[Editor’s note: Eric Peters’ new EP, Counting My Rings: B-Sides, comes out next Tuesday. We asked Eric to spill the beans and give us a song by song breakdown of each track included on the new release. Here’s resulting spilt-bean pattern.]
Occasionally in an artist’s (me) career (mine), there are leftover songs, extras, B-sides—lagniappe, if you will. These are complete songs (produced, recorded, and mixed) that, for various reasons, have failed to find a home on any album. I’m fortunate enough, if fortune is the right word, to have a few such extra songs—rings—hiding in the recesses of my portfolio. I’m currently between studio albums (BiRDS OF RELOCATiON was released in 2012), and I thought it would be a good a time to make this selection available. I see these B-sides as an opportunity for folks to count a few of the rings in the Eric Peters canon that, until now, have remained uncounted and unheard.
These recordings are laden with my usual lyrically-knotted abstracts, and for the instances in which I inexplicably sing with nothing shy of a twang, or I simply try too hard to “mean it,” I can only beg your grace.
Track 1: “Bedlam and the Fuse”
In 2006, a friend of mine attending Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) had a class project in which he had to produce and mix two original songs by someone/anyone. He asked if I’d be interested, and whether I had any new songs I’d like to have recorded. I had just written “Bedlam,” and was eager to hear a produced version of it, so I volunteered it (along with another new song, “The Traveling Onion”). Written during the so-called war on terror, Bedlam is my response to what I perceived to be the futility of fighting in a no-win situation. It was not at all my intention for it to be a “statement” song in the political sense, but merely my own response to the chaos (bedlam) of a world on the verge of self-destruction (fuse), a world willfully ignoring the use of common sense.
Track 2: “Counting My Rings”
Written no later than 2002, and recorded in 2002/03 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for Miracle of Forgetting, this was another of my attempts at empathizing with inanimate objects. For whatever reason, I am naturally inclined to give a voice to things that cannot articulate their own stories. My interpretations may not be remotely close to actual truth, but they inevitably reveal a bit of my own story. In “Counting,” I empathize with a tree facing its own mortality. Its hidden annual rings are proof of living and survival—of fire, drought, pestilence—and only in its felling will it fully reveal those layers of struggle and thriving, holding them up as little offerings and victories.
Track 3: “I Am the Sword”
In this song, I empathize with a nineteenth-century weapon in the hands of a Union or Confederate soldier. Written sometime between 2000-2002, “Sword” is further proof that history-themed songs elicit very little interest from the general population, which explains why the song has never been on one of my studio albums. You either love history or you hate it—or so I’ve heard. A Bachelor of Arts degree in history firmly in hand, I remain a fan of the lessons of the past, and for as long as I live I will continue to bore people with the merits of history married to song. This was recorded in 2002/03 for the Miracle of Forgetting sessions in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but since it didn’t fit with the overall production or subject matter of that record, it was cut. When it came time to make the followup (Scarce, 2006), I presented it to the producer, who took no interest in it whatsoever, merely responding, “What is that about?” So we moved on, and the song was shelved once again. I kept hoping “Sword” would find a home somewhere, and this EP seemed as good a niche as any. Outcasts, after all, must stick together. One day I would like to record a Louisiana-tinged, history-themed album that I hope will include this song. Hold your breath.
Track 4: “Traveling Onion”
Written in 2008 at the urging of my wife, who first introduced me to the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye. Smitten by her brilliantly simple prose, I absconded with Mrs. Nye’s poem of the same title, and wrote this song. I may or may not have plagiarized her words. This was the second of the two aforementioned MTSU song demos, and though I liked this version, overall it felt a bit heavy-handed, especially for inclusion on Chrome (2009). I wound up re-recording the song with producer Ben Shive at The Beehive in Nashville in 2008/09, and I felt Ben’s deft artistic touch better fit the overall melancholy of Chrome. After recording the album version, I was squeamish for not having asked Mrs. Nye’s permission to transform her wonderful poem into an eccentric song comparing life as an artist to that of the translucence of an onion on the chopping block. I mailed Mrs. Nye a copy of the CD and a handwritten letter begging grace and forgiveness, hoping for the best. She was kind enough to reply, expressing her joy at the final result, and I remain glad for her edification and her accessible poetry, as well her blessing on the existence of the song.
Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.