The maelstrom of the last few years has proven difficult for singer-songwriter Eric Peters, but the resulting growth has given way to a new set of songs that chronicle those experiences in a meaningful way.
Longtime fans know this creative process well as it’s yielded resonant albums like Chrome, Birds of Relocation, and Far Side of the Sea.
Via a new Kickstarter campaign, Eric has an EP on the way with his first new studio album in several years. Check out our interview with Eric to hear more about the tragedy of losing a home, the power of community to transform, and what it means to draw creatively from a deeper well.
On your new Kickstarter, you mentioned the trials of the last few years and how these songs chronicle the ways they’ve made you a better man. Can you take us further into that story?
Eric Peters: The day after the tornado, an army of people — some I knew but many of whom were total strangers — showed up to empty our house of all things salvageable for storage. It seemed like all of Nashville showed up to volunteer in our little hard-hit section of the neighborhood that week. Hundreds, probably thousands, helped clean, cleared debris, chainsawed tree limbs, delivered Moon Pies and drinks, offered condolences and hugs, cried with us, and let us cry on them. They were available in whatever way was needed.
I remember being in my backyard Asylum—an office/art space I built—to gather my beloved library of books that had fallen from the shelves and were lying in piles on the floor. A stranger was out there already doing what I set out to do. I joined him, and he asked if this was my house, introduced himself, and said he was sorry this happened. His name was Nicholas, and I’ve only seen him once since that day. I dubbed him Saint Nicholas to his mustached face, and have considered him that ever since. He didn’t know me and he had no agenda. He just wanted to help by being present and available.
The entire experience has made me realize that there is absolutely no gospel if we insist on being bad neighborsEric Peters
I don’t remember a lot about the night of the storm or the next day or even that week, but I will never forget the kindness of all the people who came to help those in distress and need, those who were dealing with loss. Being inside the tornado itself as it passed over was certainly an experience I won’t forget, but it was the people who made the deeper, more lasting impression on me. People are not deep down bad, as I’ve been taught for so many years. We are beautiful souls, broken at times, hurting, but capable of such glory. We are damn delights. I know, because I’ve seen it firsthand.
What’s the application of that for you?
Eric: The entire experience has made me realize that there is absolutely no gospel if we insist on being bad neighbors. By “neighbor,” I don’t mean the sanitized, generalization of the word. I don’t mean the people you feel safe around and with whom you go to church or have Bible study. I mean the very people who literally live next door to you or down the block. I can guarantee they are wildly different than you are with shockingly different beliefs—if any—different attitudes, different lifestyles, and different leanings. If you don’t know your neighbors, if you’ve never taken the risk of introducing yourself to them, or brought them a meal or cookies, then your gospel is empty and void of anything worth paying attention to. It sounds harsh, I know, but I’m so tired of our Christian culture’s ability to wax eloquently about all the things Christ promoted, yet we act like asses when no one is looking or the barista gets our coffee order wrong.
Little moments matter. These past few years have made me want to be a kinder man, a better husband, a present dad, an affable neighbor, a mower of lawns, a writer of songs, and a painter of abstract things. Politicians aren’t going to save us from ourselves. Our government, no matter the party in power, will not save us from ourselves. No dollar amount will save us from ourselves. Stop thinking someone needs you to save them. What they need—what I need—is for you to be compassionate and to act like the delight that you are, the one the world deserves to see.
How long after the tornado and resulting damage did it take you to pick up songwriting again?
Eric: I didn’t write very much after Far Side of the Sea, mostly because I felt it was a worthless, pointless endeavor. But I did start writing again after the storm. “The Bread” was the first song I’d finished in over four years. I started pecking away at some song starts I’d begun months, even years, earlier, and found myself incorporating all of the stuff I’d been experiencing into these new songs. I wanted to make a pop/rock album that lacked pop/rock lyrics—sort of a musical marriage between happy-go-lucky and soberness.
You’ve certainly written a lot in the past about brokenness. Does this feel like a new well from which to draw when you’re saying, “Wait, we’re actually beautiful souls!”?
Eric: Yes. I’ve been drinking from a well too shallow. There’s plenty of brokenness to still go around. I am judgmental, critical, cynical, negative, disappointed, self-absorbed, pious, arrogant, addicted to shadow brides, complacent, and self-serving. I may be all of these things, but I’m not just those things. I’m not rotten to the core, not incapable of making good choices, not sad enough, or too far gone to accept what is and find gratitude. I’m “Yes, and…” We’re all “Yes, and…
Assuming that the creation story, as so many of us have been taught, is authoritative and the only true story, I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile that God would father a story of a world inherently bleak and hopelessly lost, would set a lost child down in that world, and tell them, “Good luck!” That doesn’t sound merciful at all. It sounds demented, cruel, and manipulative. No loving father sees their child as ugly. No loving parent gives up on their child without a fight. A loving parent sees only the inherent beauty of the living creature they’ve made. I’ve struggled these last few years to reconcile what I was taught in the past versus what I now know as a dad—as someone who has both lost and received significant things
Have the songs come as a result of these discoveries or are the songs actually helping you discover these ideas?
Eric: I started writing a few of these songs years ago, but for whatever reason, I would hit a wall or be blocked. I’d shelve one, come back to it, peck away at a lyric, chorus, or melody, get stuck in a new rut, and reshelve it all over again. This went on ad nauseum. I apparently needed that time to go through what I went through during those years, to gain a clearer perspective of myself, humanity, and the heart, and figure out what I really wanted to say and how best to say it. I’ve gained confidence in my “voice,” and, as author-theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “[I’m] speaking what I feel, not what I ought to say.” I think I’ve always done that as a songwriter, but these songs seem to reflect a deeper experience and understanding of what makes me me, and you you.
Does this provide a level of importance in sharing these songs that maybe hasn’t been as true in the past?
Eric: No, I don’t necessarily think these songs are any more or less important. Art is the act of getting to the heart of the matter. I’ve always attempted to do that in my own way over the years. I’ve never tried to spoon-feed people, and I have always, always tried my best to say what I have to say, how I need to say it, so it sounds like Eric Peters, not like I’m trying to be somebody else. Basically, I think I’ve become more comfortable as Eric Peters the person and artist, and that I’ve given myself the freedom to have opinions and believe things that differ drastically from things I believed at 20, 25, 30, or even 40 years old.
Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.