“After each album, I always make sure to quit my job. A man only has so much to say.”
Even after conducting what is now thousands of interviews, I still remember that line from a veteran songwriter. It came in the midst of a long rant against artists and bands who “don’t know when to quit.” Most artists face a steep climb toward longevity of any kind, but the criticism here was that some artists continue to make music because that’s all they know. Facing the fear that he won’t know when to quit, like the musicians he was critiquing, the songwriter wanted to make sure there was actually something to say with each new release.
Looking through my own favorite artists, I understand his point. Some of my favorites have lost me somewhere along the way, with careers that seem top-heavy from early, important releases. It’s a relatable pressure for me, akin to when I wondered how to illustrate yet another sermon after telling personal stories to the same community of believers every Sunday for a decade. A man only has so much to say.
Sometimes, however, the opposite is true.
Twenty years have passed since Eric Peters first released an album as part of an acoustic duo known as Ridgely. In the decades since, he’s turned into a well-rounded artist who hunts down rare books, paints, sculpts, and writes and records songs. Recently, Eric announced the forthcoming release of a brand new album, Far Side of the Sea. It’s his tenth studio album, his tenth release filled with stories and songs, lessons and learnings. That’s a lot for one man to say.
I’m not sure if Eric ever thinks about quitting or at least questions whether he has anything valuable to add to the ongoing conversation shared by us all. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did. It’s natural for anyone to feel and face such fears of inadequacy, irrelevance, and (dis)interest. Yet what is clear for those paying close attention is that Eric Peters feels more like a man finding his voice than one simply using it. Despite the beautiful refrains already sung, any fan of Eric’s will likely say that his most recent release, Birds of Relocation, was undoubtedly his finest hour — an emotional gut-punch from an artist secure in his insecurity, comfortable enough to finally open up and reveal his doubts, weaknesses, and voices. And oh those “Voices.”
For me, Birds was a life-affirming grip within the arms of a faithful friend — one who’d journeyed down the same paths of despair as me and could yet testify to the faithfulness of a good God in the midst of it all. It was honest and hopeful, fragile and confident. It moved me, not only musically but rather it brought me to a new place to stand in my relationships with friends, with myself, with God. Albums of this sort are so rare; it wasn’t surprising to find the songs similarly resonant with so many others.
The good news, then, is that my good brother is tilling the soil of his next work after such a tremendous release. These songs come with even more experience, perspective, and wisdom than the ones before. They’re also part of a passion project that Eric has held for a long time — a combination of photography, written essays, and songs that culminate in a beautiful package called Far Side of the Sea. Is there any doubt that this new collection will be any less impactful? Not on my end. It thrills me to know that my friend has plenty more to say and that he’s laboring to craft those songs even now.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.