Artist Interviews
Andrew Peterson - July 9, 2001

This is from a 20 minute interview that I had with Andrew. A friend of mine from my church, Shannon Reed, helped me with the interview. The bold text is our questions/comments to him, and everything else is his replies.

Some unnecessary text has been removed, and some sentences have been tweaked to make them more readable.

Here's the interview:

Mickey: Where are you from?

Andrew: Born in Illinois, grew up in Florida, live in Nashville.

Mickey: How has being signed changed how and what you write?

Andrew: The biggest difference is in the back of my head knowing that more people are going to hear the song. It's a lot easier to be honest when nobody's watching you. It's a lot easier to be yourself when it's in private. When I wrote a lot of my old songs it was in college in my living room, and I knew that only 200 people were going to hear the song - friends of mine. But then, once you get a song on the radio, you realize "wow, this next song might be on the radio too", there's a little more trepidation involved with being completely open with the way you feel. So, there was quite a while last year when I was thinking about working on new songs for this record when I really had to stop and think make myself not think about that. Make myself pretend like a million people aren't going to hear the song necessarily and just write the song just as honestly as I did before. And it was something that I had to try to do. And I can see why there would be a tendancy to make your songs a little less heart-felt and a little less visual as you went on, because all of a sudden it's everybody reading your diary instead of just your close friends. But, that kinda comes with the territory, and there's a good bit of satisfaction that comes from sharing that part of yourself, or I wouldn't be a songwriter.

Mickey: And the better you do that, the more people will appreciate your music.

Andrew: Exactly.

Shannon: What's your history - how did you get started with this?

Andrew: The whole thing?

Shannon: Yeah, well you can summarize a little bit. (laugh)

Andrew: It all started the day I met Gabriel Scott. I played in bands and stuff a lot in high school and after high school, and I was never the front man in anything, because I was very insecure about my singing voice and was too scared to write anything. When I was in college, I met my wife, because she was the keyboard player in a band that I was in. I had finally broken through the shell and I was able to write a few songs that our band did. That gave me a taste of what it was like to share something with people, and it gave me a taste of the frustration that comes with sharing something with people when they don't really appreciate it. Standing up on stage playing for a youth group, and it's kind of a rocky song, and nobody heard a word that I said, and I slaved over this lyric to make the point across, and everybody's like "yeah, it had a great beat." So, it was a little frustrating, and I kinda - with the encouragement of my wife - quit the band. If I'm gonna do music, and I'm gonna write songs, I wanna make sure the people hear what I have to say. So I started doing the concerts with just the piano and the guitar, and Jamie - my wife - would occasionally sing with me. About two years after I started doing it that way, I bumped into Gabe at a concert that I was doing. I asked him if he wouldn't mind playing a show with me, and that was four years ago. That's the nutshell. We started doing our thing. It used to be just a guitar thing, occasionally with the piano. Then Gabe and I started playing together a lot, we started adding kinda random instruments that we enjoyed playing.

Mickey: A lot of people, even most Christians, listen to secular and pop music. What is the best to determine what music is good and what is not? A lot of friends say they don't listen to the words, but I can't help wonder if they get affected anyway.

Andrew: That's a hard question to answer. I don't know any easy answer to the question. Every time I argue one side of it, then I can also kinda see the other guy's point of view. I know for myself I have way more secular music in my CD collection than I do Christian music. I don't like a lot of Christian music. If there was a scale of good and bad music, which I don't think there is, but to some degree there is. I think that there can be really poor music. Poorly crafted songs, poor musicianship, little artistic element to a song. I find that a lot of times those aspects are addressed in a better way when the music is approached as just music, as opposed to being Christian music. The way that I approach my songwriting is I don't try to write Christian songs. I consider myself a Christian and I'm trying to write songs. And because of that, because of the fact that I am Christian, and Jesus is the reason that I don't have to burn in hell forever, of course I'm gonna sing about that. But on the other hand, I'm not able to really pick and choose what I'm gonna write about. In some ways, you write what comes. It's kinda like the songs are out there somewhere before you even get to them, and God gives you the gift of this creation. He gives an artist the desire to create something. That's one of the ways I think that we have the image of God in us, is man's desire to create something, to leave something behind, whether it's a building or a painting or children. One of the things in which we are like God is that we have this passion to create. For me, that passion to create is in stories and songs, and things put to music, and lyrics. In that sense, I have a hard time sitting down and deciding to write a song that just will work on Christian radio. It's more like I just wanna write a good song, and if it happens to be one that people that listen to Christian radio are gonna like, then great, maybe it'll get played on the radio and I can buy a new car. I just finished reading a book by a lady named Madeleine L'Engle, do you know who that is? She wrote a bunch of science fiction kinda novels and stuff…

Shannon: Didn't she do "A Wrinkle In Time"?

Andrew: She wrote "A Wrinkle In Time". She's a Christian and a fantastic writer. But she's also written a lot of essays, reflections on faith and art. There's a book called "Walking On Water" that she wrote that another singer-person recommended to me. And I read it, and in it one of the things she said that struck me that I felt was very true, was she said "There's no such thing as good Christian art and bad Christian art. If it's bad art, then it's not Christian." And I think that it's very true. I think that if it isn't a reflection of the excellence that God has done, and if it isn't something that is honest, and true, and the kind of art whether a Christian is composing it or not…I think a great song by somebody who's not a Christian is, in my mind, more Christ-like than a bad song by somebody who is. Does that make sense? In that sense, I think that in my CD collection, whether the person who wrote the song is a Christian or not, I can praise God when I listen to it, because if it's that kind of a song, because I'm just amazed by the art that they created, and that is a reflection of our creator. So, whether you're a Christian or not, if you're creating art, and it's really good art, like Mozart or something like that, then you listen to Mozart even if Mozart didn't compose everything for the glory of God - or anything for the glory of God - you have to admit that when you listen to that, it glorifies Him, by the sheer fact that it's beautiful, and it makes you cry when you hear it, it makes you realize "Wow, there has to be a God. This kind of stuff couldn't have come from nothing." Sometimes I think, and this is one of the things that she touches on in the book, is that a lot of times in secular music, and art and culture, they touch on certain veins of truth without knowing that they're doing it. Like you can see themes of salvation and Christ. A Christian can go to a movie and see certain things come up, and go "Wow, that really does illustrate the truth of the Gospel." And the person that wrote it may not have even meant to do it, but because it's true, and it's something that's pervading the universe - I don't even know if that's a word or not - that sometimes whether you're Christian or not, they're tuned into whatever this thing is, because they're creating something and they don't know why they're doing it, and they make this thing, and all of a sudden a Christian can look at it and see God in it. And the person who did it may not be a Christian and know where it came from. Anyhow, that's why when I flip through my CD case and I see all these things, I can see God in them.

Shannon: Now, was there ever a question in your mind as to whether you would be a Christian artist or a secular artist?

Andrew: You know, I didn't plan anything like it's come out. It's all been me just walking through the doors that God has opened. I grew up in a Christian home, my dad is a preacher, and I've been in Sunday School since the womb. For whatever reason, I feel like the songs that I've been given, and the way that I like to convey them, it just ends up being more condusive, makes more sense to Christian people. I almost feel like the stage that God has put me on has been one with an audience of mostly Christians. So, that's just worked out that I'm a "Christian artist". But you know, I would have no qualms about going and playing in a bar of club sometime. We've done that before, and it's gone great.

Mickey: We were talking to Derek and Cliff earlier - Caedmon's Call - that you and them were given a bunch of old, never-released songs from Rich Mullins. They said that they were going to use one of them on their new album, and I wondered if you had any plans for any of those.

Andrew: Yes, on my new record which comes out September 11th,(loudly) called "Clear To Venus". (laugh) There's a song on it called "Mary Pick the Roses". We re-wrote the music to it, and kept his lyrics. He wrote it in 1978. Beautiful, beautiful words, and we asked the people who gave us the song, and they said we could change the music, so Gabe and I got together and pooled our stuff together and ended up coming up with a song. So, it's been a pretty huge honor. A dream come true.

Mickey: What else can you tell us about the new album?

Andrew: We're very proud of it. I'm excited about it. I told Jamie this last night - we finally got the mastered version of it just like two days ago. We just, just got the final product. And I had been not letting myself listen to it much between the recording and then, because I wanted to be able to really sit back and enjoy it, and try to listen to it from your point of view. We have a little CD player in the room, so we played the record, and probably listened to it five times in the last couple days. Really just trying to listen to it and see what we thought about it. The conclusion I came to, was that if nobody else likes the record, and I don't make any more, I will be proud to have made it. I'll be proud to let my kids hear it one of these days. Musically speaking and songwriting-wise, I think musically speaking Gabe and I have both gotten a lot better between now and the last record, and I'm excited about the songs on it. We used a lot of the same musicians as on the first one, same producer, so we approached it, production-wise, the exact same way. We said "Let's let the songs speak for themselves, and not go overboard with drum loops and horn sections and stuff like that". We just wanted to keep it an acoustic record.

(side note - Andrew gave Shannon and I copy of the new album, and wow! If you liked his first one, you will love this one. Your plans for September 11th should include driving down to your local Christian bookstore and buying this CD)

Shannon: I'm big into worship. Music for me speaks to me most through worship, and I've noticed that a lot of the Christian artists today keep coming out with worship albums, like Third Day's got one, I think Michael W. Smith just came out with one, Caedmon's got one coming. So do you consider yourself a worship leader because you're a Christian musician, or do you think that they are separate, and if so, is that a direction you may be moving in soon?

Andrew: I don't consider myself a worship leader. There's an aspect to our concerts where there's some corporate singing sometimes. My hope would be that in one of our concerts God would be glorified for the same reasons that I was telling you about a while ago. Hopefully people will see us trying our very best to make the best music that we can possibly make for God's glory, and that they will praise Him because of that. And whether that means that everyone is singing together, or that means that I'm singing a song about my uncle having cancer, but it's a great song, that's what my goal would be from a worship standpoint. I used to lead a lot of worship in church camp and stuff, but I got out of the loop about four or five years ago, and I don't know any of the new songs anymore. (laugh) Like I would just do "River of Life" over and over again "One more time!". (laugh) So we don't usually take gigs because someone needs a worship leader for this thing, because I'm kinda out of it, because I haven't done it in so long.

Shannon: I just wasn't sure if that was kind of the direction that Christian music was heading in…

Andrew: I think a lot of the reason that so many of those CDs are coming out is because they think they can make a lot of money out of it. I mean, I don't think that means that the bands are insincere, I think the music is good, but I think there is a flood of that because record labels are saying "City On A Hill made a lot of money, let's make some more."

Shannon: Do you think it's a trend, and it'll kinda go away?

Andrew: It's a trend, in that everyone is trying to get a worship record out right now, but…these songs are gonna be around for a while. I don't think it's ever a bad thing to worship God. (laugh) I just think that it's easy to get on the bandwagon - it happens a lot in the music industry. "Prayer of Jabez" stuff - that happens. I don't know if you've read the book, but I haven't. It's driving me nuts. It must be pretty good. But as soon as it gets to the point where it's like "Have you read Jabez?" and you see a lanyard strap on it that says "Got Jabez?" on it, then I go "Ok, we've got problems." I'm not accusing the worship thing of becoming that, but I do think it is kind of a trendy thing to do right now. But it may not be a bad thing.

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