Eric Peters – Far Side of the Sea

fss-cover

Every song, when boiled down to it, it made up of music and lyrics. The good ones have depth to be explored, originality on both fronts. The bad ones – well just look at top 40 radio and you will have a good sampling; clever, catchy and shallow as the kiddie pool. Be prepared to jump in the deep end as you listen to Eric Peter’s newest offering, The Far Side of the Sea. Peter’s took his singer-songwriter template and allowed producer Gabe Scott to set the match, burning down to the elements and re-crafting with a fresh template.

In many ways, Far Side of the Sea is not a departure for Peters and that is a good thing. The ache is familiar as he works out his demons, not settling into despair and clinging to hope. His songwriting prowess is the backbone of every song, crafting poetry that takes on new color with every listen and exploration of song. However the project finds a new focus on his vocals and exploring colors from a distinctly “less organic style of production.” From the 80’s synth in the opening track “When the Lightening Strike” to the bouncy, clap and electro-pop of “Gravity (Vincent in Reverse)” to heart breaking “Beautiful One (Nowhere)”, it was clear that was the guitar would not be a focal point.

“When the Lightening Strikes” starts with perhaps the best opening line I have heard in any album in a long time. “I’ll never steal the show, but I once stole a car.” Both a true story and brilliant line, it set’s the tone for the album with the duality of ache, “I don’t want to go home, I want to go home.” Peters’ penchant for memorable lines continues throughout the entire album. “Field of Failure” line “My dying field stretches out into nothing, but come see a soul pulsing Lazarus blood” again captures that line between despair and hope in an evocative way that is impossible to ignore.

Perhaps Peters greatest strength has always been his lyricism. On Far Side of the Sea, the production does not diminish the ability of the lines to sink into the listeners psyche. Instead it amplifies; the painful “life is a whisper that’s spoken and gone, its words cling to those that remain” transitions to a layered vocal explosion at the end of “Beautiful One (Nowhere),” bursting with unreconciled hope as he sings “Come alive, my beautiful one.” The line on “Rusted Parts” “A sad surface that must be scratched, We take our scars, then we give them back, Even now on our darkest days, We look for the things we need to be brave” is given room to breathe, with layers of vocals giving space to allow the words to echo. The closer “Worst Parts”, a sweet tribute to his wife, lays out the plea and statement “Shine a light that will guide me home, I’m still afraid of being known (in all my worst parts)” and lets it echo as the closing line.

There is a reason that Eric Peters fans are so intensely loyal to his projects. His last three have been crowdfunded on the Kickstarter platform to bring these gems into reality. His unflinching honesty allows light to be recognized more clearly when the darkness is evident. Far Side of the Sea may be a departure musically from the typical but it remains a project that deserves to be heard. On “Farthest Shore”, he states “I lost my pride on the deep, dark sea, Fighting a current that carried me, I found my hope on the ocean floor, I’m not the same me anymore.”  Here is to hoping that the hope carries him into creating further projects like this.

Lessons Learned at The Lone Bellow

When you are going to write a concert review, take notes and write it the day of the concert, first draft done before you hit the sack that night. I did not do that, despite seeing a fantastic show by The Lone Bellow (and opener Anderson East). Therefore, this is not a concert review. Let’s call it a best of montage.

Lesson One – Have a great opener. Anderson East killed it in his opening set. It was the right blend of throwback soul and swagger to get the crowd into it. His smoky voice had the right rasp, his band had the right blend of funky, mustache sporting characters and his horn section provided the right blend of unique. My toe was tapping and knees bouncing from song one but let’s face it, when you are performing at a nice theater, the challenge is to get people on their feet.

East opened up by giving people the invitation to get up and dance and gently mocking the fact that everyone was sitting down in “fancy theater”. What I have immense respect for is that even though people didn’t stand up, he didn’t give up. He kept cajoling the crowd, sitting down on the front of the stage three songs in “to see what it felt like” and then launching into a wicked version of “Knock on Wood” alla Otis Redding that got everyone on their feet. I loved that he said, before that song started, “I can see that you are still sitting down which just tells me that we are not working hard enough.” I have immense respect for a musician who sees it as his responsibility to get you up and dancing.

Lesson Two – You need to have a frontman. The Lone Bellow is technically a trio, have killer harmonies, and they succeed in large part because everyone can sing. The songs that Brian Elmquist sang lead were fiery (“Heaven Don’t Call Me Home”) and achingly beautiful (“Watch Over Us”). Kanene Pipkin’s voice was showcased on multiple songs and showed why she deserves more time in the spotlight. “Call to War” was spot on perfect for capturing the mood of melancholy and hope in the same song. But Zach Williams is unquestionably the frontman. Part goofball, part raconteur, part Southern Baptist preacher with hands waving in the air, he was the glue that held it all together.

Here is the thing. I have been to many concerts of favorite artists of mine that were fantastic musically but missed something. With the Lone Bellow, I discovered that the something that those concerts were missing was the sense of fun, the anecdotes in between songs that offered connection, the willingness to sacrifice dignity for the sake of a good show. Too often, serious musicians in the realm of singer-songwriter or folk are too stoic in between songs. Williams made me wish I could spend the evening swapping stories with him over beers while his music continued to play in the background.

Lesson Three – Harmony is difficult to replicate but when you are good, you are good. For a couple songs in the middle of the set and one of the encore, the trio huddled around a single mic and ditched the bass and drums. It was in these moments that the full beauty of their harmonies were evident. Their voices rose and fell, intertwined with the grace of teamwork that can only come from a divine gift polished with practice. The accompaniment of resonator guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin served not to lead the song but to compliment the voices. It is a cliche but they were truly better live than on record. How can you capture the fading in and out of voices that come from walking away from the mic as you continue to sing on a record?

Lesson Four – There are multiple variables that have nothing to do with the music that can affect a concert. The venue, the company, the crowd; it can all make or break a show. Thank God Anderson East got the crowd prepped and on their feet. Thank God for good friends to see a show with and a hot date. Thank God for the funky weird 70’s vibe, Egyptian motif of the Lincoln Theater and the good people of CAPA who  bring fantastic acts there. Columbus is a town that has some of the best touring acts coming through and for that, I am thankful. Now I just need to make more money so I can go to more shows.

Lesson Five – Variety is the spice of life and the fuel for a great show. Ever seen High Fidelity? John Cusack’s rules for a mixtape apply for a concert; “You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch..then cool it off.” The Lone Bellow doesn’t really have a bad song on their set list, which helps things and they ended with a bang. In a decidedly joyful cover of a closer, The Lone Bellow and friends belted out Prince’s “Purple Rain.” While I am somewhat ashamed as a music aficionado to say that I am not familiar with the song,  it was both too sincere to be ironic and too fun to be taken seriously.  But it was their mixture of rollicking Gospel style, take-me-to-church (if your church is a charismatic, wave-your-hands-in-the-air type of church) and heartfelt, gather-around-a-single-mic-and-pull-my-heartstrings, that was the perfect blend of…beauty. I think that is what musical alchemy essentially is; distill this life’s pain, joy, sorrow, and laughter down to the essentials and package it in beauty.

The Art of the Coffee Shop

DSCF0985There have been two coffee shops that I have called home in my life. They could not be more different, both in layout, personnel, location and style and they are both near and dear to my heart. In fact, at least once a week, I drink out of a cup emblazoned with the name of one or the other. Consider this my ode to Kofenya and Bar Agostini and the art of the coffeeshop/bar.

The woman I affectionately still call boss was still in college when she started Kofenya in Oxford, Ohio. I guess she and her friend and partner were young and naive enough to think that they could start a coffee shop, so they did and I am forever grateful. I hated coffee when I started going to Kofenya. I was dragged there at 7 a.m. (the crack of dawn by college student standards, sleeping in by current standards) by a friend 4 times a week to read, talk and pray. It became a drug I couldn’t refuse… not the coffee, the place.

Walk in the door of Kofenya and you will likely be greeted by a friendly face, perhaps even a stereotypical barista. Those early days, you would almost always be greeted by the boss, because she lived there (practically) but there was the odd cast of characters. An opera singer, a bearded jokester before beards were hip, tattoos and piercings were common, and everyone in between. Even me, a straight laced kid from Columbus, somehow weaseled my way into the Kofenya family. And it was family. Heck, if you were a regular, you were adopted into the family. Original art hung on the walls, pictures plastered columns behind the counter, chalk menu’s were creatively scrawled and music, oh the music. Boss and her partner and the team were savants at choosing the right music. Mellow morning mixes, pick me punk, and even the midnight dance party (goals for graduation? dance on the counter. Check).

Kofenya was and is a lot of stereotypical college coffee shop. And that is what made it beautiful. Because it became the place to go to study, hang out, have deep conversation or just belly laugh. The originality was that it wasn’t copying anything. No, it simply because the things that the boss loved and if you walk in the doors, you felt that love too. And damn, they made a good cappuccino.

My second love affair could not have been more different. Agostini dal 1968 (alternately called Bar Agostini, Panificio Agostini, Forno Gastronomia Agostini) was located a literal stones throw from my apartment in Roma, Italia. One walk around my block was all it took to discover, hey, there is this place that has delicious cornetto (Italian breakfast pastry) and cappuccino that takes 2 minutes to walk to in the morning. Even when I moved the second year, I would walk the five minutes to Bar Agostini, ignoring the three bar’s I passed along the way. The vibrant colors, wonderful smells, and organized chaos was a place I could call home.

You have to understand that in Italy, a bar (coffeeshop) with seating is a rarity. Most often, you walk into a little shop, order your drink at the register, hand the receipt to the barista as you call out your drink, stand at the marble countertop and drink your your drink and then leave. It’s a beautiful thing. Just not a sit down, stay a while thing. So when I discover Bar Agostini and it’s seating (because it is a bakery, tavola calda and bar), I am sure they thought I was one strange American who didn’t speak much Italian, sat down and read and wrote in my journal while drinking my cappuccino and eating my pastries.  But they didn’t tell me to leave.

Instead, they asked me questions and welcomed me each morning with a smile. No one spoke much English, so it was slow going at first. My Italian was pretty bad but they excused it. Signore Lorenzo, the original owner was a perfect Italian gentlemen, fitting the stereotype you see on TV. His seemingly dour face would crinkle into a smile as he welcomed me each morning, seated on his throne of a stool behind the register. His daughter Maria Antonietta, who took his place when his health went downhill, always beamed with a smile, asking me how my day was.

The barista’s were the image of Italian barista perfection. Caught up in their frenetic dance of serving the crowds that would ebb and flow like waves, they still managed a smile, a laugh, a private joke in the midst of the crowd. Andrea (guy, Andrew in English), Roberto, Anna Maria… they became the friends I knew I would see every day. If it slowed down enough, they would ask about my day, my work, ask to learn a new word in english. My favorite? “Cornetto con frutti di bosco” became a beautifully pronounced “Cornetto with frrrruits of the forrrrrest” by Andrea. Maurizio, Maria Antonietta brother, would always emerge from the ovens in the back, covered in flour, to laugh, tell a joke, and tease me about my Italian.

Everything about Bar Agostini brings me back to the way things should be. That the food was delicious was an understatement. The fresh bread, the amazing cornetti, the gelato or fresh fruit juice; there is a reason that I literally spent every morning there. I called it my private chapel; the things I needed were provided and it was where I could get away, put in headphones if I wanted to drown out the clamor and be still in the midst of Roman chaos. And they welcomed me like family. I had a tab if I needed it. Didn’t have money on me? They would give it to me anyway and tell me to pay them later. When I went back two years after leaving Italy, I was welcomed with hugs and kisses and Maurizio joking that when I went back to America, I needed to tell them about “my bar”.

Two places, two completely different atmospheres. One American, low key, sit and stay awhile in peace; the other Italian, chaotic, constant motion. Yet they both have perfected the art of the coffee shop. And I am proud to have called them both home, at one time or another.

PW Gopal – Big Blue Life – a review

*I supported this album in its Kickstarter early days. I am biased. This review is biased. But is true.

There are some voices that are forever recognizable once you hear them. Not only in their tone, but in their uniqueness. Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Hootie and the Blowfish, Louie Armstrong; the genre doesn’t matter, the voice is just, well, the voice. PW Gopal is one of those voices for me. At his concerts he always stood a couple feet away from the mic; heck, he doesn’t really need the mic. His clear tenor booms and begs you to listen. Come closer, it says, I have a story to tell you. Big Blue Life is an album of those stories.

PW released Big Blue Life at the beginning of September, a product of 11 years of travels, stories and people. He describes himself as a “Singer, Songwriter, Abolitionist” and it is in that context that you need to listen to his music. The stories aren’t cranked out from some imaginary life; they come from a life rich in experience.  The album feels more country than anything he has released before with fiddle and slide guitar cropping up often but without any twang in his voice, it defies the typical genre. His voice is too strong, too clear for it to feel the rusty Neu-Folk of the stomp-clap variety. But it is that voice that beckons.

One of the beautiful things about Big Blue Life is that often lighter music disguises heavier lyrics and when the music allows itself to sit in the melancholy, the melancholy is tinged with hope. The opening two, “A Hard Life” and “Change My Stars”, are great examples of this, singing “its a hard life to be along for our sins” and “you found the liars, you found the thieves, in my skin and my bones, it looks like me.” “Change My Stars” touches on the continual theme throughout the album of redemption. “In love you came, in love you are, Hallelujah you changed my stars.” Often the album plays like a love letter to God, to his wife, and to life. Rather than coming across as sappy and disingenuous, it feels as if it comes out of experience.

The stories that crop up deal with heavy topics like infidelity, doubt, loss and pain. “Fall to Pieces” was reminscent of an earlier song by PW, “Still Voices”, and the need for redemption in it feels universal. It seemed to say that we often need to break before we can begin healing. Much like an Over the Rhine lyric that says “you have to hit the bottom before you get set free,” Gopals songs encourage that when we are at the bottom, “sometimes you will feel like you are alone in the dark places, don’t cry…I will sing for you in the dark places.”  One of the strongest songs on the album is “Fifteen.” Ambiguous in  subject matter, it is a song that I can feel in my soul. When he sings “God bless my freedom, God bless my wife, God bless my family and those who stand the line,” I feel the pain in those words and the honesty. Again, rather than a country song that feels commercial about ‘Merica, it feels as if I am talking to a friend who came to those conclusions, Job-like, after loss.

From that place Gopal moves to joy. The title track seemed like a benediction of sorts to go and live and move. It stems from Gopals own words “a reflection of God’s grace and glory. What He offers me, and those around me is a life, big and blue as the sky, unlimited and boasting of His presence.” Rather than feeling like being preached at, it feels like being shared with. The following tracks felt joyful, probably also influenced by his wife as “she came out of nowhere and whispered love.” The result is that “I am stuck on you my life, the good life shines from you, my sweet love. You keep me breathing…til the dawn.” It is a beautiful ode to both his wife and to the life that he has been given. Fittingly, he ties the album with stripped down version of the hymn “It Is Well” that speaks of peace in the midst of storms.

PW Gopal is a storyteller and his stories are worth hearing. Check out his music at pwgopal.com or find him on Facebook at PW Gopal Music. You can also download a sample on NoiseTrade by clicking HERE.

 

*I first met PW Gopal a little over a decade ago. I knew who he was because vaguely we had some family connection and he was friends with siblings of mine. I, being the music nerd that I am, stuck around after a coffee shop concert to congratulate him on a great show. After 10 minutes of talking, he got my address and said he had a sermon that he thought I really might like. A week later I got a CD in the mail of this sermon. He is that kind of guy, caring enough to send a CD to a kid he just met at a concert. His songs speak from that place of love, listening and telling stories. 12 years later, I am glad I am still having his voice speak to me.

 

Free Music Friday – Matthew Perryman Jones

In A Decade:  The Complete Works

One of the things I love about NoiseTrade is how artists are diving into the free music thing and seem to be making it work. Derek Webb wrote a blog post back in 2011 about how giving away your music makes more sense than Spotify or piracy. A follow up of sorts was published in 2013 on how a NoiseTrade model can ultimately further a musicians career more than streaming services.  I have started following so many bands thanks to their NoiseTrade giveaways. In honor of this, I am going to start occasionally spotlighting some artists on Friday’s. If I don’t have a interview to post or review to write, it will be a Free Music Friday! Today’s inaugural post is highlighting Matthew Perryman Jones, who has been on my top artist list since college.

Matthew Perryman Jones’ catalogue is too extensive that to actually write a review of this giveaway would be futile. It lands squarely in the singer/songwriter/folk/pop/rock categories and his voice is… his voice is like polished wood, comforting and familiar yet imbued with wisdom. The first album I bought, Throwing Punches in the Dark, was part of my introduction to folk rock and it continues to be my preferred genre. If you don’t listen to the whole free download, check out the following songs to decide if it’s worth it for you.

Click the Picture or THIS LINK for the free download

10 and 35. Beneath The Silver Moon (Throwing Punches in the Dark) – written for his father who (I believe) got dimensia, this song is a powerful benediction of sorts on a life well lived. When he played a show in Columbus a couple years ago, he shared that he hadn’t played the song since his fathers funeral but he played it that night, in honor of one of the attendees. It was a moving experience.

17. When it Falls Apart (Swallow the Sea) – a perfect little pop song that has a sing-a-long chorus and despite the upbeat light music, lyrically it packs truth.

18. Feels Like Letting Go (Swallow the Sea) – this song encapsulates a lot of the beauty of Matthew Perryman Jones music for me. It musically hits the right spot, not too mellow and building to an emotional climax. Ultimately it’s a song about freedom. “I know that in the dark, there’s a fear of letting go. I know that in my heart, that I fear what I don’t know. And this feels like i’m letting go.”

9 and 26. Echoes of Eden (Throwing Punches/The Distance In Between) – one my all time favorite MPJ songs, both versions are killer. I love the drum beat that the original (9) begins with; combined with sparse instrumentation, it makes it even more effective when the song erupts with music. The remake (26) strips the song, giving it a totally different minimalist feel that still works. “My father told me as I grew older, son to keep on finding faces in the clouds. And dance with mystery and as she holds me she may whisper her secrets in the shroud. And I am listening now.” I wish I could write lyrics like that.

28. Until the Dawn Appears – I love this song for it’s old Johnny Cash gospel sound and for the beautiful backing vocals (Lori Chaffer, whose husband produced the album). The lyrics ache with longing. When he sings “when the shadows will be gone and all these bitter tears, well my heart will hang on that until the dawn appears, O how long?” I believe him.

13 and 30. Save You (Swallow the Sea and Until the Dawn Appears) – this song was probably the first of MPJ’s songs to hit mainstream of any sorts. It is elusive lyrically yet evocative; to this day I don’t really know what he is singing about but the originally poppy version and the slowed down remake ooze with something that hits close to home.

34. Homage to the Suffering (Until the Dawn Appears) – I am a sucker for slowed down, beautiful music. The words and music ache with longing and hope without offering an answer. Sometimes it is good to leave the questions hanging so we can dive deep into the question to find the answer on our own.

39. O Theo (Land of the Living) – I realize these are a lot of slow songs. I love this song for the vague imagery that makes me wonder what the heck it is about. Inspired by letters from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, I think this song is beautiful.

41. Waking Up the Dead (Land of the Living) and 45. Land of the Living – Both of these songs explode with hope, energy, and joy. Their defiant, evocative imagery is some of his best songwriting. “I want to dance on fire and be born again. I can hear the voice that’s waking up the dead.” Indeed. “You cannot love in moderation,  Dancing with a dead man’s bones, Lay your soul on the threshing floor. I am coming home. I am coming home.”

46. Where the Road Meets the Sun (Duet with Katie Herzig) – I think his duets are absolutely beautiful. Katie Herzig has a unique, gorgeous voice and the duet of the two is more than the sum of it’s parts.

Breaking the Sophomore Curse – Kopecky’s “Drug for the Modern Age”

Free Music Friday – Enjoy a 4 song Kopecky sampler

For a band that has been together since 2007, releasing your second album seems a little…slow. I was introduced to the band formerly known as The Kopecky Family Band with a free EP The Disaster and the companion Of Epic Proportions. I am not going to lie, it was good but didn’t blow me away. It was music I enjoyed listening to but I never shared it with friends. After three EP’s, the band finally released their debut LP Kids Raising Kids. And I never listened to it. Apparently it was well received, getting reviews that said “If you like Fleetwood Mac, try Kopecky Family Band…intelligent and a bit edgy, but still mainstream (NY Times)” and “Quickly fell in love. The Kopecky’s sweet rock songs keep blooming into something irresistible (NPR).”

Most bands that have a well received debut end up having a sophomore slump. The pressure of trying to live up to what others say your music is and quite frankly, sometimes lightening doesn’t strike twice. So when I got a NoiseTrade email saying to check out a 4 song sampler from the newly shortened Kopecky, I figured, what the heck, let’s see what they have to offer. The single for the album was named “Quarterback.” Aside from conjuring images of a humiliating football career in high school, how bad could it be? Here is what Quarterback is… perfect roll-down-your-windows-and-crank-up-the-volume summer music. And I mean perfect.

When a radio hit right now called “Honey I’m Good” sounds exactly like Cotton Eyed Joe, radio is in dire need of some honest to goodness fun music right now. And while Quarterback is about lying to try to get a date, the band laughingly calls it “the worst relationship advice ever.” That’s a far cry from some of the other crap out there. Since I didn’t fully digest the first album, I can’t compare this album to the first LP. It  has hints of 80’s synth, 90’s guitar that gets stuck in your head, and lyrics that are at once accessible yet striving for the profound. The album was written while the band members experienced some of life’s worst storms (death of a sibling, divorce) and the lyrics dive into life, love, relationship and all the things that tear away at those things in our life and reveals something found at the bottom of those things…hope.

You find it sprinkled in the slightly moody opener Die Young, written in the wake of a bandmember’s brother’s death. “If we’re going to die young, we’ll live as if it’s not today.” The album then bursts into life with the supremely danceable song that follows called My Love. Don’t listen to this album for your quiet end-of-the-evening porch rocking session. No, listen to it when you need that pick me up that reminds you of all the good things about the 80’s. It isn’t without it’s melancholy; songs like Closed Doors echo with regret and Thrill  has a dark feel to it, but even these songs don’t drown in despair. And the album doesn’t leave you stuck, it brings you back to the theme of hope.

Their “Drug for the Modern Age” is relationships. In their words, “In this day and age we are all struggling to find a sense of ease and happiness in the midst of war & disease. We see addiction to drugs, alcohol, technology, ageless beauty & want what we can’t have. But at the end of the day true fullness can be found in a greater love and appreciation for all things. Recognizing we are all connected. To me, that’s the Drug for the Modern Age.” That’s a drug that I can endorse.

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.”

Taelor Gray – “hip-hop with soul”

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Hip hop and I have had an on and off again relationship for the past 20 years. It started with the early days of “Christian hip-hop”, when Cross Movement and Grits drew me in. I never committed like a couple of my brothers. I guess I thought it had to be all or nothing, and I wasn’t in to everything I heard. Recently, I have been drawn back and it is in large part thanks to Taelor Gray. I knew Taelor for about a year before I really knew he was an artist. Even then, I heard snippets of his early stuff and honestly, I wasn’t hooked. Then I saw him live and as the saying goes, I saw the light. Seriously, if you can, catch a Taelor Gray live show. I don’t care if you like hip-hop or not. His lyrics are both challenging and inspiring, his delivery solid. He is growing in his craft, experimenting, and it’s exciting to watch. I got to sit down at the too early hour of 7:00 AM and chat with my brother about his craft. Check it out and check out and support his music at http://www.taelorgray.com/.

In your own words, describe your craft? It’s hip hop with soul. It’s in some ways explicitly worshipful, it’s has maybe a little bit of an edge in regards to an opinion standpoint. I am a very opinionated person, so what I say represents what I really believe, whether or not I contextualize the conversation to include an another perspective or not.

What inspired you to create music? My relationship with the Lord. More recently the birth of my son.  It has given me a brand new fresh outlook on life, a perspective on fatherhood and possibilities and things like that. I don’t know how that happened…

Well Taelor, when a Daddy loves a Mommy…. (laughing) Yea, I am going to leave that part out. I just came into this writing binge. But the whole family dynamic, the artist doesn’t typically go there but that is a lot for me. That and the social environment that we are in, being tied specifically to what I am going to be doing with my life for the next 5-10-15 years. I would say that becoming more plugged in to the social realities of our country, historically and in recent times and thinking how they are going to impact me and my family. So the socio-economic realities, ethnicity, race, culture…how they directly impact me and my family the church we are serving in.

So how did becoming a Dad change your heart? Watching a human being enter into the world and you are directly a part of that reality. For me, artistically, this was something you read in a science book turning into real life. You know the science part, you have seen the PBS TV show, read the science books, but when you actually see the reality of a child coming into the world and now I watch him learn and grow and comprehend things. The reality starts to kick in and its miraculous, its amazing, its inspiring. And my wife has been a huge inspiration, how incredibly strong she is, how much she has changed into a mother and being in tune with that has been amazing to watch and experience.

It’s obviously a challenge with a family time wise. What are some other challenges in making music? I work a full-time job so it is easy to feel like work gets in the way some times. But creatively, I am just so random that I will think of something in a moment and I just have to get it down. So unfortunately that fleshes out during work hours, so sometimes it is just putting down a quick note in my phone or sending myself a quick email from my work computer. Or if the work day is too crazy, I will have to find myself in a dark room at the end of the day where I am probably destroying my eyes staring into a phone and trying to get everything down. Some of my best ideas I have forgotten about on the way home from work. The time is a challenge, I envy artists that have all day to think and create.

Do you ever censor yourself in your music? Censor? Absolutely I do. I am kind of scared of what I would say if I didn’t have a censor. I want to be honest, to be authentic, but in some warped way I want my honesty to serve the people who are listening, not just myself. I can speak honestly, get it off my chest and feel good about what I wanted to say but the reason I censor myself is because I don’t think that me uncensored is going to help everybody. It’s the same reason I would censor myself in a social media platform. I am going to keep it real or whatever you want to call it but to what extent, what good is revealing this thought that I have?

What is a track that you are proud of? There is a song where I rapped over a Coldplay song and it received mixed reviews. But because of the content of the song, it is probably one of my favorite songs. [spoiler: I (Chris) was one who critiqued it…it just didnt work for me, so I felt like a terrible person when he said this and said as much.] It’s ok, art exists to be criticized. I have seen that happen to the greatest artists of our time. I am not exempt. I love criticism. Someone told me yesterday that they hated something that I did, that it did nothing for them, and I had to take that to the chest. My wife is probably the toughest critic that I know…she strategically clouds how she feels or doesn’t get invested over all. And it helps that she doesn’t really like rap, she just listens to humor me.

Christian rapper; how do you feel about the term? I have come to the realization that I am not a title nazi. You listen to the music and that is the conclusion you come to, I am not going to wrestle you to the ground and make you change your terminology. We use words for a reason to define what we think we are experiencing. If you want to make a big philosophical discussion, I go with “rapper who is a Christian,” but again, not going to wrestle you to the ground. If you listen to my music and say “Christian rapper…because you make a lot of religious references,” then ok, I am not going to argue with that. Drawing more attention to it by trying to decode everything is too much work.

What is your dream tour? [this caused a lot of thinking] The tour that I would want to be a part of, I would want to be in the audience for. I would do my thing and just want to enjoy it. I have never seen Josh Garrels live and would love to do that. I would love to go on the road with Shad, to see how he engages his audience and builds the intimate feel that his music seems to have, just to see what his live show would be like and I feel like we would match in some ways. And as a final, my brother [Christon Gray], from a comfort standpoint, we have the most chemistry.

Who inspires you? There is a guy James Blake, really only one song that I know of his. He made a song called Retrograde that I just repeated for five days straight. Just one song. Kendrick Lamar, creatively, is just one of the most talented artists overall. The way he takes concepts and applies them to a sonic landscape. I am really inspired by Drake, he is a mainstream guy but just knows what works musically. There is a guy John Mark McMillan, that man, the dude is a beast. Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot, when he breaks off he gets to another creative realm. The writing for his solo stuff, I love. I don’t know where they are going creatively or content wise, but I really love Gungor. I Am Mountain was a challenging album to digest; the writing is just like, “Dude, did you just sit down in a room and smoke some hookah and come up with it?”[laughing] I don’t know, whatever the creative juices.

What is the cost of doing music? The cost is what you want it to be, depending on how much you want to invest in this dream. For me, I think in percents. It is about 30-35% in the full context of my life, of my financial resources. 70-80% of my creative resources. It is an outlet because in my job I am not required to be creative.

Tell me about falling off a stage? Oh man, that was horrible. It had been a long night, the curtain call song, Swoope wanted to do an encore. We were all tired, he knew he was wrong for it. We were a little off our game because we were tired. It was a two level stage, I was jumping around on the lower level, slapping fives and I went to jump to the higher level and I wasnt looking. I knew where I was and where the stage is. I went to land where the stage was and it wasnt there. I completely lose it, bust my side, fall off, glasses flying. The DJ is right there watching me struggle and a group of fans is like “Oh, are you ok?” I am the performer, I dont want to engage with them that way. The culmination is that we are all at IHOP and I am just hoping that I got by because no one on stage saw it. But someone caught it on video, posted it on instagram and everyone got to relive that, laugh at it. I didn’t feel too bad because I think Iggy Azalea fell off a stage, Andy Mineo too.

If no one would listen to your music, would you still make it? I think if I am honest, the answer is no. Some people want to be purist and say they just make it for themselves. But it costs money to invest in your craft. You want to make it sound the best you can, so you go to the studio, the production, the hours. If after all that, nobody cares, you have to evaluate if its worth it. For me personally, no, I would probably stop and get into the critique side of things. A huge part of inspiration is hearing what fans think of what you do.

Whats next for Taelor Gray? An album! I have done a series of projects but one of my bucket list artist desires is to do a full length album. The Straw Man and the other projects were just a serious of songs with no cohesion. If they were an album, they would have got whittled down. So an album is on the top priority list, along with a couple other collaborations.

Playback Performance – Craig Caruso

Video Production is becoming a crowded field these days. Computer editing software and cheap tech are making HD video possible for really anyone with a little time on their hands. It doesn’t necessarily mean a quality product but it does mean that there is a proliferation of YouTube one hit wonders who are looking for the next viral sensation or “wedding videographer’s” who just might cause you to regret that cost cutting decision when it is too late to change. Enter Playback Performance. Now disclaimer here, I am a little biased. Craig Caruso, the owner/videographer extraordinaire is my brother-in-law and did my wedding video. But he is also one of the most humble, genuine guys I know, has a fantastic eye for unique angles, and has exquisite taste in music. So you are bound to get a good soundtrack. And most of all (professionally at least), he is a storyteller at heart. His aim (which he achieves) is not just to document the story, but to tell the story, to capture the emotion of the moment and put it on-screen for you to remember. So without further ado, I give you Craig Caruso of http://www.playbackperformance.com .

Tell me about what you do? The way I describe it on my website is special event video production. It didn’t start that way but lately there are so many different kinds of projects that I have done that to try to encapsulate it, a narrow description isn’t enough…Some corporate stuff but mostly personal interest or personal commemorative moments.

Do you consider yourself an artist? This is one of the tougher questions. Some days I do, some days I feel like I am being creative in the way I am looking at things or the way it is coming out on the screen. More often than not, I feel like I look at what else is out there relative to what I am trying to do visually and feel like I am so far from being what I consider an instinctive artist. It is good for me too, because I look at other people’s stuff to get inspired. I think all artists do that at some level, whether they recognize it or not, expounding on something someone else has done. I think we are all thieves a little bit, in a healthy way, not in a burglary way. I feel like I do a lot of trial and error in video making. I have some visions for how something is going to go and I put it in and see if it conjures an emotion and honors that moment, then I know it right away and if it doesn’t I have to try something else.

Isn’t that what all artists do? Yea probably but I watch people draw or paint and feel like it just flows [for them]. They aren’t trying something and erasing it. Maybe in their mind they are but all their expressions have a flair to it and I don’t think I do that. If you took my raw attempts at art, they would just look really bad until I worked with it. I am a perfectionist which is why I can get there, I have a lot of patience with that stuff.

So how do you make a “normal”, more information, video artistic? Like how to do you take a wedding video and make it more than capturing what happened? When you look back at your wedding, there is so much that had meaning for you. When you think of the wedding, you almost never simply try to remember what happened. You try to remember how you felt, what made it so meaningful.

So how do you capture that? There is so much internal, whats going on in your heart, whats going on in your makeup. So that’s where I wouldn’t try to just capture everything and represent it to you. I would consider that an offense. If I just had a tripod with rolling footage and wide-angle, just trying to record everything I could, it would be so disappointing because it does nothing to help you remember that moment. I think as someone who has been asked to film and represent a moment, it is my duty to try to figure out what does this mean to the person who wants to relive it. I mean, a wedding day, it doesn’t get much more meaningful. So there better be an element of art to give you a chance to get that back. You don’t want to just remember it, you want to relive it. That’s what makes it fun too, there’s  a challenge there, but it also pushes the limits of my own makeup, to think “How can I get that right?” Because you can screw that up bad. Choose a song that makes someone think “That does not make me think of my moment.” Somewhere in there, there is a line that you can cross that completely belies what you are trying to capture. Whether a song feels tired or used. For someone like you, that is important, to have the right soundtrack.

Talk a little bit about the challenges of being a small business owner? I think we have talked about it in way. Laboring over stuff to get things to look right is time-consuming, so if I am not careful, I can be product minded and not business minded. I can try to get my product out there at whatever cost, so I have spent days, weeks, trying to get something right and I can’t put that into my price. I can’t charge for that time, people would never pay. But I love athletic events, I love high school sports and I will probably always have a diet of those in my production list.

What differentiates you from the average joker with an iPhone that considers themselves to be a videographer? What I want to say, which is stupid… is nothing. There are so many people out there that is how they discover their talents. If someone is out there with an iPhone, they may in fact be really talented, more talented than I will ever be, but they have no refined it, they aren’t focusing on it, it isn’t their profession. They may not have the lighting, the angles. It’s the little stuff that they might not have down yet. Being able to forecast those little thing that make videos really good may not be there. But in terms of having an eye for how to shoot something, that might already be there.

Do you see yourself as more of a storyteller than an artist? I  think that is what an artists does, to figure out how does this becomes a story again. It already is a story but how do I retell it through this medium, whether writing or video or visually telling it in such a way that brings back the emotion of that story.

Tell me about one of your works that you are most proud of (aside from my wedding video, of course)? Depends on when you ask me. I just did a project I really enjoyed this summer because of the people in it. They were telling a story that needed to be told and I had the privilege of filming and telling the story. It was a couple that escaped the perils of war-torn Hungary in WWII and then lived through the Hungarian Revolution and escaped. They were very eloquent, very thorough, they did it together and filled in the gaps. Their relationship came out, the way they told it, I did very little but I was honored to be a part of it. I was proud because if we hadn’t done that, it would have been hard for them to share that historically. They have a personal perspective on what happened in WWII and you are not going to get that 10 years from now. Having that attachment to history was really cool, and I loved the couple and the chance to get to meet them.

Give me another example. When I get to look in the window of someone’s relationship with people, the whole coach-student-player relationship is really compelling. It sticks with so many people for so long. My friends talk about their coach and what an impact on people’s life that has. Not just sport. A lot of my projects are like that. To be on the sidelines and try to capture that relationship, to get a moment. It isn’t just about the great catch, the great hit, it is about the elements of the game that the kids will truly remember, the relationship with each other and with the coaching staff, that’s the stuff that sticks. It’s tough to capture but I try to.

If you could do a film/video with no time constraints, no cost constraints, what would you do? I would do a title sequence for a TV show. I think I watched too much TV when I was younger so a good title sequence totally resonates with me, and when I see it now, like when I see the Million Dollar Man sequence, I get so pumped up for like 10 seconds. The show was alright but the title sequence…

They become iconic, like the Friends title sequence… Doing that well, it has such an impact, I think that is why it has staying power. I imagine a good title sequence, figuring out how to present the essence of something… If you can do that, capture the essence of a show, or someones life, or an event in a 30 second montage, then you get it. If you can do something that concisely and that effectively, that is the heart of video production and editing.

What does the future look like for Playback Performance? The future is bleak, I am selling the business. (pause). Sorry, trying to be dramatic. The question about the challenges of being a small business owner, it is just challenging to figure out how to make those good decisions. It was a lot easier when I was single. I could work on something forever and not worry about the payment, it didn’t bother me, I wasn’t supporting a family. I was working enough for two jobs so by sheer volume I was generating decent income. But now I can’t work on something forever, I have to make sure I make good decisions for my family, be a little selfish with my job decisions. Not just make good decisions for my business but for everyone in my life. That reality is real. Doing a steady diet of high school sports isn’t realistic, but that doesn’t mean I am going to quit doing stuff I like to do, I just need to be more selective. I need to expand my wedding productions, not just have seasonal school video. I need to continue to diversify my portfolio of jobs and I need help too… to add videographers and editors under the Playback Performance umbrella.