Eric Peters’ Far Side of the Sea is a unique concept album, with each song inspired by an object in a photograph taken by the artist himself. But with its haunting honesty and surprising sound, it’s also a fascinating case study on the symbiotic relationship between artist and producer. With producer Gabe Scott (Andrew Peterson, Bebo Norman, Crowder) at the helm, Far Side is a brand new sonic adventure for Peters. We got a chance to ask Gabe a few questions about the process of making the album.
This album sounds decidedly different from some of Eric’s past work. How comfortable was EP with “stretching” musically?
Eric and I had a conversation early on where we discussed possible directions for the music and the overall sound of “Far Side.” One of those possibilities was to try taking a spin outside of his wheelhouse or comfort zone. Considering it was his tenth album, maybe we could attempt to mark it with a noticeable shift.
Music and story each seem to have this powerful effect of conjuring imagery and visuals in our imagination. A song is the marriage of both.Gabe Scott
That possibility is where we landed, and the noticeable shift became affectionately known as the “left turn” during the making of the record. Basically, any time we found ourselves doing something that felt really obvious or comfortable for Eric, we would make a left turn. We’d try to find a different way to say something or sing something. We’d hunt to find instruments or textures that would lead us down a new path.
It was sort of an exercise in roadblocking his instincts, and that is a lot to ask of someone. He was not only a great sport, but at times, he even led the charge when I was feeling a bit timid about how sharp the left turn might be. He was committed to following through on the vision.
Near the end of the project, I think we both found comfort in having a guideline like that in place. It was something to hold us accountable. However, it’s definitely not something we wanted to come out sounding totally unfamiliar. Eric has his signature, and it’s magic. There is no way in the world we wanted to lose that. The intended final destination was still “Eric Peters.” We just wanted to change up the scenery.
How much fear or worry is present when the left turns are particularly sharp?
Artists don’t just define or become who they are overnight. I don’t suppose anyone does for that matter. Artists, along with their art, are continually evolving and in some cases cycling back around to someone they may have been previously.
I think the role of a producer is to help remind the artist who they are and at the same time, maybe give them a small shove—just enough to knock them a little off balance. There is always this push and pull between who you were maybe three years ago and who you might be now.
Thoughts like “My last project really seemed to have an effect on people, so maybe I should try to replicate that emotion or direction again but that’s not really where I am anymore” can plague. There can be a real struggle between being loyal to your audience and being genuine with your art. It’s probably one of the trickiest lines for an artist to walk. If they are feeling restless or inspired, they want to let that lead them. It may lead to someplace new, but what if their audience doesn’t want to follow them there?
Eric and I had countless conversations about this. What if the audience doesn’t embrace the change? But in the end if art isn’t coming from a genuine place, it can quickly lose its impact. So we pressed ahead with the “left turn” because that’s where we were at the time. We gave the best we had at that time and place. And now, we hope. We hope that the familiar still shines through amidst the new surroundings and finds a home in someone’s heart.
Did you get a chance to see the photos that inspired each song? Did they affect your production ideas?
At the very beginning of the process, Eric came by the studio to play through the songs for me—just on acoustic guitar. I got to see each photo in conjunction with its corresponding song as he went along. It’s quite a unique situation to have a true visual reference for a song when you’re hearing it for the first time.
Music and story each seem to have this powerful effect of conjuring imagery and visuals in our imagination. A song is the marriage of both, which allows it to produce extremely vivid and real pictures and emotions in us. They might not even be the emotions or visions the writer was aiming for when they were composing.
That’s one of the beautiful things about art. There is plenty of room allowed for interpretation. And varied interpretations aren’t right or wrong, they’re just different perspectives. Best of all, they are personal to the receiver.
So getting back to Far Side of The Sea, I had the opportunity to actually see the target so to speak; the picture or vision that Eric was aiming for. Then I was able to sit back and listen to him play the song and gather those pictures as well.
That was the only day we looked at the physical pictures but we talked about them quite a bit. The photos informed the songs. So it was inescapable (in a good way) that the photos would breathe into the production. Now that I think about it, maybe we could’ve hung each picture on the wall as we were working and we could’ve referenced it for inspiration. Now I’ll be prepared for the next project I produce that has accompanying photos for each song!
Do you have a favorite song on the album? Why?
I’m really bad at picking favorites for pretty much anything in life. For some reason, I usually see things as apples and oranges as opposed to great apple, good apple. Maybe it’s just an excuse for not wanting to make a decision! I’ll say this though, there is a moment on the opening track (“When the Lightning Strikes”) where everything comes down in volume and gets small. Then it transitions with a big timpani roll into the final chorus. When that last chorus hits, we have Eric singing these high oohs overtop of his lead vocals. There is something about those oohs that feels so lonesome and at the same time somehow triumphant. It gets me every time. Maybe he should’ve titled the album “Triumphantly Lonesome.”
[Click here to listen to Far Side of the Sea and grab a copy for yourself.]
Sarah Bramblett has a PhD in English Rhetoric and Composition and resides in Kennesaw, Georgia with her husband Lane and daughter Shiloh (a "joy tornado"). Sarah was an intern for the Rabbit Room while in undergrad and still believes in the life-giving power of Story; she loves passing on that power to college students who don’t think they can write.