NYC-based alt-pop artist PETRA started playing piano before she could walk and got her first electric guitar when she was six, after she complained to her mother that she wanted to be her “own kind of musician.” Today, this philosophy of independence is still in her music, which contains empowering lyrics about embracing singlehood and not settling. She made her debut in 2015 with “Glamour Girl,” a playful and flirty love sing with lyrics like “You hit my radar like a blazing laser.” Her latest single “Just Stay” is a little different, showing a more vulnerable side of who she is in relationships. She plans to compile her music into an album that she’s releasing on November 12, titled Dancing Without You. We talked to her about her latest music, future plans, and the trials and tribulations of modern dating.
AF: So what’s the story behind your new single “Just Stay”?
P: It’s definitely one of my more heartfelt songs on this album, and it’s mostly inspired by this conversation I had with a former partner. It came at this really critical time in our relationship where we seemed to be at this crossroads, and it was really hard to talk about how we felt because somewhere down the line, the love faded, and instead of addressing it, we waited until this final moment. But even though things got bad, I was still telling him, “I want you to stay.” It was interesting because I’m a hopeless romantic, and I think love is so powerful, love can fix all these things — and it was the first time I doubted that thought because love is not always strong enough to keep things together. That song was me pleading to him to stay and saying we can fix things, but he felt otherwise, so that’s where the conversation came from.
AF: A lot of your songs about being self-sufficient and not relying on relationships. How do you balance that with being a hopeless romantic?
P: When I’m in a relationship, I can be quite prideful sometimes, and there’s a line in the pre-chorus that goes, “Forgive me for I know I’m weak, but I’ve shredded all my dignity on you.” I can be independent — I run my own life — but in that moment, it was just this overwhelming sense of vulnerability that I just faced head-on. And usually, I’m not somebody to give in to that feeling, but in that moment, it was so intense and hard to ignore, and I was accepting a moment where I feel so weak and feel I need someone, and even the most independent of people can feel vulnerable in those moments.
AF: Your previous single, “Luckboy,” sort of embodies that fiercely independent attitude. What inspired that one?
P: It’s funny because “Just Stay” and “Luckboy” are pretty much the opposite of each other, but it’s kind of interesting to think that this is the next single because this album is such a good example of the different parts that encompass my personality. And with “Luckboy,” it definitely dug into that fierce boss lady attitude that I always carry myself with, going to the idea that I just don’t need anybody, that I can function on my own, that sort of “screw guys, who needs them” attitude. This song came after “Just Stay” in a way because I needed to get myself back into the game and feel like I was in charge again after going on so many terrible dates, especially one specific one where I was like, “I don’t need anybody. I can do this on my own.” I do think of myself as having these different sides of my personality. I lean to more the fierce PETRA idea, but “Just Stay” goes into my more vulnerable side.
AF: So what was the date that inspired “Luckboy”?
P: I was seeing a guy. He was pretty cool. We went on a couple dates, and I was just more interested to see where things were going. And after one date, we were sitting down, and he said things were not working out for him on his end. But instead of it being a nice conversation, it was like he said his piece then gave me a high five and said, “Are we still gonna be friends?” And I was just in that moment like, “Cool, this is an interesting way to have this conversation.” Then I got up and left, not wanting to have this conversation. I was like, that took me by surprise. Just let that one go.
I sort of had this emotion because I went on a couple different dates, and some New York guys have a similar one-man-for-themself, don’t-have-the-time-and-energy-to-invest-in-someone-else attitude, and that was unfortunately the type of guy I was seeing at the time. And I sort of took the experiences I had from these various dates and constructed “Luckboy,” which is a play on the word “fuckboy.” I like to think I can be very coy with words, so instead of “fuckboy,” I said, “You’re running out of luck, boy.”
AF: How does being a woman of color play into it for you?
P: In the past, in the pop world, I feel as though there weren’t so many women of color at the forefront. Nowadays, Lizzo has changed that perspective. Yes, she raps, but in terms of being accepted by the pop world, she’s one of the biggest stars of the moment — also super body-positive. When I started my music journey, people were like, “Are you sure you want to do pop? Because it sounds like you should be doing more urban-based music.” And I love that kind of music, but it’s not what I identified with. So, with my music, I wanted to hone in on, “Yes, I’m a woman of color. I sing pop music. But I can still sing about the same subjects as my counterparts and be part of that world.
Nowadays, it’s much more accepted, and there’s more visibility and inclusivity in the pop world, so the perspective I can give is talking about the same subjects, like love, romance, heartbreak, death, and loss, in a way that hasn’t been addressed by other pop artists — so, taking back the idea that this is an inclusive genre and including that there are different races and ethnicities, so I can be that person i didn’t see growing up on television or on the radio.
AF: Who are your biggest influences?
P: I would say I’ve always been influenced by a lot of ’60s and ’70s rock and roll, a lot of Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, I would say Queen was a big influence, but also I love Fleetwood Mac, Cher, my list can go on and on. So, I’d say a lot of ’60s and ’70s music was the core of my sound because that’s what I grew up listening to via my father. Then, some old-school pop. I’ve always loved Britney Spears, how can you not? I’ve always melded these old-school songs with modern-day pop, so that’s where the balance of my songs comes from.
AF: What are your next plans?
P: There’s going to be this really awesome album release show at Knitting Factory at the end of this month. The album comes out November 12, and in spring 2020, I’m planning on going on a cross-country tour. The details of that are still in the works and will be announced early next year. I’m really excited because I love performing live and can’t wait to get back out on the road.
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