Andrew Peterson, Steve Wariner, Eric Paslay, Vince Gill, & moreCountry
Nashville TN | Christian & Gospel
Nashville is a town that attracts a lot of guys with guitars. On any given afternoon you’ll see them on the sidewalks, in the clubs, wandering around music row. You can’t miss them at the downtown Greyhound station and at the airport baggage claim. You see them lugging their instruments into and out of dozens of hotel and motel parking lots, packing them into the back seats of cars with out-of-state plates and driving off somewhere in the service of a paper-thin dream. And there’s always an attendant note of sadness because somehow, the picture always seems so transient, so unrooted. It’s almost as if Woody Guthrie were the patron saint of troubadours and the cost of entry into the guild is that you first have to be willing to leave your wife and kids and light out for parts unknown in the name of some abstract notion of freedom, repeating in some form for the rest of your life the sad, weary mantra that Tom Waits first opined: It was a train that took me away from here, but a train can’t bring me home.
And maybe we’re so used to hearing that kind of story, that when we run across a guy like Centricity Music artist Andrew Peterson, a guy with a guitar, yes, but a guy-with-a-guitar who is so intentionally rooted in the stuff of life—in family, friendship, community, home and even the very plot of land he lives on—that he seems almost counter-culture. Okay, maybe Andrew Peterson is counter-culture. But it’s not his fault. It’s the culture that shifted.
Over the last ten years Andrew Peterson has quietly carved out a niche for himself as one of the most thoughtful, poetic, and lyrical songwriters of his generation. More recently he’s established himself as the grassroots facilitator of an online literary and songwriting community (www.RabbitRoom.com) and an emerging fantasy novelist as well (The Wingfeather Saga). But it’s still ultimately that sense of rootedness that listeners, readers and fans seem to respond to most deeply—because Andrew’s songs (and books) remind us again and again of simple, solid things like love and friendship and hope and redemption and beauty and how our stories were meant to be shared, and how the darkness will not always hold sway, and how we, being human, need to hear those things over and over again, because otherwise we become disconnected from the very stories we’re living in. All of which brings us, in a roundabout way, to our real starting point, because somehow, Andrew Peterson’s new, twelve-song project, Counting Stars (produced by Ben Shive, with Andy Gullahorn) manages to do all that without ever leaving home.
“So often we think of the grand adventure being out there somewhere waiting for us,” Peterson says, “like you have to leave home to find it. One of my favorite songs on the new record, ’World Traveler’, was written about my slow realization that a life is just as much an adventure if you’re a family man as it is if you’re a pirate on the high seas. Every human you meet is a great mystery, and that includes your wife and children. The tears and the laughter and stories and the small daily wonders we share in our little house in the hills have so much more significance to me nowadays than any of my travels around the country.”
Framed in a largely acoustic context and underpinned by a sense of gentle but ancient and unyielding strength, Counting Stars aches and glows, finding infinite wonder in the stuff of hearth and home, family and friendship, struggle and storm. Perhaps it’s because the writing approach this time around involved a conscious departure from the string of concept albums Peterson has released in recent years. Opting for a more introspective, confessional approach seems to have opened a greater sense of vulnerability in the writing process.
“This album grew into something I couldn’t foresee and didn’t intend,” Andrew admits. “Instead of starting with a concept and following it like a map, I just wrote whatever found its way out of my heart and head. What that means is that Counting Stars has songs that are so personal I’m a little embarrassed to include them. Creating this way is a lot like waking in a strange, dark room and having to feel around for the light switch. You get a few bumps and bruises and you learn a few things about the room along the way, but you don’t really know where you are until you find the switch and flip on the light. I walked into the creative process with a sense of expectation, wondering what God was going to teach me, and because of that, I think these songs really reveal something to me as well as to the listener.”
Enlisting the collaborative chemistry of long-time friends and fellow songwriters Andy Gullahorn and Ben Shive, (collectively known as “the Captains Courageous”), Peterson holed up for eight days in the barren hills of western Washington State to record the new project. The sparse beauty of the windswept landscape seems to be reflected in the minimal instrumentation and rounded peaks and valleys of the music, while the lyrical elements are all but inseparable from the friendships that birthed them.
“What Christ calls his followers to isn’t just friendship with each other, but kinship,” Andrew says. “That means we’re bound by more than similar interests, or even chemistry, but by a common covenant with a common Father. When life gets messy, and it will, there’s something stronger than friendship to bind us together. I’ve shared so much of my musical life with Andy and Ben. They help me remember to pay attention to things that matter. At some point in all our careers we made a choice to lean into what lasts, to write songs for something richer than record sales. Maybe God used someone’s song to draw us to himself, or maybe we were given the gift of seeing one of our own songs do that for someone else, and that revelation changed everything.”
Arguably the most stunning revelatory moment on Counting Stars, “The Reckoning” is a deeply honest, deeply worshipful, yearning, psalm-like outpouring of the heart that spontaneously took shape as Andrew sat on his front porch watching a violent Tennessee storm blow in. “I love the humility that a big, dangerous storm system gives us,” Peterson explains. “Everyone remembers they’re quite small and powerless in the scheme of things. In the twenty-first century, with jumbo jets and air conditioning and high-speed internet, we still sometimes have to run for our lives and hide in the closet under a blanket. Storms are good for us in that way. Sometimes I ache for God to draw back the curtain and reveal himself—but if he did, we’d likely burn to a crisp. We ask him to show his face, but we don’t know what we’re asking. He’s more holy and powerful than we could possibly imagine. And yet, we were made for him.”
While at least a half dozen of Peterson’s new songs—like “Dancing In the Minefields”, “Planting Trees”, and “God of My Fathers”—joyously celebrate his connectedness to his creator, family, friends, fellow artists, and even to past and future generations, a secondary theme also clearly emerges on the record; one that speaks of the great battle between hope and despair. Songs like the sparsely melodic “In the Night My Hope Lives On”, the slow-building “You Came So Close”, and the weary but unwavering “The Last Frontier” each move from a place of pain or struggle to one of a hard-won eternal hope.
“There have been some really difficult situations in the lives of people around me recently,” Andrew says, “and I’ve seen more than ever the power of the darkness in the world. More than that though, I’ve been awestruck by the even greater power of the tiniest flicker of hope. It doesn’t take much light to send the darkness scampering. The title Counting Stars ties the themes of relationship and hope together in the hope of God’s promise to Abraham. We’re a part of the cloud of witnesses, passing the promises of God to our children and their children, building this Kingdom that has no end. And in the middle of it, when the powers of hell are arrayed against us, we just have to look to the stars and remember as Tolkien said that ’the shadow is only a small and passing thing: there is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.’”
Nashville TN | Country
Nashville TN | Country
Honesty is a powerful magnet that always draws an eager audience and it has proven to be a potent tool in Eric Paslay’s creative arsenal. Sometimes playful, often poignant and always thoroughly entertaining, the 6’ 4” singer/songwriter with the fiery red hair and easy smile has quickly earned a reputation as an artist that knows how to capture the attention of an audience and hold them in the palm of his hands.
All it takes is seeing Paslay perform once to become hooked, a fact that has become obvious as he’s toured the country, opening for Little Big Town, The Eli Young Band, Jake Owen and others. Prior to the release of his EMI Nashville debut album, fans have been able to purchase a five-song sampler at Paslay’s shows. “The very first night we got to sell them I gave the merch guy two boxes and he sold out,” Paslay says in a tone that exudes a mixture of humility and awe. After Paslay did the math, he realized that one in 12 attendees went home with his CD. “I’m just excited that I made some fans and they got to take me with them. I’m excited that my music is out there.”
When country music fans see Paslay perform, they want to take his music home and make his songs the soundtrack of their lives. Whether he’s performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry or taking his place this summer on the Country Throwdown Tour sharing his new hit, “If the Fish Don’t Bite,” Paslay always knows how to reel a crowd in.
His music has substance and depth, but his debut album is every bit as entertaining and accessible as it is meaningful, and therein lies Paslay’s charm. “It’s hopeful music,” he says describing his style. “There’s only one sad song on the whole record and that’s ’Amarillo Rain,’ but there’s still a beauty behind it that makes people feel alive somehow.”
Paslay has the ability to paint vivid portraits in his songs and he does just that with his new single, “If The Fish Don’t Bite,” a sly, sexy romp about a guy who has plans for his girl beyond casting a line in the water. “A lot of guys are annoyed by chicks coming to fish when it can be a lot of fun,” he says with a smile. “If the fish aren’t biting, why not cuddle up a little closer?”
Whether he’s serving up a light-hearted up tempo tune like “If The Fish Don’t Bite” or delivering an emotionally riveting song like “Deep As It Is Wide,” Paslay proves to be a compelling storyteller and versatile performer. It’s a gift he comes by honestly. “My granddad was a musician,” says Paslay, a native Texan, who was born in Abilene and raised in Waco and Temple. “Granddad and his brothers had a band called Arnold Schiller and the Moonlight Serenaders. My grandfather was Arnold, and they played at dance halls. I was two and a half when he died. It’s interesting how it rubbed off even though I didn’t really know him very well. He had red hair and it’s kind of funny because I like all the things he liked.”
Paslay says his family never pushed him to play music, but supported his interest when he began playing guitar at 15. “I love melodies,” he says. “My dad always had oldies on, and listening to that music growing up influenced me. There’s so many cool melodies and it was great ear candy. It still resonates with every teenager, every grown up, every grandmother because it’s human. That type of music really stays with you.”
By the time he began performing around Texas, Paslay had studied some of the great singer/songwriters and learned how to make a song memorable. “I was influenced by Rich Mullins,” Paslay says. “He was one of those guys I really listened to because he was real. He was a Christian artist, but it was cool to hear someone mix their beliefs with real life. He was honest and it was almost scary honest. I’d listen to his songs and think, ’Did you really mean to say that?’ It was cool. Then there was Rodney Crowell. I love Rodney Crowell. Johnny Cash has influenced me from his storytelling. He was such a cool storyteller and you really believed him.”
He also studied what made an artist command a crowd’s attention while they were on stage. “I watched Austin City Limits and the Grand Ole Opry,” he says. “I was into everything from country artists to rock artists to Southern rock artists to jazz players. In high school I definitely went and saw quite a few Dave Matthews Band shows and that was always an experience.”
Though most aspiring artists playing clubs routinely perform cover tunes, Paslay learned to lead with his strengths and played his original songs. Even though he was building a reputation for his live show, like most artists, he briefly flirted with a more stable career and during his early days in college, he planned on becoming a pediatric endocrinologist. “I had diabetes and I thought I could help kids with diabetes because I could relate to them and talk to them,” he says.
However, music was too strong a passion to be ignored and following a friend’s advice, he moved to Nashville. Paslay attended Middle Tennessee State University. He also volunteered for anything just to get his foot in a door on Nashville’s famed Music Row. He did everything from help out at a charity golf tournament to change light bulbs in the NARAS office, a feat made easier because of his height. “I’d just go help anywhere I could because I thought if you have a job to do and you do it well, then if they let you be creative and make a record, at least they know you’re going to do it well,” Paslay says. “They’ll know you are going to put all your mind, strength and skill into doing whatever job they give you.”
Paslay landed a deal at Cal IV Publishing. His songwriting credits include Jake Owen’s hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” as well as the title track for Donny and Marie Osmond’s country set “The Good Life” and cuts by Lady Antebellum and the Eli Young Band. Though appreciative of the songs that others have recorded, Paslay will be the first to admit he didn’t move to Nashville to be a songwriter, but to be an artist.
He has a passion for using his voice to connect with an audience, and there’s a warm, earnest quality that commands attention, particularly on potent anthems such as “Deep As It is Wide.” “It’s about the hope that there is something bigger and better than us,” he says. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel and there’s something out there. When I finished this song I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a disconnect between each verse, so I went down the street to play it for a friend. The way I was sitting, I couldn’t see her while I was playing. When I was finished singing, I turned around and she was crying, so I figured I was done.”
“Less Than Whole” is a thoughtful treatise on grace and forgiveness Paslay co-wrote with Big Kenny that Kenny included on his 2010 solo album. “Sweet By and By” is an infectious number Paslay penned with his friend Sarah Buxton. “That was the first song we ever wrote together,” he says. “I saw her the other night and she didn’t even know it was on the record. She started crying and saying, ’I’m so happy it made the record!’”
Though Paslay enjoyed recording the album and has an affinity for the studio, his true love is the stage. “I turn it on when I get on stage. I love to entertain,” says Paslay, who has opened for Dierks Bentley, Clint Black, Eric Church, Blake Shelton and Little Big Town, among others. “The songs on this record are the ones that really connect when I played them live. When I write, I’d rather there be a little bit of hope in every song, even in the sad songs. There’s still hope in there. With all the negativity everywhere these days, I’d like the positive to come out. A song can give you a little boost in confidence or make you fall in love deeper or dream higher. I’m not writing and singing this stuff to be cool. I was never the cool kid. I was the kid standing in the back of the room watching.”
Off stage, Paslay has a gentle, everyman quality that endears him to all who meet him. He loves performing, but is just as comfortable remodeling a bathroom or getting in the kitchen with his mom, Donna, and making kolaches, a pastry that is a favorite among Texans. Most of all, Eric Paslay loves forging that special connection with people that can only be made with a song. “I just love making music. I love how much you can say to someone in a song,” he says. “I want to be a part of the soundtrack of people’s lives.”
Norman OK | Country
"Vince Gill is quite simply a living prism refracting all that is good in country music. He uses the crystal planes of his songwriting, his playing, and his singing to give us a musical rainbow that embraces all men and spans all seasons." - Kyle Young/Country Music Foundation on Vince's induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Read more at http://www.VinceGill.com