Christian Retailing

Meet the Artist: Andrew Peterson Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 10 June 2010 10:29 AM America/New_York

Centricity Records (EMI CMG Distribution) releases Andrew Peterson's latest album-Counting Stars-on July 27. Learn more about this singer-songwriter and what he's been up to since his last original release, Resurrection Letters, Volume II, in fall 2008.

How would you describe your career and your music thus far?
"It's funny, you would think by now I would have come up with a good answer for that, but I don't have a good answer for that. I call it ‘guy with a guitar' music sometimes. It's kind of folk music, but they are just songs. They are songs that tend to be about my life and the lives of those around me. Because I am a Christian, Jesus occupies the biggest part of that. On my best days I am always trying to write either a James Taylor song or a Rich Mullins song-and failing miserably."

What kind of a break do you normally take between albums, and how do you rejuvenate yourself during that period?
"I am not a very prolific songwriter. I have a lot of friends here in Nashville who are staff writers for publishing companies. Every day they have a co-writing appointment with somebody and they go out and do this thing. I've never been one of those people. I don't work well under those conditions. Life kind of has to happen to me first and then the songs kind of grow out of that.

"The thing is, too, is that I'm not just writing songs these days. The music is probably the biggest part of what I do as far as the amount of time it takes and creative energy. But I'm also writing books now and have a community called The Rabbit Room, which is an online creative community that I started a few years back, so I have a lot of irons in the fire. It's not hard to stay busy in between records. I kind of look up and realize that a year and a half or two has gone by since the album came out and I just have to change gears from the other things I'm working on. I get the guitar out of the case and dust it off, I'm embarrassed to say."

Your new CD, Counting Stars-where did that title come from?
"The title came from a line in one of the songs. There is a song on the album called "God of My Fathers," which was mostly written by my buddy Ben Shive, who produced the album. It's a song about family and about the heritage of faith that we are a part of. The line is Ben is writing about his family, he has four kids, and he said, "Now we are counting stars and counting sand, little feet and little hands." He's kind of watching his family grow and realizing that we are the kingdom. We are living proof of the promise that God gave to Abraham that one day his children would outnumber the stars. The whole album ends up being tied together by that picture of the fact that you can count on God's promises.

"The album deals with family and community, but it also deals with some heavy things like despair and ends with, hopefully, this reminder that God is one to be relied upon. If He made a promise, then you can be sure that He'll keep it."

Those are some pretty important themes. Did you intentionally write around them?
"I didn't this time. My last three or four albums have been concept albums and I've had a big master plan in my mind whenever we put the album together. I wanted all the songs to be linked and to tell a story. I kind of tired of it. I felt like it had become a little bit of a crutch that I would come up with a theme or a title for the album and then write towards that theme.

"This time I wanted to go back and do things the way I did in the beginning in my career, which is just write songs about whatever the heck was happening in my life. When it's all said and done, then I look back and say, ‘Oh, well there's a theme.' It's good for me because it helps me see what it is that God is teaching me, how it is that He is working on my heart. I see things I didn't know was happening. I see that when I hear this album."

You have some interesting song titles on this album. For example, "Dancing in the Minefields," "Fool With a Fancy Guitar," "Planting Trees"-is that your green song?
"No it's not. I wrote that song and it was not even on my radar slightly that it might be politically, that there might be some tie-in there. The song "Planting Trees" is about investing in the things that matter and kingdom work. I wrote it for my wife who is not a singer/song writer, is not a musician or an artist-she is a great mom and makes our home this beautiful, magical place. We were at a retreat together, and I think we were in a small group, like a little breakout group, and the question we were all answering was, ‘What is it that you're doing to change the world?'

"My answer was easy because for the last 15 years or so, I have had a clear sense of my call, I'm called to write songs and to encourage people and to teach people and entertain them, too, while I'm doing it. So I have a clear vision for what it is that I do and it's easy for me to see the fruit of that ministry because I'll get a case of e-mails or I'll get to talk to people at shows.

"Then the question came around to my wife and her answer to the question ... was that she's raising these three kids in the kingdom. She's impressing the words of the Lord on these children and raising them up to change the world. It was just a beautiful thought to me. It's too bad that moms out there don't get e-mails from random people telling them what great mothers they are. So this song is kind of an e-mail thanks to her for that idea that the greatest work we can do on this earth is investing in other human beings for the sake of Christ. It's hard to picture a more direct version of that than a mother blessing her children."

There's another song on the album called "The Reckoning" that I understand you wrote in the middle of a storm. How did that inspire you?
"Well, I started it on my front porch watching a storm roll in. They are pretty violent in Tennessee sometimes. There's always a little bit of fear of tornados, we have a lot of tornados here.

"I've always enjoyed storms and this one particular night I happened to be writing, and I watched the lightning flashing and heard the thunder rolling. We've got these big white oak trees in our front yard, huge trees, and they were just whipping around like grass. It always reminds me how small I am in the scheme of things. I think storms are good for us. In a world where we have jet planes and Internet access, it's good to be reminded once in a while that a storm could wipe us out, so that reminder of God's great power.

"I have this ache inside me that God would draw back the curtain and step into the world and finish the story that He's telling. And at the same time when I see that storm happen I remember that our God is a good God, but He's not tame, like Aslan. He's not a tame lion, He's good. There's that picture we have in Scripture of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Every time an angel shows up, they say, ‘Don't be afraid.' This God that we serve and worship and are so blessed to be able to call our Father, it's good for us to remember sometimes that He's also infinitely powerful and a force to be reckoned with and impossible to put inside our little contrived images or framework we may design for Him.

"I ache for the day when Christ will come galloping out of the sky and at the same time I love the fact that sometimes I'm reminded that day is going to be terrifying. What a blessing it is that we are invited into the holy heart of this God who is so terrifying."

On this album there are some very personal songs. Why did you choose to include them for all of us to hear?
"I've always done that. All my records are personal, and what I've realized over the years is that the ones that are most uncomfortable for me to write are the ones that seem to have the most blessing.

"I think that if I can tell those scary parts of my story, then they stand a better chance of reminding somebody out there that they are not alone in their struggle. C.S. Lewis said that we read to know that we're not alone, and I think of that as one of the chief blessings of this kind of art is that I can stand on this stage and I can tell you my story and it is going to intersect with your story. And we can learn from each other and we can learn of the story that God is telling through us when that happens.

"So, all of my records have been very personal. This one may be a little more specifically personal just because of the lack of concept behind it. There are songs that are very specific about my life and my family and my community."

Where are you touring to support this release?
"I am always touring and it's all over the country and sometimes out of the country. I'm not one of those guys who gets on the tour bus for two months straight because I really treasure my time at home and because the writing of my books requires me to be kind of still. I have some routine here at home. I typically only travel on the weekends.

"We've been in Portland and we have shows in Tennessee and we have shows in New York state and in Florida, and I'm going to Sweden in a few months. We are just kind of always touring and there's no specific place."

Finally, what is in your future, in your ministry and career?
"Well, I started a series on fantasy adventure books called ‘The Wingfeather Saga' (WaterBrook Press) that are young-adult fantasy novels, and the first two have been published and I'm working on third one right now. So there's been a nice staggering of creative output for me where I have written a book and then put out a record and then written another book and put out another record. Now that this record is finished and in the can, I am trying my best to plug away at this third book in the series. There will probably be five books, so I've got another few years of writing about dragons and sword fights."

Is there anything you'd like to say to Christian retailers?
"I would like to say thank you. I'm not in this for the money. If I was, I would have quit a long time ago. You know, the thing that really drives me is this connection between people. As soon as I finish writing a song, my first thought is, ‘Who do I get to play it for?' The thing that keeps me going is playing in concert, looking out at the audience and sometimes, if you're lucky enough, you see a song actually do it work in somebody.

"And the fact that the Lord gave music and story, this ability to kind of carry His truth into people's hearts, to be a part of that, it will be endlessly thrilling to me. It's a delight. The thing is, it wouldn't happen without people sharing the music and telling other people about the music, putting it in their stores and making it available. That's what I love to do and I couldn't do it without the retailers, so thank you."