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A Dirty Dozen with VANESSA PETERS – May 2021


According to a recent press release: “Texas-and-Italy-based singer-songwriter Vanessa Peters is set to release a new album, Modern Age, on April 23, 2021 via Idol Records. It’s easy to casually lump Peters into a generic Americana category; in reality, her albums have actually run the gamut from indie-pop to alt-country to experimental folk to ’70s-era throwback singer/songwriter rock. With Modern Age, her second release for Idol Records, she has built a modern/classic rock album that reveals a steely defiance. In the midst of a truly dark year, she and the band have made an album that is simultaneously powerful but playful; intense yet sensitive; both angry and hopeful. In Modern Age, we find Peters once again writing and delivering songs of exceptional lyrical and musical power, further cementing her reputation among the new generation of American songwriters.” We get Vanessa to discuss new music, influences, and more…

Photo credit: Rip Rowan

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

I think this release might catch some fans off guard, but hopefully in a good way. It’s more rock than any of my other albums, and there really aren’t any sad songs.  There are definitely some songs that carry lyrical weight – it’s not just rainbows and bubblegum shalalala pop – but I think it’s a little less emotionally taxing than some of my previous albums.  I don’t know about hidden nuggets per se, but I think that longtime fans will appreciate the timeline of my life that progresses in musical form from an old song of mine called “Gone” from 2004 to a track on this album called “Never Really Gone.”

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I don’t know if there was an exact moment. I always loved music growing up, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my singing ability and didn’t know the first thing about songwriting.  I studied literature, and, like so many folk artists before me, my first songs were just poems parlayed into songs, arranged with the most basic of chord progressions.  It took a long time before I felt brave enough to answer the question, “What do you do?” with “I’m a musician.”  I think I kind of fell into music via a series of happy accidents, and once I overcame my stage fright, I realized that I actually enjoyed performing, which surprised the heck out of me.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Not really. I grew up listening to all kinds of music, but around the time I bought my first guitar, when I was 18 or 19, I was listening to a lot of female singer/songwriters like Tori Amos, Indigo Girls, Alanis Morissette, etc., so I taught myself a lot of their songs as a way to practice guitar (I never took lessons, though maybe I should have!). In the early 2000s, when I was toying with the idea of trying to do open mics, etc., I saw several musicians perform in small clubs — Sarah Harmer, Aimee Mann, and David Gray come to mind — and I think I realized that maybe I could be comfortable with that level of performing.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

I loved Billy Joel (what a gift for melody he has), and when I was younger I was obsessed with Julie Andrews (her gorgeous, crystalline voice is just magical). I also loved musicals and Broadway, which is funny because there’s nothing theatrical about my songs.  By the time I was interested in writing my own songs, I was really into singer/songwriters like Aimee Mann and Elliott Smith.  I still am, though my tastes have broadened tremendously over the last few years.  This last year we listened almost exclusively to three artists — Bill Evans (jazz), Steely Dan, and A Girl Called Eddy.  Random but true.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

That’s tough. Probably Dan Wilson. He’s an incredibly gifted songwriter, both lyrically and melodically.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

When I’m talking to European fans, I often use ’70s singer/songwriter references, because I do think my musical style is not super far removed from, say, Fleetwood Mac or Neil Young but with a female lead. In the States or Canada, I can usually reference Sarah Harmer or Kathleen Edwards and they’ll know who I am talking about.  Reviewers often say Sheryl Crow, which I don’t disagree with; it’s probably a decent comparison.  Many of them say Lucinda Williams, which doesn’t make me cringe (I’m flattered!) but I don’t hear it at all.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Rip usually cooks (he’s a great cook) and I usually get the groceries and do drinks and clean up. The rest of the guys usually set up their gear/instruments and are banging out a tune before I’ve even put away the groceries.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to *be* starstruck, in the sense that I haven’t opened for many of my musical heroes yet, or had the chance to meet them. I was definitely super nervous when we supported Sarah Harmer on her last tour through Texas several years ago.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

I love that it affords us the chance to travel. While it’s true that we don’t get to be tourists in any meaningful sense – unless we have a day off somewhere cool – it is nice that for large stretches of the year we get to see new towns, meet new audiences, and just step out of our day-to-day routine. I miss that. I used to work at a study abroad center in Italy; I think if the school were to re-open, I would love to run it and introduce a new generation of students to the joys of travel and study abroad.  There are a thousand reasons why it will probably never happen, but if it were possible, I already have my dream team of staff in mind.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

Whether I think the current business model of the music industry is fair or sustainable — and the answer is no. I do tire of generic questions like, “What is this album about?”  It’s rare that I can sum up in a few lines what an album means to me, and besides, I’d rather know what it means to the listener.  They don’t need me to tell them what it means.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I think I would have taken longer to release my first album.  I was still learning how to write, how to sing, how to do everything. There are a lot of songs on my first two records that I have a lot of nostalgia and fondness for, but there are several that I would not record if I were making those albums today. If I’d had a manager or a label or even someone in the record industry that I trusted to guide me, my guess is that they would have tried to slow my roll a bit, you know?  Then again, knowing myself and how stubborn I can be, who is to say I would have listened?

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

It might sound odd, but I don’t really attach to records in that way. For many musicians (my husband, for example, who is the drummer in our band and also the producer), it would be a dream to go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions of “X” or “Y” by his favorite bands. Maybe it’s because I came at music first as a lyricist and only later as a musician, but I rarely find myself captivated by tales from recording sessions.  I love the records that I love for the songs that make up the record, not because of the sonic characteristic of the album itself. 

BONUS QUESTION – Due to the current world situation with COVID-19 / quarantine / shelter in place, what have you discovered you miss the most from your life before the pandemic struck?

We have been really fortunate, all things considered. And in many ways I have found that I’ve adapted pretty well to staying at home — turns out that given enough time to settle in, I’m actually a homebody. But I do miss touring and playing shows live in front of an audience that I can see. Livestreams have been great, but they are inherently limiting and just plain awkward in so many ways. I can’t wait to play a real show again.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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