Meet Andrew Peterson
When he wrote his first national single, "Nothing to Say," his confession about creation leaving him speechless, he was cross-legged with a guitar on his living room floor in college, with no inkling that the song would ever be heard by more than a few people. Not only did "Nothing to Say" end up on the radio, it quickly became a top ten single on the Adult Contemporary Chart. Andrew's first national Watershed Records release, Carried Along, was named one of the "Top Ten Albums of 2000" by the editors of CCM Magazine. The album also earned three top ten debuts in its first week, including highest debut on Adult Contemporary Soundscan Sales Chart, and ranked on the Billboard Magazine Internet Sales Chart above Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sting and Backstreet Boys.
The process of writing the songs on his latest offering, Clear to Venus, happened during Andrew's time on the road. He wrote while traveling as an opening act for several artist tours, including Caedmon's Call, labelmate Bebo Norman, and Fernando Ortega, as well as his own solo tour, all of which took him from Washington to Florida to Kalamazoo. With one album under his belt, this new batch of songs is the result of Andrew observing other seasoned musicians, and a more intense reflection on what it means to live the life of a songwriter whose home has become the road.
"I think songwriting is a craft and hopefully I'm learning what's good and what's bad and how to get the point across in the best way possible. From being around other songwriters and studying them, and also looking back on the last record, I saw things I could do better, " admits Andrew. "It can be hard to be really honest when you know everyone is watching and listening. So I made a conscious effort to say what was really on my heart and not just what I felt like people wanted me to say."
Beneath the songwriter, Andrew is just a regular small-town Florida guy who now makes his home in Nashville, and performs roughly 150 concerts per year by way of the Winnebago he affectionately calls 'Millennium Falcon.' It is Andrew's time spent traveling that offers him the truest sense of family. Not only are his wife Jamie (backing vocals), and their two small boys, Aedan and Asher Jesse, along for the ride, but his best friend Gabe (multi-instrumentalist, backing vocals) is with him too. The group finds home and hospitality as they stop along their journeys to share some tales with folks who are eager to welcome them inside. For audience members, their concerts create a feel of sitting around a cozy living room, eyes peering forward, minds deep in thought at the expressions of a detailed storyteller.
"Sharing my music with people, the writing of it, and translating what God is teaching me to the people who are listening, that's when I feel the most at home," Andrew explains. "We want to engage the audience as much as possible and create an atmosphere where everybody is active in the concert, and where we feel like we all got to know each other better before the end of the night."
Getting to know his typically church-based audience is not a far stretch for Andrew, because he grew up as a preacher's kid. Attending Sunday School each week, he discovered Biblical images of David and Goliath, Moses in the desert, the meekness of a mustard seed, and the prodigal son returning home--- images that would one day be a hallmark of his stories set to music. Remarkably, Andrew is able to convey such stories, as well as the issues of inadequacy and confusion that evolve from them, to audiences of all generations.
"We have whole families starting from the little kid who is seven years old, all the way to their grandpa, standing there telling me that they loved the show," recalls Andrew. "That's a huge compliment to me because if I can connect with people across the board, then I think I'm accomplishing something pretty special."
His ability to relate to families is partly due to the fact that Andrew's music contemplates age-old struggles, and by its transparency, offers comfort to anyone who ponders their purpose in life, wrestles with holding onto faith, grows weary, and then as "No More Faith" explains, presses on 'until this race is won.' And in Andrew's songwriting, these bittersweet complexities are offered with a beauty and humility that make them more bearable and easier to understand.
Whether his stories reveal something as symbolic as an anecdote of lost luggage, as clever as seeing human need through the eyes of a tarnished penny, as revealing as a glimpse of Heaven, or as profoundly moving as a heart being stirred to sing for the Lord, all are a look into the window of Andrew's life. Yet magically, the listener will leave with something as intimate and applicable as if he was singing a song specifically about them."People continually reaffirm that these songs mean something to them and they have an experience where they realize, 'This is what I have always thought, but I didn't know quite how to think it or say it or feel it," describes Gabe. "I don't think Andrew's songwriting is just some groundbreaking idea or theology or philosophy. It's all of that, but it's also simple theology and simple philosophy, about God's love and His grace. It's just a unique and inviting way to say things about God to people. They feel themselves being drawn in in a way that is fresh."
Unlike many musicians who tour for the sake of promoting a record, Andrew sees it as just the opposite. "The record is there to support what people saw live," he explains. "When people come to the concert and hear something that touches them, I want them to be able to take the song home and keep listening to it. And to be able to dig into those other layers that hopefully exist in the song."
Those vivid and evocative layers are brought to life on the eleven tracks of Clear to Venus, produced by Glenn Rosenstein (U2, Caedmon's Call, Carried Along). To create the eclectic album, Andrew and his friends camped out at Nashville's Highpass Recording studio, and later reached beyond the wood-stacked walls of the Dark Horse studio, to encapsulate their signature three-part harmonies, melding them with a variety of sounds. There's emotional piano and cello woven into the vulnerable lyrics of "Let Me Sing," layered guitars on "Isn't It Love," swelling Hammond B-3 organ driving "Steady As She Goes," mood-defining dobro on "Song and Dance" and even the echoes of a gospel choir looming about among "Loose Change." Perhaps most revealing is the hammered dulcimer dancing along on "No More Faith," stirring memories of Andrew's musical mentor, the late Rich Mullins, to whom he is often compared.
Although they never actually met, Mullins' songs resonated with Andrew from his very beginnings as a musician. Upon discovering the brilliant, inspired brand of storytelling relatively far along in Mullins' career, Andrew quickly swiped up every album he could get his hands on, then proceeded to learn the songs and play them at his church concerts during his years attending a small Florida Bible college. The first song Andrew ever performed in public by himself was Mullins' pleading melody, "If I Stand." He remembers, "I cried through the entire song, partly because I was so emotionally moved by it, but mostly because I was scared to death."
Possibly Andrew relates to Mullins, because while neither are known for their particularly operatic voices or virtuoso guitar playing, both have so evidently been spoken to with images deep and powerful, and then responded to a yearning to relay those images to men and women, young and old. Fittingly, Andrew was honored earlier this year when a friend of the Mullins' family offered him an unrecorded selection of Rich's songs to pour through and recreate one for his album. The song Andrew chose was "Mary Picked the Roses."
"That song is still teaching me," says Andrew. "I think it's about the whole idea of learning your gift. I have realized recently that you, as an artist, are not your gift. You are yourself and your gift is what God has given you. I know that my songs come from Jesus, and likewise, Rich Mullins had an understanding that his songs were not from him, but rather they were God speaking through him."
There's an irony in the title Clear to Venus because Andrew aims to be as down-to-earth as possible. Whether by his lyrics, or his transparency from stage, Andrew presents his songs as self-revealing pages in a photo album, pictures of life as he labors through it. By singing about something he is confused about, admitting he doesn't have all the answers, even sometimes forgetting the words to his songs, it's his ability to relate that's most captivating and that compels people to grab hold of his music.
"The illusion is that if you were really honest and really yourself, that people would see who you are and they would back away," says Andrew. "But the truth of the matter is, we're all pretty much the same deep down…we're all goofballs, we all forget the words, and when you can admit that, it breaks down walls."
Once those barriers are broken, Andrew's songs disclose that he is simply just a guy trying to do his best with what he's been given. Thankfully, what he's been given is a profound gift to manipulate pockets of his life into a universal, yet intimate language, and spread those words from city to city, church to church, all the while growing as a husband, as a father, and as a songwriter who's acutely aware of how richly he's been blessed.
"People have asked me whether or not they should do music or be a banker or whether they should go into the mission field or take a local position," says Andrew. "One of the things I say is that when it comes down to two different things that are both in the scope of God's will, go for the crazier of the two. Do the nuttier thing, because Jesus said He came so that we might have life and have it to the fullest. For me, the way to have life to the fullest was to get in my car with my wife, drive to Nashville and say, 'Let's give up your teaching job so that we can drive around and see the world together and play music… even if there are only five people who want to listen to it.'"
The lyrics to the title track most aptly echo just where Andrew Peterson, a traveling songwriter, is coming from and where he eventually always finds himself…
We've got planes to catch, bills to pay We won't make it home today We've got shows from Boston clear to Venus But if America is listening, as long as I've got songs to sing We can always find a home right here between us...here between us.