About Andrew Peterson
For more than twenty years now, Andrew Peterson has been about the business of quietly changing lives in four-minute increments. In the city of Nashville where music is an industry in the same way fast food, generic greeting cards, and bumper stickers are industries, Peterson has forged his own path, refusing the artistic compromises that so often come with chasing album sales and radio singles and creating instead a long line of songs that ache with sorrow, joy and integrity, and that are, at the end of the day, part of a real, ongoing, human conversation.
The Centricity Music release of Peterson’s twenty-song retrospective, After All These Years: A Collection, brings into focus the ongoing legacy of an artist who has never tried to imitate the last big thing or to create the next big thing. The collection shows that Andrew Peterson has all along been playing a longer game for bigger stakes. His theology of artmaking has always been one that focuses on long-term faithfulness to gifts and calling, rather than on an immediate concern for the appearance of success—but the ironic result of that approach is an emerging body of songs that will likely still be relevant and appreciated in a hundred years.
After All These Years by Andrew Peterson
“We just released this Best Of Record called, After All These Years. It was interesting because I had to go back and look at the last fifteen or twenty years of my life because the kind of song writing that I do tends to be autobiographical stuff. So it was like reading old journal entries and I don’t sit around listening to my music all the time so it was weird to go, “Oh yeah, I remember where I was when I wrote that,” and “Ouch! That was a miserable season” and seeing the thread that wound it’s way through all of it.”
How Andrew Peterson Integrates His Faith Into Music
“That’s something I do kind of intuitively so it’s hard to figure out exactly how to articulate it. I think it’s that.. there’s a Frederick Beckner quote that resonated with me right after college is when I read it, “The place God calls you to is the place is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” For me that deep gladness has always been, not just art. It’s not just the way music makes me feel; it’s the fact that music creates an avenue between two people.
Art is deep calling unto deep as far as our loneliness goes. You can feel terribly alone and afraid and then some work of art expresses that, and suddenly you’re connected with another heart. If that’s married to the gospel then powerful things happen. So the deep gladness that I feel is when something I wrote is a source of comfort to somebody else. My own sorrow ends up being a comfort to someone else’s sorrow, just by the fact that they’re not alone in it anymore, which is a tiny little picture of what the incarnation means to me.
The God with us thing. The older I get, more and more profound that Christianity is unique in that our God is familiar with our suffering, with our sorrow. He knows us. So I think that art can do the same thing. It can kind of wade into someone elses sadness or sorrow, or joy, whatever it may be. So that’s what provides my deep gladness and I think answers some of the hunger in the world. So having found that, kind of falling into it, gave me a picture of what that might look like because it had happened to me through his songs. Yeah, so not long after that I basically asked God if He’d let me do that with whatever gifts He’d given me.”
What Was The Hardest Song For Andrew Peterson to Create?
“Oh man. To me, that’s all the rest of them. They’re all hard and that all comes in different ways. There’s been a few times, there’s a song called Don’t You Want to Thank Someone, which is on The Best Of Record, on my last album that came very easily. This sounds really weird, but I dreamed this song.
I woke up in the morning and I thought I heard my kid, the melody drifting from my children’s rooms, down the hallway and I ran downstairs and banged out the chorus and by the end of the day, I had written the whole thing. Those things are just very, very rare. It feels very much like a gift. The rest of the time, it’s like calling your buddies, “Hey man, I need help on this verse,” or shelving it for a year and coming back to it.”
How Does The Songwriting Process Begin For Andrew Peterson?
“Robert Frost said, ‘A poem begins as a lump in the throat.’ I think that, that’s how most of my songs start. It starts with some unnamable feeling that you’ve got; like you walk through..like I have to put on my songwriting hat whenever there’s a deadline coming and I begin to move through the world differently than if I was not trying to write for a record, which is really great. It’s a really great exercise or discipline. It forces you to pay attention to your day because the songs are… it’s like following clues. They’re all over the place. you don’t know until you happen upon it; like a lot of people will say, “Oh, you’re a songwriter. I got an idea for a song.”
The Fun of Being a Songwriter
“Part of the fun of being a songwriter is looking for the valuable, little, tiny moments. If you’re a pastor; you know that, you’re always looking for, ok what is the thing that the Lord is going to show me today?
We were in Colorado last year, this past summer staying with a family, and we were asking them, “Hey, do you guys ever see bobcats, or whatever, dangerous stuff, bears?”
He said, “Every now and then I go out into the woods my prayer is “Lord show me something cool.” That stuck in my head. I wish I lived everyday, but it’s especially how I live when I’m in songwriting mode. I go, “Lord, show me something cool. Help me to find the thing.” So once you find the thing, then you go, “Ew, there’s potential there,” then you go to the piano or your journal, or your guitar.
If you want to know practically how it works, I have three avenues: there’s the journal, then there’s the piano, and then there’s the guitar behind me. I’ll play on the guitar and try to find a melody for the lyric or some kind of thing to get me started until I’m exhausted. Thirty minutes goes by and “Ahh, I’ve only got three chords.”
People That Inspire Andrew Peterson
“Well from a musical standpoint, James Taylor, I learned to fingerpick listening to his records. I love Paul Simon, the way he comes at songs, the really surprising way he gets an idea across. It’s fascinating to me. He’s a genius. I love Mark Coan, he was one of the first writers I really fell in love with post high school. Then to be honest, most of the stuff I listen to is this amazing community of Nashville Songwriters. Jewel Phillips, Andy Gullahorn, Ben Schieb, and Ellie Holcomb do work that I aspire to in a huge way. But honestly, sometimes it’s music that inspires me, sometimes it’s movies, books or whatever.
Stephen King said, “Every writer has a gnome that lives in their basement.” He passes manuscripts up through the floorboards and if you don’t feed the gnome he gets angry. So I really love feeding the gnome. I like looking for art that is going to lead to something else. One of the best little bits of songwriting advice, I forget where I learned it, but if you can’t think of a song to write, try to write a Springsteen song. Go, “I’m going to sit down and write a James Taylor song today.” You just completely channel it, just rip it off, you know. What you end up with is yours. It may sound a little bit like theirs.”
Andrew Peterson’s Spiritual Encouragement For The Lost
I would say, He loves you more than you could possibly imagine and that the stories are true. Chances are people have heard stories about the best kind of love being the kind that is willing to die for someone else. If everyone was honest with themselves we would want the Christian story to be a true one. I just really deeply believe that it is. I think that the song I mentioned earlier is called, Don’t You Want to Thank Someone. The whole song is kind of an apologetic of gratitude.
Chesterton said, “That the worst moment for an atheist is when he realizes he has no one to thank. That he’s overcome with blessing and he has no one to give thanks to.” I think it’s a very human impulse to want to say thank you when you see a sunset, or when you see your child born. That suggests to me that there’s a great and beautiful goodness in the world. We want it to be true that that goodness has a name, is a person, and actually loves you more than you can imagine.
My hope is that my music would wake up longing in people and that they would pay attention to that longing. That’s the way C.S. Lewis describes his conversion as that old German word, sehnsucht. It means longing, this deep and kind of painful desire that you have. I’m pretty sure I would wager that everybody has felt that at some point. Everybody knows the feeling of something beautiful taking your breath away or a door opening up to a kind of longing for something. I think that the journey that we’re all on is finding the name that, that belongs to.
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