Americana Highways recently caught up with Lorenzo Gillis Cook of Petite League. The band’s fifth studio album Joyrider, released in January, is a delight on multiple levels. Imagine if Brian Wilson recorded Pet Sounds with just a guitar and Dennis. That’s pretty close to Joyrider. No kidding.
Straight out of Syracuse, NY, and now making music in New York City, Petite League was on its first West Coast tour when the Covid lockdown hit. The band, consisting of Cook and drummer Henry Schoonmaker along with a couple of touring musicians had just played a standout show in the Bay Area. With their debut LA date fast approaching – where yours truly was planning a review – Covid slammed into California grounding the tour to a halt. Heading back across country must have been a hellish trip. But Cook has used the Lockdown Time to create Joyrider, his best work and my vote for album of the year for 2021 so far.
We talked about his history as an American kid who moved to Brussels, Belgium, when he was about four-years-old – he was actually born in Italy – making music, why he doesn’t make many videos, basketball and a lot more.
Americana Highways: How come Lorenzo Gillis Cook has never released a song? You don’t hide that it’s you, why always have a band name?
Lorenzo Cook: When I started out, I was always turned off by musicians who released under their own name because it felt very self-aggrandizing for whatever reason. These days, I just haven’t done it because I’m saving my own name for when I move onto that phase of my musical journey, if that makes sense.
AH: Your most streamed song from Petite League’s debut album Slugger is called “Not Always Happy” and it includes the amazing line “I love the way she left me, it reminds me that I’m not always supposed to be happy.” Do you believe that you’re not always supposed to be happy?
LC: You gotta feel everything to appreciate the good. Also, no one is always happy and that idea that you SHOULD be is kind of a problematic way of framing emotion, I think. You’re just setting yourself up for a letdown.
AH: I remember you once said in an interview – if I’m remembering correctly — that you considered yourself an American who grew up in Brussels. How did that affect you growing up?
LC: Being an expat can be an identity crisis in itself and there are a lot of ways you can turn out growing up as a “third culture kid.” I think my parents understood the importance in feeling rooted in something and they created a bridge that allowed us to feel that connection while not actively living in it. I know other Americans who grew up in the exact same circumstances who now speak with accents and have stayed in Europe indefinitely.
I’d also say my interest in the internet and American music and sports added to that underlying identity at a pretty key age.
This might not be related but The New York Times has a dialect quiz where they ask you a bunch of questions and it’ll show you the roots of the way you talk. My brother and I both have dialects that are most similar to people in Las Vegas. Can’t think of a reason why other than it’s sort of close to LA and we watched a ton of movies growing up.
AH: When will you make another video? You created such cool ones for a lot of your early work. The one for “Feel the Flowers” is my favorite.
LC: I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve focused my energy more directly on certain things and video kind of fell to the side. I’d like to get back into it a little but there is something really intimidating about making music videos in an era that is so video-centric and everyone seems to be really good at it. We are actually making a video right now for one of the non-singles on Joyrider but I’ve given up all the control of the video to my friend Kevin Sampio who is directing it all.
AH: Speaking of videos, has anyone ever pointed out the link between Sarah Cooper’s lip-sinking and your New York Girls video? Synchronicity or did one influence the other, do you think?
LC: Haha, nah. My mom would like that comparison though. My friend Gaby, who starred in the video, is just one of the coolest looking people and having her in the video worked thematically with the song really well. There really wasn’t much thought put into it, we finished it up in about an hour or so.
AH: Are the Nets all that or have they once again thrown away their future for what will be a failed present? And how badly will Kevin Durant regret trading Klay and Draymond for Kyrie and Harden, aka Kind-of-Crazy and Kind-of-Full-of-Himself? Could getting away from Steph really be worth that much?
LC: As a Celtics fan, I have to believe the Nets are going to regret this. I know James Harden is an all-time talent but I didn’t like the trade to get him. The pieces they let go to get him were fundamental to a winning team today and for a bright future. Also just kind of proves to me that the team doesn’t really have faith in Kyrie long term which, again as a Celtics fan, is not surprising.
AH: Will you ever do a song with banjo, mandolin, or pedal steel?
LC: Oh, I have tried! I met a guy in New York who has a pedal steel (which is kind of rare to find out here) and every other song I write now, I consider hitting him up to lay something down. It hasn’t happened yet but every year, my musical taste gets closer to my dad’s so there is no doubt in my mind that one day I will be a full-blown bluegrass kinda guy.
AH: What album – not necessarily your best – did you feel best about when you released it? Which do you feel best about looking back?
LC: Probably Rips One Into The Night [Petite League’s third album] because there was a lot of buzz around the band then and it was just exciting to see people get excited about the band at that scale for the first time. It was also the first time we did vinyl which was incredible to actually hold for the first time.
AH: Same question but substitute worst for best.
LC: Easy. Joyrider. Releasing music during a pandemic is no fun.
AH: What effects do you use on your voice when you record? On your guitars?
LC: I shamelessly, and unsuccessfully, emulate Julian Casablancas vocal effects (I believe he just sings through a Peavey amp) by building a little virtual amp. As for guitars, I don’t really have a go to, I just try stuff until it sounds right then I’ll tweak as I record. A lot of fuzz pedals and EQ boostin’.
AH: What does the future hold?
LC: Speaking as someone who usually lives at least a few months into the future, it’s actually been really hard to plan anything in the age of COVID. I had a lot of big plans for 2020 that had to get pushed back so I suppose those are still on my mind for whenever we’re able to jump back into a more normal life. I really want to tour as much as I can if only to see people I have been away from for this past year. That’s really been my only idea for a post-COVID life so far and I’m okay with that! https://petiteleague.bandcamp.com/album/joyrider