In the University Hill neighborhood of Syracuse, New York, there’s a faint scent of wood smoke and a chill in the air. It feels like fall, but the striped blue-and-orange university banners flown proudly over porches spell out March Madness. It’s Easter weekend—Good Friday to be exact. In the next three days, the Syracuse University basketball team will score two unlikely victories that set the city ablaze. Frat guys with matching orange t-shirts and red plastic cups will spill out onto lawns to celebrate; the buzz of excitement will descend upon the area’s main commercial drag, Marshall Street, as kids flock to bars with names like Chuck’s and Harry’s. But none of these things are the reason I’m here. On the corner of Ackerman Avenue, in a rickety, hundred-year-old pastel blue house known as the Scarier Dome, a different scene is brewing.
Named after the Carrier Dome (SU’s sports arena), the Scarier Dome is home to eight dudes who, like most college students, shotgun beers and never do the dishes, but this is no frat house. They’re a tight-knit group of misfits who can hang with the jocks, but flourish in the company of other creatives. After moving in last August, they transformed the ramshackle house into a destination for basement shows by clearing out the rotting garbage, old mattresses and boxes of junk left behind by previous tenants. It was dirty then, and it’s still dirty today. Only now, the kind of clutter that fills the house tells a story—a chalice of cheerios perched on a side table (they frequently run out of bowls), colorfully decorated “defense sticks” to ward off potential intruders, a hatchet that inexplicably travels from room to room. Across two semesters, the Scarier Dome has grown into a second home for touring bands; a creative hub where art, posters and setlists are plastered on every wall, music reverberates through every hallway and there’s always a couch to crash on.
“In high school, my friends would leave every three years. I was kind of losing friends all the time.”
On the second floor, in a drafty box of a room, lives 22-year-old Lorenzo Gillis Cook, a senior in the university’s coveted Bandier music business program, and the mastermind behind Petite League. He’s a little bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, thanks to a combination of midterms and his usual late-night recording habit. Amidst the crumpled band t-shirts, college-ruled notebooks and Topps baseball cards scattered across the bed and floor, there are relics of Lorenzo’s upbringing, like the ornate Norwegian sweater his dad gave him for Christmas. Born in Rome (hence the name Lorenzo) to American parents—Dad works for NATO, Mom is a fifth grade teacher—he was raised in Brussels, Belgium, where the rest of his immediate family still resides.
Growing up in Europe while identifying as an American only added an extra layer of complexity to your typical teenage existential woes; his conflicted notions of “home” continue to inform nearly everything he does. “In high school, my friends would leave every three years because their parents were working for whatever company that would send them around,” he remembers. “I was kind of losing friends all the time.” Like a lot of kids these days, he took his search for a sense of community online, via an active presence on Tumblr and an angst-y bedroom pop project, Spark Alaska. With super-human blue eyes, sandy-blonde hair and the scruffy, sensitive charm of my first crush, Lorenzo had no trouble amassing fans. To this day, girls post notes like “i've been infatuated with you since i was a freshman in high school” on his blog. An anonymous message from last December simply asks: “are you dating someone again?”
“I like doing this on my own, because people don’t have the same amount of time that I do to focus on me.”
An overseas leap to Syracuse came with an introduction the world of “American fuzzy lo-fi basement music” he was mostly unaware of growing up. Bands like Perfect Pussy inspired him to ditch Spark Alaska and start Petite League (with roommate Henry Schoonmaker on drums) as both an evolution of his sound and a means of hanging with friends who made heavier stuff. “It’s a lot harder to take yourself seriously when you’re just writing mellow bedroom tunes and your friends are rocking out,” he explains. Released last October, Petite League’s debut album Slugger is scuzzy pop perfection, recorded in the bedroom, but built for the garage. It rings back to my old college favorites, like early Cloud Nothings and Smith Westerns—the urgency and anguish of youth wrapped up in distorted major chords; the distinct brand of slacker rock I didn’t realize I missed until I heard it again.
Slugger is a breakup record, oozing with the reckless, all-in type of love we maybe run out of as we get older, and the devastating heartache that goes along with it. I love the woes she left me / they remind me I’m not always supposed to be happy, Lorenzo sings on the brooding-but-hopeful “Not Always Happy.” I might be drawn to his music because I’ve reached an age where I search for things to make me feel younger; to bring me back to a time when I allowed myself to be completely swept up in emotions. Or maybe it reminds me that deep down, I’m still 22 years old and nothing’s changed. He’s a clever songwriter, deliberately weaving personal experiences into universal sentiments, like the I-fell-for-you-and-you-know-it opening line on “My Black Lungs.” It’s easier to write about things a couple years after the fact, he says, “because you’re less emotionally attached.”
He’s his own manager and publicist. The margins of his school notebooks are filled with meticulous Petite League to-do lists—songs to finish tracking, e-mails to send, upcoming releases to map out. One list made in advance of this weekend’s video shoot reminds him to shave. “I like doing this on my own,” he says, “because people don’t have the same amount of time that I do to focus on me.” He speaks about the project in rapid, impassioned bursts, often editing his thoughts mid-sentence as they tend to spill out faster than he can filter them.
“We’re doing something that other kids haven’t done here before.”
Though he piles the majority of Petite League responsibilities onto himself, the Scarier Dome is a collaborative effort. Lorenzo thrives in this environment because he’s surrounded by guys like him—musicians, filmmakers, artists. “I can just hang out here and it feels like a productive night,” he says. “It’s never boring, and you’re never alone.” On Saturday morning, everyone gathers on the first floor, sipping tea from mason jars, cradling MacBooks in their laps. The Scarier Dome’s two resident cats, Library and Miles Davis, float in an out of the room; the air is thick with the aroma of potatoes and eggs frying in fat. Tonight, 200 kids will flood the basement and lawn thanks to what these guys have built together.
“We’re doing something that other kids haven’t done here before,” says Lorenzo. He frequently finds a way to direct conversations about himself toward the merits of his housemates. “There’s a lot of art in here—a lot of people doing different creative things.” There’s Conor, who produces beautiful ambient music and, with his librarian sweaters and professorial beard, seems more like a TA than an undergrad. There’s Quinn—tall, quiet, with an impeccable ear. He plays bass in Petite League’s live setup, and already has an industry gig lined up in LA. On lead guitar is Adam, a soft-spoken film major who shoots VHS video sessions with bands who pass through the house. A recent clip featuring New Jersey’s Pinegrove made it to MTV.com.
Kevin, who runs sounds for these sessions, is the lovable, stoney prankster of the house. Five days after the dudes moved in, he broke his arm in a drunken attempt to bomb a hill on his skateboard. Forrest is the Scarier Dome’s resident chef, with a mop of curly dirty-blonde hair and a delightful chill-dad vibe. He’s notorious for his “gourmet greasy” dishes, which he’s branded Full Tang Food and sells for a few dollars at shows. After a couple beers, he’s also known to pull out his false front tooth for laughs, and some kids show up on Saturday nights just to hang with him in the kitchen. This is also where you might catch a rare glimpse Pfleiger, the outlier bro of the household who lives on the third floor.
And then there’s Henry, Lorenzo’s right hand and Halo 2 opponent. He’s sort of a wild card—a geography major who loves map-making and refers to his time here as “a learning process.” He fills in where he’s needed, helping design show posters and drumming in another house band, Conroy Blanc, alongside Adam, Kevin, Quinn and Pfleiger. If I had unlimited time, I’d profile each of the Scarier Dome’s cast of characters, but tonight is about Petite League. Out of admiration for the visiting bands, Blasteroid, Pleistosene and Comfy, Lorenzo diplomatically billed himself as the second act.
Ahead of his set, he darts from floor to floor catching up with friends, taking donations at the door or manning the merch table. Many of the kids piling into the basement don the Scarier Dome uniform–vibrant mismatched socks, busted Vans, screen-printed band tees, earth tone windbreakers. Behind the makeshift corner stage are twinkling neon string lights, pennant flags and a banner that reads “SCARY DUMB,” a popular play on the house name. An extremely drunk, eccentric filmmaker buddy named Malcolm Rizzuto introduces Petite League’s set. (“You know how it feels when your best friend’s song plays and you get an erection?”) With a tall can in each hand, he wraps his arms around Lorenzo and plants a wet kiss on his forehead. Lorenzo’s cheeks flush in a mix of embarrassment and pride.
On stage, Lorenzo is less plaintive and more snarling than on his records. Mostly, he’s really, really good. He’s got his three housemates playing behind him; everyone here knows the words to his songs. For a fleeting moment, he allows himself to revel in his accomplishments before returning to his default state of unrest when the show is over. “Graduation’s coming up in a month and a half,” he tells me later that night. “I don’t know where I’m going, don’t have a job, haven’t really been looking for a job yet because I’ve been really focused on this, like, too much.”
Indeed, he’s rapidly approaching a major crossroads. He should be scrambling after job leads or another unpaid internship (he’s already done two), but it’s tough to plan your future when the song ideas rattling around your brain need to come out today. For now, his top priority is finishing Petite League’s sophomore album No Hitter.
Like Slugger, the record features the type of fuzzy anthems that defined his sound, such as ferocious single “Zookeeper” and title track “No Hitter,” which includes Lorenzo’s new motto: No crying in Petite League. In contrast, however, “I Met You Before” finds him reconnecting with his softer acoustic side. “French New York” is an homage to friends from abroad; he effortlessly flips between singing in English and French on the track. No Hitter is everything I loved about the first album, but with more nuance and range.
The time between my visit and graduation has only made Lorenzo’s future more unclear. Since Easter weekend, he’s landed a Fader premiere, a track writeup on Pitchfork, a slot on a Spotify ‘Fresh Finds’ playlist that boosted his track “Little Fourth of July” to over 150k plays. For Lorenzo, these benchmarks are evidence that “this is a cool thing,” but they guarantee him nothing besides a host of new questions. “It’s fun to play shows,” he says, “but could I do it every night? Do I want to have a life that’s in the back of a van forever?”
Now, the path his parents nudge him toward—putting his degree to use and his music on the back burner—seems like one of two equally viable (and equally bleak) options. “I’m still in the mindset that no one’s gonna pay me good money yet,” he says. “At this point, I’ve just spent a lot of time chasing something.” From our time together, it’s clear to me that no record deal or music job will put an end to his chase.
When I say goodbye to the boys on Sunday afternoon, I get this wrenching, anxious feeling in my stomach. I want them to leave this small pond, to go out into the world and turn all of their ambitions into reality, for Lorenzo to get whatever he decides he’s looking for. At the same time, I want to freeze them here in this moment. To return to Syracuse whenever I want and find Kevin and Quinn playing catch in the street, Forrest reclined in his lawn chair while a Whitney track blares from his dad’s old boombox. Mostly, I want to safeguard them from a world where college friends lose touch. From an industry that, at worst, will repeatedly tell them “no,” and at best will capitalize on their creative pursuits.
By now, however, they’re already gone. Graduation happened last month, and today, the Scarier Dome is only a memory destined to fade over time. Another pastel-colored house on an ordinary street corner. All I can do is smile and root for my team, because there ain’t no crying in Petite League. And this is the only way to end a winning season.
We’re stoked to premiere Petite League’s sophomore album, No Hitter.
Lorenzo has been sketching since he was a kid in Belgium. He does all of Petite League’s artwork himself, and refers to his style as “light-hearted, simple and weird.”
Henry created a Scarier Dome floor plan using textures from around the house.
“Kevin was painting for a while, so I took all his mess-ups and the pieces he used and took pictures of them. I took pictures of Lorenzo’s blanket, ash I took from the fireplace, cat litter from Library and Miles Davis, some coffee stains.” - Henry
- The kitchen, an eternal mess
- The Stairway to Heaven (Conor's Room)
- The stairs to the Scarier Dome (the basement) and the first floor (Quinn, Adam, and Kevin)
- The Sports Couch Room, drumset in the corner
- The bathroom, an homage to Zookeeper
- Henry's Room, featuring rugs
- The other Stairway to Heaven (Pflieger's and Forrest's rooms)
- Lorenzo's Room, showing a box of clothes that didn't move for several months
- The living room, where Halo 2 is played
- The table, otherwise known as a piece of plywood on a sawhorse with about 60 nails in it