There is a level of songwriting depth and maturity that one acquires the old-fashioned way: spending two decades on the road, playing thousands of shows all over the USA and Europe, sleeping on couches and floors, crowdfunding a dozen records paid for by hard-earned fans, and racking up millions of miles in cars, trains, and planes all around the world.
That depth and maturity is richly evident in Vanessa Peters’s new album, Foxhole Prayers, due out October 5 on Idol Records. In Foxhole Prayers, Peters’s already-considerable songwriting prowess has risen to its fullest stature, presented as a concise, gut-punching collection of songs composed of piercing observations of both the outside and inside worlds.
In Foxhole Prayers, Peters shines a bright light on the modern world, illuminating the perilous rise of populist politics, the seemingly incessant swirl of violence around us, the struggle to remain positive in dark times, and the need to stand strong against hate and desperation. The album is dark at times, but Peters also presents us with upbeat songs like, reminding us that we forge our own luck from sheer determination and in finding gratitude even in the face of hardship.
Throughout the album, Peters demonstrates that she has not only reached an entirely new level of lyricism, but has vaulted into a new echelon of musicality. The album reflects a pleasingly diverse yet cohesive collection of styles, effortlessly weaving modern electronica elements and drum machines into more familiar acoustic and rock arrangements.
All of this is evident in her song “The Riddle”, which we are excited to premiere today on Glide. The tune has a dreamy, calming effect as Peters offers up her softer vocals and catchy acoustic strumming that gives way to a sampling of electronic orchestration in the chorus. True to form, Peters combines pop, indie rock and lyrical storytelling to give us a sound that feels simultaneously fresh and familiar. Once again she reveals her depth as a songwriter as she reflects on the ups and downs of an earlier period in her life.
Listen to “The Riddle” and read our chat with Vanessa Peters below…
Tell me a bit about the song. What inspired it or prompted you to write it? Is there a story behind it?
This one has a long history. I never throw anything away, and I’ve had bits of this song kicking around since… probably 2005. Crazy. I lived in this great rent house in Austin around 2004 (which has sadly since been torn down and McMansioned), and the front porch had a tree growing through the middle of it. It was such a lovely place to sit and play guitar and just watch the world go by.
This song originally was composed of tons of memories/images from that time in my life. I whittled it down to my favorite image – that tree, which I can still see so clearly. It’s funny too, because I don’t think there are any photos of that house, or of us sitting on that porch. As much as I dislike the photos-all-time world we live in now, it is kind of nice that we have those images ready to pull up at any time. That tree lives only in my memory now.
That time in my life held a lot of conflicting emotions for me, and it took me years to make peace with them. The top (and close) of the song – I woke up resurrecting demons / smothered by the details we push way down / they always claw back to the surface / dead weight I can’t drown – was written one morning on a notepad after I woke up with that awful feeling of being trapped in a bad dream you can’t shake.
What drove the sonics on this one? Was there something in particular you wanted to attain with the way this song sounds? Did it end up sounding like you wanted it to, or did it go in a different direction?
I let Rip (Rowan, producer of the album) drive this one. My early demos of this song are super super simple and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to take it. There wasn’t even a bridge, though I did end up writing an instrumental one while we were in the studio. But he had all these great ideas – we’d both been listening to a lot of Neil Finn during that time, and he wanted to try some Finn-inspired keyboards and drum loops. He made that weird spacey outro that I adore (and which segues so nicely into “Foxhole Prayers”). And Joe (Reyes) came up with a really lovely, kind of sad and lonely guitar line that I just loved. I like to hand over my demos and just let the band get creative. It’s weird – I’m a control freak about my songs up to a certain point – usually in the early stages of nailing down the lyrics and the basic structure – but then I really do like to step back and see what everyone else brings to the table once we’re in the studio. We recorded much of this record as a band, everyone kind of learning the songs as we all went along together, and it was just a really fun, creative process.
What other artists inspire you the most as a songwriter?
I like songs that have a short story element to them, but I also really appreciate a clever turn of phrase, and so I’m drawn to artists who can do both. Josh Ritter, Aimee Mann, and Gary Louris have always been favorites of mine. I love Annika Norlin as well (Hello Saferide). Considering English is her second language, she comes up with these remarkable lines that just leave me nodding my head and saying “Yes!” and then starting the song all over again. Melody is important but lyrics really sell a song for me.
Foxhole Prayers is out on October 5. For more music and info visit vanessapeters.com.
Photo credit: Brent Baxter Photography