Grammy Award-winning songwriter Gretchen Peters has a lot on her mind. Today (August 19th) she’s releasing her new live album ‘The Show: The Live In The UK’ which was recorded in 2019. She also just announced that, in June 2023, she and partner Barry Walsh will retire from regular touring.
While the events of the pandemic figured into Gretchen’s decision, she started thinking about getting off the road as far back as 2019. The creative process, as we discussed, requires a certain stillness and calm, one which is difficult, if not impossible, to find on the road, in the hustle and bustle of touring. Gretchen told me she felt she was spending a year on the road on the road and had to “recharge” before she could get into that space again. She released an excellent album of Mickey Newbury songs, The Night You Wrote That Song, in 2020, and the live album drops this week, but her last LP of original material was 2018’s Dancing With The Beast, a terrific exploration of the trials and traumas faced by women.
Related to the pressures of writing, Gretchen agreed with my disdain for artificial goals like word counts, time lengths for writings, and events like National Novel Writing Month, which sets a goal of producing 50,000 words in 30 days. The more I talk to professional writers, I find that, unless they are under some kind of contractual obligation, they eschew these constructs, focusing on quality, rather than quantity of work.
While she’s leaving the road, Peters is most definitely not leaving music. One of the reasons she’s made this decision, she emphasized, is to bolster her creative resolve. She’s going to continue to write and record, and she looks forward to being able to do that without the pressures of being on the road. She admitted it was a hard decision, as she loves performing, and she’s become close with her audience. The UK, as she’s mentioned several times, has become like a second home to her, as it has to many artists.
It may not be polite to speak of a woman’s age, but it was an issue that Gretchen and I touched on. She’s aged rather gracefully, and I’ve found that people are surprised to find she’s coming to the standard age for retirement. Robert Earl Keen, who is slightly older, is completing his final tour now. While many artists, especially the biggest names, continue to tour well past an age when most have happily slowed down, it’s not surprising to see artists deciding to get off the road at this point in their lives. While acts like Springsteen and ZZ Top may be more present in the popular consciousness, folks like Peters and Keen are probably more typical.
I asked Gretchen about what she’s been occupied with as she contemplates this next stage of her life. She and her partner have been splitting time between Nashville and Florida for a while, and they are building a new home in Florida, on the water. She’s dived into that project, researching arrangements of living space and how to build safely on the water.
Talking to Peters, one is struck at how calm and level-headed she is. There’s a popular conception of artists as neurotic, and she bucks that stereotype. She mentioned she has “left brain” strengths and was an accountant in a former life. She used to worry that she didn’t have enough drama or neuroticism, which is part of a pernicious myth that’s been perpetuated on artists. Steve Earle has been clear that his work after getting sober is better, and it’s hard to argue that his work from ’95-‘2000 isn’t his best; Lucinda Williams had to deal with people who were worried she wouldn’t be able to write after she got married. It’s all ridiculous. My creative career is starting to take off, and that was only possible after I got my house in order — stable employment, personal relationships, etc. If anything, it’s probably true that stability does more for an artistic career. And it’s easy forget that some great songwriters, like Paul McCartney and John Prine, aren’t the least bit “crazy.”
More mundane tasks, I mentioned, can have a certain relaxing, even therapeutic quality. Putting my vinyl into slipcases and cataloging them on Allmusic, I suggested, gives me a sense of control in a universe where control is fleeting. “I may not have control” over much of anything, I said, “but I have control over this.” She thought I was onto something, and added, “Of course, control is an illusion.” As she and her partner have experienced — they were finally hit by Covid this year, and their neighborhood was hit by the Nashville tornadoes a few years ago — one is always at the mercy of whatever the universe might have in store.
If you haven’t seen Peters perform live, make sure to see her during her final run this year. It’s a great, intimate experience, and one you will treasure.