*This interview was originally featured on The Rabbit Room. Click here to read it!
Nashville-based musician/artist/book collector/gumbo-cuisinier Eric Peters has a new creative project, Far Side of the Sea — a concept album and photographic memoir to be released as companion pieces this fall. With all that brewing, and with the excitement from his new fully-funded Kickstarter campaign, it seemed like a good time to have a conversation with him.
First off, Eric, a huge congratulations to you on the success of your Kickstarter project that just reached its goal! You’ve described Far Side Of The Sea as a concept album that, lyrically, highlights the imagined experiences of inanimate objects. What drew you to this idea… and are there any specific objects from your childhood that still hold significant meaning to you?
EP: My Junior High school (boy, wasn’t that a fun time?) offered a sculpture class. Mr. Hotard, a short squatty man with a great, grey walrus mustache, must have been a gentle and patient teacher as he had to manage semesters full of 12 and 13-year-old know-it-alls, all of us armed with sundry sharp and blunt manual tools necessary to the projects. Our assignments were in a variety of mediums: clay, chalk, wood, clothes hanger wire and pantyhose, paper mache. The wood-sculpting project wound up being my favorite. Somehow, from a block of cedar, I carved a fish, and I felt mighty proud of what I’d made. What has stuck with me most about the process, however, was the mistake I made, an inadvertent slip of the chisel, that led me to resolving the tailfin shape that had confounded me. That error, that unintentional gouge, led me to a better, more representative piece. I still have the fish sculpture in all its shellacked glory. I suppose the concept for Far Side Of The Sea is of similar ilk: to allow overlooked objects (or people) the freedom to be themselves in the retelling of their stories–that maybe the mistakes or hurts or joys or defeats can cumulatively echo something more grand, more permanent.
Is this album a departure, musically, from your previous work — or does it have a similar sound/style to past music in the Eric Peters canon?
EP: Producer Gabe Scott and I are very early in the pre-production (writing, arranging) stage, but FSS will be a bit of a departure from my past work. I need it to be. I’ve had to accept that there’s really no way I could “follow-up” Birds Of Relocation. If I strive to replicate that well-received album, I’ll not only lose my mind, but set myself in a path of defeat. BoR was born out of a very unique season, maybe once in a lifetime, and it’s not in my genes to willingly duplicate the sound and emotions of BoR without being disingenuous. To a fault, I’ve always been a songwriting prisoner to the ebb and flow of my life, to the dark, despondent seasons as well as to those that are bright and hopeful.
Stylistically, I want FSS to be a departure, a step into unexplored territory, not for the purpose of betraying my fan base, but to be brave, to try something new musically, to make myself uncomfortable. In our initial meetings, I charged Gabe with the task of challenging me, of presenting production ideas that would take me into unfamiliar terrain, all while retaining what is essentially “me.” Each time Gabe has offered two (or more) production routes, I’ve purposefully chosen the less familiar way. I don’t know what the final product will be, but I’m trying not to be complacent. I make these production and song direction choices with a very real fear: that no one will like FSS, that I will finally lose the last vestige of interest in my music, that folks will walk away for good, that I’ll fail. By no means do I wish to alienate or disregard my niche fanbase, but I had to come to accept that there was no way I could live up to expectations, mainly my own, on the heels of BoR. The subject(s) matter alone of Far Side Of The Sea required that I willingly enter the dark and the secrets of overlooked, unwanted, rejected objects or people. I am naturally inclined to go there anyway, so it wasn’t too difficult a stretch to look for atoms of myself in their stories, in their failed hopes and dreams, in their irrelevance, in their weariness from striving, in the questioning of their self-worth. In the end, I want to be humbly proud of my work, however insignificant it may be in the grand industry of music. I want to be able to look back on a career of trying to articulate myself, of seeking authenticity, of creating a body of work that is genuine and communicates something bigger than any of my idiotic insecurities or fears.
The first time we spoke, I was impacted by how you responded to a conversation about writing songs with dark vs. lighthearted melodies. You asked why we should feel guilty for writing melancholy songs if that’s where we found ourselves in life. I appreciated this, as it took the pressure off to create in a way that felt fake. Some songs on your past records have dealt with darker themes yet still sound joyful and catchy. How do you tackle this in songwriting and is this usually the result of writing lyrics or melody first – or neither?
EP: I generally gravitate to melody over lyric. I find it hard to latch onto a lyric if there’s not much anchoring it melodically. That’s just me; I don’t put lyrics ahead of melody. Accessible melodies married to weighty lyrics is one of the traits I value in so many of my favorite artists–The Weepies, in my mind, exemplifying this. I find and listen to new music this way, so I suppose it naturally follows that I should write songs similarly, or at least attempt to. If a view to darkness and melancholia can be something of a faint light for someone else, then I suppose my writing is an asset, however insignificant, to folks who are in need of that light. I think the world (and I used to be one of them) sees sadness as a weakness, as a lack of character, or faith, or emotional strength. But I think sadness is more like a yearning — for hope, for light, for truth to take root in this world, for justice, for a Kingdom Come.
One of Scripture’s most hope-filled truths is that God “has made all things beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). Although we’ll all struggle with internal battles until the day we’re called home, is there an example you can share of how songwriting has served as a balm for your mind, body, or soul along the way?
EP: Songwriting, for me, has always been cathartic. I generally write songs with the hope that they won’t fall on deaf ears, that I’m not the only one who wrestles with demons, who struggles to believe that God actually likes me, that he isn’t massively disappointed in me. So, in that sense, I don’t want my songs to be a self-confessional burden to anyone, but to be something good and lasting.
Top five favorite songs you’ve been streaming this summer?
EP: I tend to get stuck on one or two artists at a time and then live with their music for months on end. Lately, it’s been Lord Huron’s new record, Strange Trails. The main songwriter, Ben, creates worlds that I look forward to visiting, to escaping into, to being haunted by. Their previous album, Lonesome Dreams, is still one of my favorite records. Also, I’ve reacquainted myself with Bruce Hornsby & the Range. As far as I’m concerned, no matter if you were born in 1972 or in 2000, “Scenes From The Southside” (1998) is a splendid record top to bottom. Tegan & Sarah’s latest, Heartthrob, is tremendous. Good songwriting is timeless.
So, what does the rest of the year look like for you, and how can we stay updated on your creative projects?
EP: I have a small lawn care business to help make ends meet, so I’ll continue that labor until late October/early November when the season mercifully ends, and I get to rest my body again. Ideally, producer Gabe (Scott) and I will reconvene in the next few days, after a month-long hiatus, to continue working on the album. I’d like to release FSS by early November at the latest. My concert schedule is grim the rest of 2015, so I will keep myself busy with various home projects, getting my hands dirty in the flowerbeds or in my shop making Daily Pieces (art sculptures from repurposed objects), by painting canvases, reading, continuing to get the word out about my secondhand book-selling endeavor (The Book Mole), writing new songs if the Muse allows, and, time permitting, even getting in a rare but welcome round of golf. All, of course, while being a husband and a dad to two young boys. I’m not super great at keeping folks updated, but I do try to keep in touch via my mailing list (sign up here: http://www.ericpeters.net/), via Twitter (@ericpetersmusic), Instagram (https://instagram.com/ericpeters/), and, lest I forget, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ericpetersmusic).
Thanks, Eric! We wish you all this best this season and can’t wait to hear the first sounds and see the first pages from Far Side Of The Sea. Have a great autumn with your family!