes glimpse at what it was like to film the music video? What scenes did you have the most fun shooting?
Music video for “Luckboy” by PETRASource: PETRA – Luckboy | PETRA
Oh my gosh, that video was so ridiculous to do! I worked on that video with my friend and go-to collaborator Carlos Vasquez. I told him I had this idea for the video, we kept talking back and forth, but everything felt so elaborate and this song is just so silly, playful, and tongue-in-cheek that I wanted to convey a similar idea.
So I was telling Carlos, “What if we did a dating show idea where I go on these four dates with four stereotypes of guys that go awful every single time I go on the date?”
We had my friend Geoff Pictor play the host and he was hilarious in that role, I couldn’t stop laughing so I had to leave the room.
We filmed it all in one evening, but we didn’t do much prep. I basically told my friend Miguel, who played the “luckboy” in all the different sequences, an idea of what his character was. We had the gym rat, the bad boy, the frat boy, and the musician.
I just said what the scene was, but I didn’t say do this or do that. We just improved everything and fed off of each other’s energy, which I think allowed us to be more ridiculous.
I usually like to consider myself somewhat of a serious person when it comes to business, but in real life I am goofy as hell and love to make a fool of myself.
It was fun to be able to convey that in a setting that I would normally be extremely professional or precise in.
One of my favorite scenes was, of course, the gym sequence. That was so funny to do. A lot of the stuff had to be just music because my mom was there and she couldn’t stop laughing – so was my brother, and he couldn’t stop laughing.
On top of that, I would say the other fun sequence was the dinner scene. At the end, I had this whole tray of cookies and in one of the shots you can see me taking the cookies and smushing them in Miguel’s face.
That was a fun thing to do and I was like quick consent, “Is this okay?” and he was like, “Yeah,” so I smushed the cookies all over his face.
It was overall a really fun video to do and I definitely want to have more goofier things or stuff that showcases my personality more in upcoming projects, as well.
What were some of your main goals while working on your latest album “Dancing Without You?” Were there any other albums or musicians you were particularly inspired by?
Definitely. The main story behind “Dancing Without You” is they’re songs I had written in the last three years since my father passed away.
My father passed away from lung cancer – it’s going to be four years in February – and it took a shift on everything I wanted to do, from playing music and going to school (I was in college at the time), to just doing music.
It inspired me to be like, “Okay, it’s time to really pursue this. This is something that I really love and I know he loved me doing it.”
So after my tour in Japan, I wrote this song with my brother, “Dancing Without You.” It was literally the same day we came back from Japan. We were tired, we were on a 23-hour flight. We just got home, and [my brother] was like, “I was thinking of this idea…” and the two pieces came together.
From there, I went through my journals and collected songs I had written on all different types of experiences. Not just things related to my father, but relationships, or existential crisises.
There were 100s of songs that I went through, and I picked the top nine that I felt represented different things I was feeling over the years. I felt like I was still very out there in my shows, but I wasn’t talking about a lot of personal stuff because that’s one of my biggest fears.
I was looking to a lot of musicians like Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors.” I know that’s a very cliche record to say. I also listened to ABBA “Greatest Hits.” Those are the two vinyl’s I listened to a lot, because “Rumors” was very much an expose kind of album, talking about these very personal band dilemmas and relationship, tumultuous instances, and honest songwriting was one of the things I wanted to capture in my own work.
I also listened to a lot of bands from the ’90s, so The Cranberries, Hole, even bands I listened to when I was 13, like Nirvana. I wanted to capture that different idea of honest, vulnerable songwriting and create it in a sound that I felt represented me more, the pop realm.
Honest pop is not something that we see a lot of nowadays, so I really wanted to hone that in and bring that back in some kind of shape or form.
Although your music is known to take on a very bright, upbeat, acoustic tone, your lyrics are very personal and connected to who you are as a person. What tracks off of “Dancing Without You” mean the most to you personally and why?
Of course “Dancing Without You,” just being what it came from. It was also the idea that my brother and I got together and wrote this song for my dad. That’s always one that pulls at the heartstrings.
It’s the one song I can never look at my mom while I sing because she’s always crying, and I see my best friend is always hugging her during that song, so I can’t. I can’t.
It’s a hard one, but it’s also my freedom piece because I felt like I could move on with my life. That song is always going to be extremely personal.
“I Know Better Now” is another personal one. That was more on the lines of an existential crisis I was having like, “What am I doing with my life? Where are things going?”
I was trying to figure out myself more because I was 18 when my dad passed away. I felt like things were pointless – and obviously that’s not true, I was just being very dramatic.
But in that moment, I felt it was something a lot of people could relate to. We all have that, “[GASP] What’s going on with my life!? I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“Wonderland” is another one of those songs that’s super personal. It’s definitely a personal favorite off the album, too.
It’s about a moment in a relationship where you realize it’s time to let go and move on from something you’re holding on to.
Even though there were good times, you can still hold on to them, but at the same time, for your own sanity, moving on is the best thing you can do – even if that means sacrificing other parts of your life, as well.
“Can’t Fall in Love With You” is another personal one. That was a song I wrote about a time in a relationship where I felt I was giving more of myself than I was receiving. I promised that I wouldn’t end up in that place because I always end up falling for the wrong person.
That was another co-write I did with my brother that was once again, very dramatic.
Trying to transcribe the voice note into a song was very difficult because I was crying while singing the song, especially during the hook. I was like, “Wow, this is embarrassing,” but that’s just honesty as a songwriter [laughs].
Those are all [songs] that come from very personal places in my life, and that’s something I want to keep doing as a songwriter. I’d even drive that in more with more personal narratives.
Since “Dancing Without You” is dedicated to your father and grieving your loss of him, how did your dad influenced your music and you as a person, outside of this album?
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“Dancing Without You” is directly inspired by the passing of my father; my brother, Felix, and I wrote the track shortly after our tour in Japan. Being that my father’s personality was so bright and vibrant, a ballad truly didn’t suit his commemoration. So, we wrote a song about something he loved; dancing. Running his own discotheque in Germany in the 80s, he lived for music and dancing. We wanted to create a song that could be his own anthem. This one’s for you, dad. ⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ #petramusic #dancingwithoutyou #throwbacktuesday #tbt #superdad #bestdadever #love #instalove #forevermissed #gonebutneverforgotten #singersofinstagram #songstress #supportindiemusic #liveshows #photooftheday #80saesthetic #music #musicians #musiclover #musiclife #Musiciseverything #feelgoodmusic #musicjunkie⠀ #musicconnects #musichealsthesoul #musiciansdaily #newtunes #songpremiere #indiepop #musicislove ⠀
Oh my God, I could go on this for hours.
Well, there was a time when I was in high school and I was homeschooled, so he was a stay-at-home dad while my mom was mostly working. He would take me to all of my lessons, all of the piano competitions that I was in because I used to do a lot of classical piano.
There were times where I was supposed to be doing schoolwork, but instead I was writing music. He would always hear it and say, “That song… That song sounds so good, I love what you did!” He would hear me doing it because I would produce in my room’s walk-in closet, but the walls are thin and not soundproof. I was not using any professional equipment.
He would always ask about my music and along with my mom and my brother, he was one of the first people to hear things when I wrote them. [My dad] was very involved in my process and he was always super supportive of everything when it came to my music – even when he was sick, too.
If that doesn’t show what kind of a man he was, I don’t know what could. He was so invested in my brother and I and wanted to be there for everything, even when he was very, very sick.
He was one of the most amazing men in my life and I aspire to be around men like him for the rest of my life because he was a model human being.
What impact would you say the rest of your family has had on your music?
It’s so personal when it comes to my music because my brother plays in my band – he not only co-writes with me, he also plays keys, so I see him at every show and rehearsal.
My mom is like momager, but not a bad momager. She’s there for every show, every gig, every shoot, there for everything.
I would never do anything without talking to both my mom and my brother. I always ask them what they think about this or that. I feel there are a lot of people in the [music] scene who are honest with you, but I would talk to my mom and my brother and they would be like, “No, PETRA, that really sucks.”
They’ll just be so brutally honest with me and they would tell me everything on their mind, so I just trust their opinion so much. They’re definitely my inspirations, especially my mom.
Considering everything she’s been through over the last four years, her priority has always been my brother and I, making sure we got everything that we needed even though we had this unexpected occurrence happen with my dad passing away.
She’s always been so supportive, she always tells me how proud she is of my music. At her job she works with children, so she’s like, “All the kids ask about playing your music, that’s why I’m like your number one listener on Spotify. I’m always playing your music!”
[My mom] is like the biggest cheerleader and I could give her commission for how many tickets she’s sold to my shows. She’s very into everything that I’m doing and I can’t imagine doing anything without her.
Same with my brother. He taught me everything I know about music.
I owe everything to my family.
What’s the age difference between you and your brother?
Two years, so I’m 22 and he’s 24.
What have you learned from working on “Dancing Without You?”
The big thing about this project is there’s a lot of individuality and self-made elements. When I started, it was literally me, my mom, and the producer of the album.
A lot of it was just trying to figure out how to make an album happen. There was so much learning involved with making this record, there was so much that I didn’t know – and I always pride myself like, “I know everything, there’s nothing else to learn!”
But there was so much that I had done independently in making this record happen, it was a journey in itself trying to get to the finish line.
I really learned a lot from the very development core to getting the songs together to finish it, to mastering all the songs and releasing them all on your own.
I was involved in every moment because I was doing everything myself.
I felt it has informed me better now when it comes to making business decisions for myself, what to ask for, what to look for in good collaborative partners because now I what the process involves.
It was definitely an album that brought a lot of self-awareness to myself and also allowed me to create something on my own terms. That’s something that I hope to keep creating with upcoming releases.
Is there anything you would change about “Dancing Without You?”
Honestly no. I think it stands in a place in time where it really captures who I was at a certain moment, and I don’t think it could’ve been done better or like, worse [laughs].
It really captured who I am and that’s something I’m always going to be proud of.
I wanted to make sure all the creative ideas, all the songs, all the visuals, everything made sense with what I was thinking at the time and what I wanted.
Being able to do that on my own was a pretty awesome feat, so I’m very proud of this album.
How do you hope to connect with listeners through your music?
It could be something personal somebody’s going through, and then they turn to one of my songs to help them heal during that time.
I just know that music is a very universal language and that’s how I respond to music that I listen to. There’s so much that I’ve learned from records and listening to different songwriters.
I just hope that this can be healing for people whenever they’re going through something, or something that can let them get their hair out and dance like crazy.
I want them to be able to consume, enjoy, and think that it’s there for them whenever they need it.
What’s next for you, PETRA? Are there any more music videos in the works or any upcoming shows planned?
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Day one in the recording studio ? Thank you to Spin Recording Studios for hosting me to track all 9 songs off my album! Before this, I never truly had recorded in a studio; I used to record all my songs and demos in my bedroom closet. It was nerve-wracking but exciting, to say the least. ”Dancing Without You” is coming out so, so soon!!! ⠀ Photos by Aliya Jackson⠀ ⠀ #9Days⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #petramusic #singersofinstagram #songstress #supportindiemusic #soundslikepetra #petra #musicians #musiclover #musiclife #womenrock #womeninmusic #diymusic #newmusic #fortheloveofmusic #discovernewmusic #indiemusician #musicphotography #alternativepop #singerspotlight #musiciansdaily #songwritergirl #recordingstudio #indiepop #musicislove #soundslikepetra #intothesun #inthestudio #studiovibes #spinrecordingstudio
At the moment, currently working on developing new material. 2020 is going to be a very exciting year, but things are still in the works. We’re getting ready to announce things over the next couple of months.
There will be a merch line that’s launching very soon. I’m working on a really awesome collaboration, and there are a lot of really cool pieces, personal pieces will be involved in it, as well.
New music, merch, shows, that’s all going to be coming up over the next year.
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