The Sea and Beyond: Eric Peters talks about his latest record release
Your new album is called Far Side of the Sea, does the sea itself represent to something special to you? If so, can you flesh out that symbol for us?
My fascination with the sea must be subconscious because I don’t much like being in the ocean, or in any large, open body of water for that matter. I’m terrified of sharks and jellyfish and nibbling creatures with teeth that live in water. Guess I watched too many horror films in the 1980s. Thalassophobia aside, I have indeed used more than my fair share of nautical imagery over the years. The sea is such a massive, empty foreboding expanse, a chasm, if you will, between terra firma. No man can swim across it unaided. Its depths are unfathomable, its cruelty renowned. It is ever present, a physical place here on earth where it’s hard to imagine anything more alone than being lost out on it, with no land in sight, just an open, endless horizon of undrinkable liquid. I suppose I lean toward this spiritual analogy: man alone on the sea, drowning, sinking to the pitch black bottom; helpless man sought by God, who finds him dead and helpless on the bottom, and pulls him up out of the depths–rescuing, reviving, and breathing new life into him. Not everyone subscribes to this theological imagery (Calvinism?), but it seems adequate for me, especially knowing myself, the things I do/have done, the things I’m capable of, the wounds I’ve caused, the bitterness I’ve harbored. The outright rebellion, anger, lies, and the host of awful thoughts I’ve uttered in my mind (and from my lips). It’s all there, the best and the worst parts. I don’t know, maybe it’s that same helplessness, along with the need to hope for rescue, from my own damnable self, that brings out the sea symbolism in what I write.
There’s a digital book of photos that accompanies this record, right? Tell us about your original vision for that project.
This project originally began with the book idea over three years ago while looking through some photographs I’d taken. The book component existed before any of the songs. The concept album idea followed the narrative I was writing for the book. The companion pieces, book and album, inform one another. The two pieces can exist separately, but it was my hope that by having read and listened to both separate pieces, the whole would be given clarity. For example, without having read the photo-essay selection entitled “Bricks,” I can easily see how someone might misunderstand–or not understand at all–the song, “Where I Lost My Way.” It’s been a very long process to reach the official release day, to birth these two works into the world. I’m very proud of the finished product, and I’m grateful to have had people in my life who encouraged me, not only in the idea, but in the process as well. I hope one day soon to be able to bring the book to print, to have physical copies made.
Yes, that would be great! Phsyical pictures have greater capacity for impact than digital. Which brings us to another aspect of your artistic life, the paintings and sculptures you create. Has your musical work been influenced by this visual art, or does it work the other way around? How do you think these activities complement each other?
Honestly, I don’t know if the two complement one another as much as they grant me a reprieve from the other. I’ve found I paint the way I write: abstract, imperfect, guttural, instinctually. But I’ve come to discover that one of the healthiest and most refreshing reasons I enjoy painting and creating found art oddity sculptures (Daily Pieces) is that my visual art does not involve words or lyrics. Naturally, I’m man of very few words. I feel a great freedom in not having to speak or to find something to say. As I get more confident in my painting, I sense a similar confidence in presenting my songs in a live setting. This confirm to me that the two acts have implications beyond mere matter.
So much of your work deals with grief. How important is that process in the life of a believer? Do you think grief is something the Church neglects nowadays?
I think grieving is something Americans do poorly, not just the Church. It’s a vulnerable experience to grieve a loss. We tend to associate grief with the death of a loved one, but we can also grieve the loss of a friendship, or something else important to us, such as a career or a dying dream we had, or things done to or by us. In these moments, we are raw, naked, and helpless. Too often we either stuff the ache down or ignore our sadness altogether. It’s an ache we all know, yet not everyone is willing to face or become acquainted with that pain for fear of losing something, of being torn apart inside, of never being able to recover. With the possible exception of my infancy, these past several months I have wept like no other period of my life. In the thick of middle age, I find myself in the long, exhausting process of grieving not only the possible end of my twenty-year career, but also the loss of trust, the ways I hurt the people I hold most dear, the person I thought I was. I grieve the fact that one day I will die, that my skin and bones will, in one final wisp of wind, disappear for eternity from the surface of earth. There will come a day when my name will be spoken by a living soul, then never uttered or remembered again. We work so hard, so many extra hours, we expand our list of entertainment activities, withdraw from not only the ones who love us most, but from our very own souls, afraid of the intimacy we will discover.
I’ve tended toward melancholy in my adult years, and I used to think sadness was a sign of weakness, a liability. A person inexplicably sad could not possibly love the Lord with all their heart, mind, and soul. I wrestled with this, hiding in the shame and embarrassment of depression, a taboo subject in the Church, for quite a long time. Having heard a well-meaning Christian or two claim, “A person who commits suicide can’t possibly go to heaven,” it surely made me think twice about talking about, let alone admitting, that I myself lean toward despondency. But it’s okay to grieve and not know why. It’s okay to wake up some days and find yourself in a thick, pale place, and to admit it. My tendency over the years has been to write and sing about this struggle. That said, please let me add this: I cannot remain here. In no way should I just “move on,” but to stay in this state is to, in essence, tell God that he can’t possibly know what it’s like to be sad, that he can’t relate. To believe I’m “the only one,” that I am all alone in my ache, is one of Satan’s greatest perpetual lies to man. We must drag the darkness into the light. Speaking it verbally is part of the process of being well, and isn’t that what Jesus asks us repeatedly, “Do you want to be well?”
Wow, such unrelenting honesty seems incapable of producing a halfhearted Eric Peters fan. Indeed, we’ve never met any. Does their passion ever embarrass you?
I’ve never been embarrassed by someone who likes my music. I have a very small tribe of folks who relate to and resonate with my songs (and/or artwork). They appear to me to be super devoted. Because it’s such a small group, I’ve gotten to know many of these folks over the years, many of whom have graciously hosted me in their homes for house shows. As such, I struggle to call them “fans.” I struggle to type the word because it seems incongruent with who they are, with who I am. I’m deeply guilty of comparing myself with other artists, many of whom are my friends, but the truth is that there is a small, faithful, devoted following of folks who continue to support and enjoy what I do, the work I create, the art I make. I consistently take this for granted, and am often guilty of not being grateful for what I have.
Will you be touring to promote this album? When and where?
I hope to be touring the album for the next year, yes. The running joke, especially in the state of today’s industry and music-buying (there’s a euphemism for you) culture, is that now that the album is done and out in the world, the “easy” part is over. Now for the hard part of A) reminding people that you are still living and breathing, and making music, B) your music is credible, articulate, and worth their time and money, C) finding and securing shows, because the only way an independent nobody artist sells CDs is by getting out and playing live.
The reality is there’s no radio airplay, no one knocking on the door begging to manage or book me, and very few booking inquiries. I rely on fans (there, I said it) to spread the word about my music, to help book and/or promote shows. The part I think most folks don’t quite see is that booking involves not only a lot of work, but a LOT of rejection amid long stretches of disappointment. I am only just now starting to send out booking emails, contacting hosts and promoters of past shows in cities I’ve played, to at least gain some traction, some footing from which I can build a run or weekend of shows. It is a slow process. At this point, aside from a UK tour, the fall schedule is very open, but I hope to remedy that this summer as I make inquiries and put myself to the task at hand.
What’s the song you enjoy performing from this album the most? Why?
I haven’t played the vast majority of the new songs out much yet, but so far I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy playing “Farthest Shore” and “Gravity.” I like the challenge of making the live version its own entity. As a solo artist, I can’t possibly pull off the album version at my shows, so I appreciate the challenge of having to relearn a song, so to speak, so that it fits into my live act. Figuring that out, and landing on solid ground takes time and many performances. That part is definitely an evolution. I tend to think of this process as honing in on the heartbeat of the song, and growing comfortable in presenting it to folks.
Well, thanks for chatting with us today, and congratulations on the new album! We can’t wait for our readers to hear it, and we’ll keep an eye out for any of your shows within driving distance.
If you’d like to find out more about Eric’s art, please visit his website. If you like what you see, maybe you should think about hosting a house show. Also, be sure to check out the Listening Party for Far Side of the Sea, starting at 9 am tomorrow, over at The Rabbit Room. You’ll be able to stream each new song, and read about the story behind it. Enjoy!