Listening In: Andrew Peterson


WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith and today you’re listening in on my conversation with singer, songwriter, novelist, and now movie producer Andrew Peterson. If you’re a regular listener of Listening In, you know that Andrew Peterson is a regular guest. This was the third time he’s been on the program since we began in early 2014.

We keep having Andrew back because he continues to do interesting and excellent work and because he in many ways embodies, what we try to do here at Listening In, which is to thoughtfully engage as whole human beings, all aspects of what it means to be made in the image of God, living our lives before the face of God. Andrew Peterson’s latest project is an animated film series based on his four volume Wingfeather saga. He launched a Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign to fund the first phase of the project hoping to raise $110,000. He ended up raising more than $150,000 and development is already underway. Later in the program, Andrew gets deeply personal as we talk about his latest album The Burning Edge of Dawn, an album, he says, was born out of a dark season in his life. But let’s get the conversation started by talking Wingfeather and his plans for the animated series.

Andrew Peterson, first of all, welcome back to the program. The last time we talked, we were, I think, in a Starbucks, not very far from your home. It was where you had written, The Wingfeather Saga.

ANDREW PETERSON, GUEST: Yeah.

SMITH: And you pointed to the chair at that Starbucks where you wrote a good bit of the book and that was a very cool thing to see. Now we are in your writing, what do you call this? A writing cabin?

PETERSON: I think a writing cabin is like a cottage. The name of the place is the chapter house, that’s what we’ve kind of named it, but yeah. And I’m sadly, not going to be at that Starbucks much anymore. And I’m so happy.

SMITH: Well, it’s a new chapter in your life now that you’ve got. Yeah, this was not a cabin. This was much, much nicer than a cabinet. And maybe we can take a quick audio tour of it in a little bit, but, yeah, so a new chapter in sort of your writing venues. And a new chapter in The Wingfeather Saga as well because the books have come out. They were very successful. WORLD Magazine named it the young adult book of the year when the fourth book came out. And but now you’ve got an animated series. Tell me about that.

PETERSON: Okay. So it’s a real, like the kind of thing that like I’ve thought about for the last five years or so, and I would have thought, oh, I wonder if we could ever come up with a way to make The Wingfeather Saga, experience this story visually. And I would immediately discount the idea. I’d be like, that’s just too much. It’s too hard. I don’t know even, who knows even how to begin to do it. But as the years have gone by, now that the series is finished and I keep getting that question in emails or concerts or whatever, when I meet kids who’ve read the books, they’re always… it seems to be the expectation that, well, we’ve read the books. We want to see it unfold in real time now. And so I went from thinking, no, that’ll never happen to I wonder if there’s a way to do this because, you know, one of the reasons we landed on this was my snarky answer to kids who say, when are you going to make a movie is when you give me $100 million and, you know, J.J. Abrams’ cell number, then we’ll talk. But the reality is making a big live action thing is all but impossible.

And so it was just like I would love to see a great movie made of the stories, but I would hate to see a really bad movie made. So I just decided it wasn’t even worth thinking about. So every time a producer or somebody approached me about the stories, I would just kinda…

SMITH: Well just, by the way, I do understand your reticence because like you said, a bad movie would just be probably rip heart out, but also understand why people would continue to ask the question because I mean, especially in the fourth book. You’ve got great illustration. I mean, it’s cinematic, it’s a cinematic story.

PETERSON: Yeah. I wanted to write one that would feel that way, you know, I mean if I am honest with myself about my influences or whatever, the kind of story that I was trying to write or the kind of story that really woke me up when I was a kid. It wasn’t just Narnia and Lord of the Rings, like those things were really formative for me, but it was also like Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. and Star Wars. It was always in my mind as I was writing the story. It was easy for me to… I was trying to capture that same feeling that I felt when I wrote that stuff. So yeah, I’m glad that people thought of the books that way. And so finally I just was like, the thought occurred to me that there was a better way to tell the story then trying to squeeze a whole book into a 90 minute animated film or even real live action film because that’s another problem. You know, it’s like the movies usually suffer because you’re constricted. And so, but then I noticed that my family and I, for example, somebody asked me when the Christmas tour ended this year, they were like, what are you planning to do when you get home?

And I was like, honestly, I will know that I’m home and on vacation when I have watched like four episodes on Netflix with my wife, you know. When we’ve got some really fun story that we’re both into and we can watch it and sit in on… and in that, that’s what a lot of Americans do now, you know, they binge watch on Netflix or whatever or they just, everybody gets into some show because television has become like this wonderful way to experience a story. It didn’t use to be that way. And so then I started thinking where are all the television shows that I can watch with Jamie and love. And also invite my kids, my teenage kids and younger kids into the room. There just isn’t one. There’s no like Lost or, forgive me, Breaking Bad for families where there’s a story that everybody’s hanging on the edge of their seats, wanting to know what happens next over the course of seasons.You know, there just isn’t one.

SMITH: Right.

PETERSON: And so I thought, what if The Wingfeather Saga was a version of that? What if we made an animated series that could stretch it to legs and tell the whole story, the nuances and really dive into it because, you know, it’s a pretty big sweeping tale.

SMITH: Well, yeah, four books, how many thousands? A couple thousand pages or something like that.

PETERSON: It’s pretty tall stack when I see them all together. So it would just be… I just thought that would be, I would prefer to tell the story that way than to try to squeeze it into a film.

SMITH: So, once you’ve made that decision, I mean, that’s still a long way from, you know, a picture of a rocket to going to the moon. That’s a lot of engineering you got to cover between here and there.

PETERSON: Right. It’s a great way to put it.

SMITH: So how did you get there? What was next?

PETERSON: Okay. So, one of my friends… about 10 years ago, maybe I’m Randall Goodgame, one of my best friends and songwriters, he and I wrote some Veggie Tales songs, like three Silly Songs with Larry and had some songs that were featured in one of the movies. Well the producer of that Veggie Tales movie is this guy named Chris Wall who was the producer of all of the Three, Two, One Penguins episodes that were on NBC and he’s made like 30 animated films and he’s a good friend of mine. He’s on the Rabbit Room board and is very involved in our lives. And the whole time he was at Big Idea I kept going — and I knew that he and his family had read my books—I just kept going, hey, we need to talk about The Wingfeather Saga animated series. And of course he was enmeshed in other things. And he finally just was like, I think got tired of working on projects that he didn’t really, wasn’t really excited about. I dunno, I don’t want to make it sound like he didn’t like being a Big Idea, but he just was like, I’m ready to pour myself into this. So he told me one day, he was like, I quit at Big Idea, I want to make The Wingfeather Saga.

SMITH: Wow.

PETERSON: It was pretty amazing. And so we spent probably the last year and meetings and developing the idea and figuring out how do we make this work, how do we make this work? And what we finally landed on was this crazy Kickstarter campaign.

SMITH: Well, I would say that maybe for some people it would be a crazy idea, but you did a Kickstarter campaign for the fourth Wingfeather book and it exceeded your expectations, shall we say.

PETERSON: Yeah, yeah. To put it mildly. That was, we were trying to raise $14,000 and we ended up with $118,000.

SMITH: And so this new Kickstarter campaign that you’re doing for the animated series, I mean, clearly you’re trying to raise a hundred grand?

PETERSON: It’s another $110,000 for the base goal.

SMITH: Yeah. And that’s not going to produce a movie. Where does that get you?

PETERSON: That’s a great question. We’ve wrestled with this for a really long time. And what we decided on… like the most expensive part of the process is all the development, you know, figuring out like putting the team together and storyboarding stuff and character design and set design. I’m learning a ton about how animation works, which has been super fun. But the idea is the $110,000 base goal gets us an animated short, kind of something like the Pixar Disney shorts that you’ll see before features, you know.

And so the idea is to like produce an animated short that will be a scene from book one of The Wingfeather Saga that will allow us to flesh out these characters and get us a long way down the road of production. And then we take that and that gets the door open to us getting to an online platform where we try to sell the series.

SMITH: So ultimately, though, your endgame is to try to get this project for know for long to get a studio to pick it up? Or are you gonna be indie, self-financing store?

PETERSON: Yeah. No, we, I mean there’s like plan B and Plan C, but a plan A is make a pilot, show them, we mean business. Make a really great, beautiful pilot that’s compelling. And then go to whoever, Netflix or Amazon and go, Hey, we’ve got this thing and we’ve got four books worth of material and a bunch of excited fans. Let’s make this thing.

SMITH: I do want to, I don’t want to get too much into the weeds of all this Andrew, but I know, you know, I cover a lot of movies. I do a lot of movie junkets. I did the Lord of the Rings junket, for example, the fourth one in Hollywood. And I remember interviewing Ian McClellan, who played Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and we talked about the books, how did you stay true to the books because I think Lord of the Rings was pretty famous for being pretty true to the book. And one of the things Ian McClellan said that was that whenever he was getting outfitted for his Gandalf robes, he made the costume designers sew a pocket onto the inside of that robe so that whatever book they were shooting, he put the — He said I wanted to put the book in that pocket. And he said the word that he used was, I wanted to feel the weight of the book every time I put on Gandalf’s robe.

PETERSON: Wow. Good for him.

SMITH: And I thought that, yeah, exactly. I thought good for him. But I also know because I’ve done enough, I’ve seen enough of these. Usually the author sells rights to the book it’s like I’m done. Movies are a different medium, you know. Some authors are happy with the way it turns out. Some are not. Sometimes directors get criticized, but at the end of the day it’s the director’s vision. I mean, you are basically executive producing this thing, you know, in addition to having written the book. I mean, you’re going to have to make some tough choices about your own material, right?

PETERSON: Yeah. You are exactly right. That’s when one of the other conversations we’ve had as far as making sure that the readers of the book know two things. First is that we really care about the story and the story that they love. So it’s kinda like with Peter Jackson translating Lord of the Rings to a visual form. They had to make concessions, they had to tweak things, but at the same time I always got the sense that they really cared about me as a fan. It was like they went through and found these luminous passages that they’re like, we’re going to make sure we include this in the dialogue somewhere or whatever. And so I think it’s that kind of thing, like, yes, we’re going to have to, like, it’s like a 3D version of something that was, actually, more than 3D. It exists in the reader’s mind. And so having to put it on the screen means that we’re going to have to change a few things here and there. But as the author, I wanted to make sure that I had veto power, you know what I mean? But I’ve kind of got the whole story in my head and I can kind of allow the screenwriters and the director to do what they want, but also be close enough to the thing, to make sure that I can pull the plug if I see them going down a direction that’s not gonna work. So, that’s honestly the only way that I would be able to sleep at night doing this is if I knew that I had a voice in the room.

SMITH: Well, you said you had a plan B and a plan C and so on. But let’s, for the moment, I’m just so your fans can kind of know what’s going on here, let’s assume plan A comes to pass and your Kickstarter campaign goes okay, and you get into the development and you’re able to create the short, you know, that becomes a marketing tool to go to the studios and try to make something. When are we going to see a completed The Wingfeather Saga animated short series. Do you have…

PETERSON: What, like when will it happen? The goal, if we get only the base goal, I think September of this year, like this fall. And that’s, you know, it’s a guesstimation.

SMITH: Not September for the entire series, you’re talking September for the short.

PETERSON: For the supporters to be able to see this is what we’ve been doing.

SMITH: Got It.

PETERSON: And it will take, I want to say, obviously longer than that for a longer film, but all of that hinges on how well this Kickstarter campaign goes.

And you know, all our eggs aren’t in the Kickstarter basket. It’s almost like we’ve got other co-producers and people who are excited about the project and willing to help, but there’s a big question mark until we see, we’ll be able to gauge exactly what we’re planning to do once this campaign is finished.

SMITH: But maybe 2017 or 2018?

PETERSON: The plan is 2017.

SMITH: Okay.

PETERSON: For people to see the real deal. And then of course if it gets picked up then it’s like then the real rubber meets the road and we’re going to get busy. But I don’t know, it’s hard. Chris Wall, the producer and I have prayed a ton about this and have thought, I mean, in our families are in these conversations and we’re just going, are we really going to try to do this? Like we were recording the Kickstarter video Wednesday night here in the Chapter House and Chris and I just kinda looked at each other and we’re like, we’re making a Kickstarter video for this project. Kind of like are we crazy? But at every turn, every time we ask ourselves, are we crazy? We just feel this like rightness about the timing and I’m excited for a lot of reasons. One of them is that I just at a place in my career where I just finished a really heavy, intense year musically. Having just written and released an album, The Burning Edge of Dawn and then did the release tour, then did the Christmas tour and then he got home and know, caught my breath and I’m in a place where I really want to be home. Like, I’m missing plays that my kids are in and I’m missing some pretty precious moments. Ha, Precious Moments. I’m sorry that I said that. But I’m missing some precious things about my church community here in my actual literal neighborhood right down the road. There are things that are happening that more and more the older I get, the more I’m sensing that kind of Wendell Berry ache for membership in a community. You know what I mean? And I feel like as long as I’m constantly having to tour, my ability to really step into the membership of this community is crippled. And so one of the reasons that I have felt led to try to make this thing work is that it would give me a way to be home for at least a season and really focus on something that engaged my whatever gifting I have, but would also allow me to have some kind of a real consistent routine and life with my family and my friends here.

SMITH: Andrew, we’re having this conversation sitting in the cottage. You called it, what?

PETERSON: The Chapter House.

SMITH: The Chapter House, okay. And it’s still, it’s not quite finished, but it’s certainly finished enough so that we’re very comfortable here in it. I want you to tell me about it a little bit. I mean, you know, I mean, even first of all, what motivated you to build the place in the first place?

PETERSON: Yeah, well, it came from a couple of reasons. First, the biggest thing is that, I kind of, due to some circumstances, lost my office. I used to rent a room of one of my neighbors cabins and it was wonderful. It was a place for me to go, when I needed to get away. We homeschool our kids, which means that it’s not just our kids, but a lot of other kids are often just in the house and around and I love it.

SMITH: Well, and also, we’re on how many acres here? How many acres do you have?

PETERSON: It’s five acres. But it’s like, our neighbor — there’s no fences and our neighbors have a lot more than that, so it feels like —

SMITH: Yeah, and so I could imagine that this would be the place that the kids would want to come or you know.

PETERSON: Yeah. So a lot of our friends, like especially in the summer, there’s bonfires out here and a lot of craziness and I love it, but I also, whenever that cabin that I rented was no longer available to me, I was like, well it’s fine. I’ll just write in my house until I find another office. And during those two years I got almost no writing done. I mean that’s part of what I’m talking about, like not having any songs. It was partly practical. I just didn’t have a place.

So Jamie finally, it’s funny there was, it looks — when you’re a songwriter, it looks like you’re goofing around most of the time, you know. Or even books. Like if you’re an author, as you know, you sit in front of your computer, you might as well be checking Facebook for all anybody looking at you knows, you know, but you’re really actually pushing a giant boulder up a mountain.

SMITH: That’s right. Yeah, exactly. I mean that’s like the next word, right?

PETERSON: Yeah, it’s a lot of work.

SMITH: That’s the boulder. It’s like, what’s that next word?

PETERSON: And so with songwriting, I’ll be sending standing in the house with my guitar and with some new song and the way that I do it, I usually am kind of like, I just got to make it through, like when I’m practicing, I need to sing this new song five times through without any mistakes, you know. And if I can hit that fifth time, then I can let it rest and I’ll be singing and playing and then my daughter will need me to sign some homework assignment. And to her it looks like I’m just playing my guitar in the corner. But really I’m in the middle of, I’m in the last verse of the fifth time through. And I would be like, ah! You know, and get irritable or whatever. And Jamie would, you know, there were a few times where I just realized that I was like, I’m not being a good dad in these situations. I need to, I need to go away somewhere. And Jamie was like, you need to go away somewhere when you’re working. So thanks to the help of some really kind of people, we got this underway, like somebody kind of heard that I was struggling not having a place to work and they were like, we want to get you started on building something and so…

SMITH: Well, it’s fantastic. So that start, that gift allowed you to sort of prepare the site and build a foundation and it’s been a year in the making here, but just real quickly, I mean, you know, in some ways it looks like new construction. I mean it’s got a really cool design and it’s got, you know, modern windows and that sort of thing. But there are a couple of sort of retro features. Like, for example, even your front door. Tell me about that front door.

PETERSON: You know, I’m an Anglofile or not just Anglofile … Our family spent some time in Ireland, in Europe a few years ago and Sweden. And there’s just something about the beauty of the buildings over there that lights me up. You know, I feel like when you come back to America, which I also love, everything feels a little perfunctory, you know, compared to there where houses had names and you know, you’d go to a pub in England and there’s a sign on the wall that says Shakespeare used to hang out here. Oh my goodness. So I wanted the place to feel like that. I wanted to feel old and cozy. Or kind of like the Eagle and Child at Oxford. I wanted to feel like that. And so the door, I knew I wanted a round-top door. And so there’s a guy here in Nashville called named Blake Bergstrom who has this cool ministry/business called Legacy Builders and they do reclaimed barn wood furniture projects, but he, you know, he takes this old castoff would and it turns it into something beautiful. But he employs ex-convicts and guys in rehabs and trains them to do the thing. So he’s kind of living out this redemptive thing in his work. So yeah. So he made, we kind of send him pictures of the door we wanted and, yeah, he made it out of this old barn.

SMITH: So yeah, which is really cool. It’s like you say a round-top, which, I mean, just probably building the hole that the door would go in takes a little bit of craftsmanship in and of itself. And you’ve also got some other, like there’s a fireplace here in the cabin. In fact, you and I are sitting in front of the fireplace. Is there a story behind that mantle?

PETERSON: It’s just from an antique store down the road. Over there is an old victrola that I found for 100 bucks that actually works. I took it apart and put it back together and re-greased it. And on top of that is a statue of Kalmar and Janner from The Wingfeather Saga. That was a gift from a guy named Scott Lee Johnson in New England, a sculptor who liked my books and gave me that for my 40th birthday. So I’ve been wanting a home for that, for the — I built this cabin so I could house the statue.

SMITH: Well, it’s just really a remarkable sculpture, no question about it. And  there’s a lot of art on the walls and a lot of the books and we don’t have time to process all of them. But there is one on one of them I wanted to mention. You told me the story about how you acquired this comic strip and I’m not going to, you don’t have to recount the story except for anyone listening it involves Andrew Peterson getting into a fight.

PETERSON: I got in an argument, I was in an estate sale, looking for a bookshelf for the Chapter House. And I saw an original framed Batman comic strip drawn by Bob Kane who created Batman.

SMITH: Well, and now that’s significant in part because when you were a kid you thought you were going to grow up and be a —

PETERSON: Yeah, absolutely. I was a huge comic book fan. And, you know, all of my sketchbooks in high school were Batman. Like I was kind of known as the kid who drew Batman and planned to go to Savannah College of Art and Design and get a degree and go on to be a Batman penciler in New York. And I remember writing a letter to DC Comics stating my intentions when I was 16. So embarrassing now. So I’m a huge Batman fan and really love original art. Like a lot of the stuff on the walls is like the guys who drew the pictures for my books, I just hounded them. Please let me have the original. I want to frame the original and put it on the wall. So I’ve got a lot of that. So I saw this Batman thing and it was for $40, which is a crazy steal for an original piece of art by the guy who created Batman.

And as I was reaching for it, a guy came behind me and grabbed it out from under me. And I grabbed it immediately after he did and we had a stare down for about 30 seconds where I told him, you know that I’m right. You know that I was reaching for it. And so I don’t mind telling the story, but we stared each other down for about 20 seconds and my adrenaline was just pounding because I don’t usually get into direct conflict. But I had the moral high ground. He knew that I was right and he finally relented and I was trembling and I went and paid for it and got out of there, you know, it was like, I can’t believe I ended up with an original Batman. And, anyway, all that to say, about an hour ago, I just told you this, but for your listeners, I was at yet another estate sale in Nashville looking for it, for the bookshelf that I didn’t get at the last one. And I was standing in line waiting for them to open the doors. And I saw that guy walk up out of the corner of my eye. And I told Jamie, that’s the guy that I got into the fight with over the Batman comic strip. And it was so uncomfortable. And while we were standing there, he walked up to me and said, I want to apologize for last week. I just got so excited about that Batman comic and I’m really glad that you got it. I’m sorry that I acted that way.

SMITH: Wow.

PETERSON: Isn’t that a great story?

SMITH: Well, it is a fantastic story and you have honored him and that comic, I would say, appropriately, by framing it and putting it in a prominent place here. And so, you know, you’ve got your guitar, I don’t know if I should say this, but you’ve got your guitars here, which is kind of cool for me to see that because of course I’m a big fan of your music and a lot of your books here as well, which is really great.

And of course even though we’re here in your cabin, I do want you to just mention one other thing: Over the fireplace in your main house, you’ve got just this amazing, very large painting. Tell me about that.

PETERSON: Well, when we did the Kickstarter for The Warden and the Wolf King two years ago, whenever it was, one of the stretch goals that we reached was a map of Aerwiar by Justin Gerard, who was one of my very favorite illustrators in the world. And so we commissioned Justin to paint hand paint the map for Aerwiar, you know, big. And so we made the poster but then I ended up with the original. So, we framed it and have it over the wall. I just, yeah, I stare at it all day long.

SMITH: Well, it’s spectacular and I really appreciate you letting me into the main house, the sanctum sanctorum to … though this I could see easily, Andrew, that this could be the sanctum sanctorum in a very short time.

PETERSON: Oh, you’re always welcome.

SMITH: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you.

Andrew, a little bit ago you mentioned your album that you released last year, The Burning Edge of Dawn. You said it was kind of a heavy musical year and there was a lot of heavy stuff on that album as well. And it’s come out since the last time we talked. So do you mind saying a few words about that? I know it’s been out a while and, you know, the animated series is kind of really why we’re talking today, but I’d really love to hear you talk about that album and sort of where that came from and yeah.

PETERSON Well, I should start by just saying that I am, I don’t want to like compare this album to other albums, but I feel this really special kind of— I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the way Gabe, the producer Gabe Scott, made it happen with the way he didn’t have much to work with. I just had one song. I showed up with one is all I had had time to write.

SMITH: Which one was that, by the way?

PETERSON: The Dark Before the Dawn.

SMITH: Okay. Yeah.

PETERSON: Which is the first one on the record.

SMITH: Fantastic song.

PETERSON: Thank you.

MUSIC: I’ve been waiting for the sun to come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun. Till every shadow is scattered, every dragon’s on the run. Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come. And this is the dark, this is the dark before the dawn.

PETERSON: And so I showed up and I played him that and he said what else you got? And I said, I don’t have anything. That’s it. And there was this moment of silence where we both realized that in two months we had to turn in a finished record and this is not, this is the way some people do it all the time. It’s just not the way, I’m not that kind of writer that can just crank out stuff. And so it was a scary thing. So that was compounded by the fact that I was depressed. I was, as far as I can tell, I don’t know that I was diagnosed as having depression, but from having talked to people who have been, they said, oh yeah, that’s definitely what you were dealing with. I don’t know if it was midlife stuff. It was like I turned 40, had my 20th wedding anniversary, finished The Wingfeather Saga, which was a 10 year project. My contract with my label was up, so I had this weird moment where I had to decide if I was going to continue with them and I did because they’re awesome. But, and then my band has changed. Like Ben and Andy, the two guys that I had toured with for about a decade, we just gotten a place in our lives where they’re too busy to come on the road with me every weekend. And so I found myself on the road alone for the first time in a decade and it was just a weird. A lot of things felt like they were coming to an end and I could not see what was beginning yet. And so that, and it was February. And February in Nashville is depressing and wet and muddy and gray. And I just was, I was depressed, which for me looked like crying at the drop of a hat over things that didn’t seem that sad and feeling kind of hopeless and, I don’t know, it was just a really tough year about.

And that was when I had to make this record. So what oI’m grateful for is that the album feels very present to what was happening right then. Like, a lot of times you know, you get to pick and choose which songs go on to record. And I remember hearing somebody say, Rich Mullen said this, somebody said something like, Oh, you just seem like you have such a close relationship with Jesus and you’re so wise and blah, blah, blah. And Rich was like, you’re basing that on the 45 minutes my album and that’s my best 45 minutes in the last two years that you’re hearing and I’m choosing to let you hear those things. You know what I mean? Like, you try to be as vulnerable as you can. But ultimately the songwriter is letting you hear what he wants to let you hear.

And so for me it was like I didn’t have the luxury of going, well, this song’s a little too personal or I don’t want to write about that because that’s a little too much.

SMITH: Because that’s all you had.

PETERSON: This is my only choice. Yeah. And so the songs ended up being written in this kind of desperate state of I’ve got to have a song about something. So I might as well just write about this thing, this kind of hellish season that I’m in. And so the irony to me is I was writing the songs in this panic and in a pretty sad place and it’s probably the most joyful sounding album that I think that I’ve ever put out. And I didn’t mean for that to be the case. I think part of that is Gabe adding his gifting to the production of the record, but I don’t know, it just felt very much like God was leaning on me pretty hard saying pay attention. Like, yes, you’re depressed but you’re surrounded by this great love, you know. And so yeah, when it was all said and done, I just ended up with an album that I was kind of embarrassed by some of the lyrics, just sheepish about letting people hear some of this stuff. But you know, as it always is, those are the songs that people comment on or whatever.

MUSIC: I tried to be brave, but I hid in the dark. I sat in that cave and prayed for a spark to light up all the pain that remained in my heart. And the rain kept falling, down on the church where I cried, I could hear all the laughter and love and I tried to get up and get out. But a part of me died and the rain kept falling down.

SMITH: What helped for you? Was it getting to work? Was it the community?

PETERSON: Yeah. Wow, that’s a good question. The first thing that popped in my mind when you asked that question, was a picture of my wife’s face. Jamie, she was incredibly patient with me during that time. You know, there wasn’t a moment where she was like, pull yourself together. I’m sick of you. Not that she would ever do that, but there’s always this real, solid compassion in her. And she just kept — I mean, there’s a song on the record called We Will Survive. And it was written for her. But it came from the fact that there were so many times when I would feel just like, I dunno what to do with my life. Like my band is gone and my, I don’t feel any direction. I don’t. I’m sick of touring, I’m sick of all this stuff. I just want to be home with my kids and my wife. But I’m also called to this, you know. That’s one of the things that I keep circling back to is that I asked for this when I was 19 and I committed my life to the ministry in some way. I mean, I publicly told God, whatever gifts I have there for you, like I want to lay them at your feet and if that looks like me being a songwriter, then that’s what I want to do. And so like as clearly as a person can feel called to something, I have felt called to use my gifts in that specific way over the years. And so in that calling, I was never given a promise that it would be easy or that I would always like it.

But there has been fruit, like he has caused fruit to grow out of this kind of the row that he gave me to work in the field or whatever. And so I kind of go, well, I just have to keep doing this as long as I feel this vocational call to this thing. And so Jamie would just look me in the eye and say, we’re gonna make it. There is an end to this. This is not the rest of your life. This is the season that you’re going through. My counselor, Al Andrews, which I can’t overstate what a tremendous help it is to go and talk to somebody, a counselor, a Christian counselor, who can help you work through these things. Like, I want there to be no stigma out there for people talking to a counselor because it was tremendously helpful.

And honestly it was just time. It was like realizing, like I just told one of my kids this the other day who was going through a tough season. I was like, this is not forever. Like as a Christian, I believe that suffering always produces good fruit, like that’s what God does with suffering. It produces good fruit. So if you are in a season where you are suffering and you’re sick of it and whatever. This is a pretty visceral illustration, but I told my kid, I was like, you’re in the birth canal right now. Like in the movies when you see the mom screaming and giving birth, like you are being shoved through a really difficult thing. And the promise on the other side of that is joy like Jesus for the joy set before him endured the cross. Like that’s a picture of labor and birth, like who isn’t moved and the in the movies when you see the mom screaming and the anguish that happens, followed by the joy of this new life? And so that’s what I have to believe is happening when you’re in that you’re in the birth canal. And on the other side of it is new life every time if you’re the Lord. I really believe that to be true. And so Jamie kept, and my church, too, kept reminding me we believe in the resurrection and the life of the world to come. I kept telling myself that. I believe in the resurrection and the life of the world to come. And that includes little resurrections. You know what I mean?

Of course, the creed is talking about our resurrection. But I think that our lives are full of them. Death and resurrection, death and resurrection. It keeps playing itself out again and again. And I think that’s what helped was this reminder given to me by my family, my church, scripture that God is in the business of bringing joy out of suffering. So if I’m suffering, there’s joy on the other end of it.

MUSIC: Do you remember how we used to drive over the mountain and down to the river bend? Where the ghosts of the valley all haunt the tracks. The highway calls your stories back again. Oh, Jamie, I’m all alone out here and I all I used to know is in the wind. And now I don’t recognize a thing. I need a brand new song to sing. So tell me the story I still need to hear. Tell me we’re gonna make it out alive again. I need to know there’s nothing left to fear. There’s nothing left to hide. So will you look the eye and say we will survive?


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.

iTunes

Free

Overcast

Free

Stitcher

Free

Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.