Storytelling with Eric Peters

I am cheating this week and reaching back into the archives and an article I wrote when I was interning for Relevant Magazine. Now I am not entirely sure if I am supposed to do this, but hey, here goes. Here is a link to the original article (fun fact, on Relevant right now, it says David Barrett wrote this article…he did not, I did). Now this article is a little dated, seeing as I wrote it in 2009. Since then, crowd-funding music has become normal, Kanye isn’t so crazy, DWebb isn’t so controversial. But Eric Peters, who has since produced another fantastic album called Birds of Relocation, is still making challenging, beautiful music. You can get a sample of his music and the story behind one of his songs called Voices at The Rabbit Room.

Storytelling with Eric Peters:

Trying to nail a square peg in a round hole works about as well as describing Kanye West as humble. The Square Peg Alliance, an artist collective featuring such notables as the ever-controversial Derek Webb and Caedmon’s Call alum Andy Osenga, defiantly claims that label. A band of misfits who don’t squarely fit in the CCM market or the secular market, they have found an artistic home together.

The community banded together recently to support the release of Eric Peters sixth studio album, Chrome. If you are asking the question, “Eric who?” chances are you are not alone. Yet Peters’ open-hearted honesty and nuanced production, thanks to fellow “Pegger” Ben Shive, rarely leave the listener disappointed.

Peters is a standout among the overcrowded scene of singer/songwriter folk-pop. But unlike Webb, who recent Stockholm Syndrome was released by INO Records, Peters is completely independent. Which means financing, producing and releasing the entire album on his own. So what is a guy with a wife, two kids and mortgage to do?

Peters took the “easy” way out: he had fans pay for it. Though Chrome was still made on a shoestring budget, Peters solicited the patronage of his fan base to fund it. While only $8,000 of the $15,000 ideal budget was raised, Peters says that without it, Chrome would have never been minted.

“Now that I have actually got the record out and knowing my family’s financial situation, I don’t know if I could have paid for it out of pocket,” said Peters. “I definitely think it was providential to have the fans involved. It was easily the smallest budget I have had to make a record.”

Learning from other independent artists like Jill Sobule, whose $80,000 budget far exceeded Peters, fans were challenged to donate upfront in return for two copies and their name in the liner notes. Though not calling for the end of record labels, Peters imagines that other artists could follow the same path.

“I don’t think I’m the only one who can do it,” he said. “I don’t profess it’s the wave of the future, but I think it can be done if they have good relationships with their fans, especially the rabid fans that will follow them through thick and thin.”

Risk management is not something known to be any artist’s forte, yet this unique financing is a way for independents to belay some of the cash investment and focus on the project at hand.

“I sometimes wonder if people understand the investment,” he commented. “I won’t put indie artists on a pedestal and say ‘Woe is us,’ but the sacrifice and risk involved is tremendous. If you look at it purely from a financial standpoint, there is no guarantee on any of it. It typically takes me well over a year, two years even, to fully recoup.”

Beauty is often born out of difficulty and Chrome is no exception. Under the watchful eye of Shive, darker lyrical content was infused with musical light. The upbeat music often belies an honest recognition that life is hard and things don’t always work out the way we dream.

“I kept apologizing to Ben early on because [the songs] were so sad,” Peters laughed. “Which they are, but he also heard melody in there. And that’s one of the beautiful things about art, because a person like Ben can take these melodies and make it work. The first time people hear an album, they are not going to remember lyrics; they are going to be drawn in or drawn out by the music.”

“When you’re listening to Chrome in your car, with the windows down and wind whistling in your ear, the album isn’t going to do what it can do for you,” Peters said. “But if you can carve out 45 minutes and put on some headphones, the subtleties will come alive. The way I write is not overt in any way; I am not prophetic and I am not the next big thing but I hope that people are willing to invest some time in my music. Perhaps they’ll find about themselves or their faith or all the crap that life brings.”

Peters took Frederich Buechner’s words as Chrome’s theme: “The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.” The stories told in Chrome are personal but with themes that are larger than an individual. In the end, it is the story that matters to him, not who is telling it.

“I’m just trying to tell my story the best way I know how and hope people can relate to it,” said Peters, speaking of the personal nature of the record. “For example, my buddy went through a bankruptcy and told God to go to hell in the middle of all of it. I don’t know what that is like but I sure know what it means to deal with bitterness, to deal with disappointment and grave moments of doubt. Sometimes a tiny grain of hope is all I’ve got. Hope peeks its head out in the midst of an awful story and God shows up to redeem, to bring back to life.”

That theme even extends to the album art. “David van Buskirk (the artist) came up with this idea of an umbrella, hanging there with these keys falling, with a lock underneath and the lock is locked,” Peters described. “Our stories are useless if we keep them to ourselves. I guess the idea is that in the sharing and the telling and the hearing of people’s stories, we inevitably find something of ourselves in those stories.”

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