This Q&A is from the UK’s Aspire Magazine.
Can we expect the same Gretchen Peters in ‘Blackbirds’ that your fans have loved through all your other albums?
I think I evolve as an artist with each album. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more and more inspired by singer-songwriters who are talking about aging within the context of their art. Aging and mortality seem to be taboo for female singer-songwriters in part because our value has depended so much upon our youth and sexuality. The depth and beauty and terror and richness of life in my 50s is, to me, the deepest well of experience I can draw from as an artist. I want to write about that stuff because it’s real, it’s there, and so few women seem to be talking about it. The songs are dark, but I hope that people find beauty in the darkness.
Have you ever considered radically changing your style?
I don’t think about my “style”. My style is just what I happen to love; if there’s a genre that I fit into, I haven’t found it yet. I’m a singer-songwriter, and I’m always going to be driven by lyrics, by the story in the song. My musical style is really just an amalgamation of all the music I’ve loved over my lifetime.
How did you feel when you were added to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame last year? Knowing you were joining legends like Johnny Cash must have been a surreal experience.
It was completely surreal. Almost all my heroes are in the Hall of Fame – Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Mickey Newbury – so many greats. And 95% of the songs which brought me there were written alone in a room; so to receive such a public recognition in front of my peers and colleagues was a bit like walking out of a closet into a huge surprise party! Like, “oh, you noticed?!”.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a young female singer-songwriter?
Own your talent. It’s so easy to believe that other people know better than you – but if you’re an artist you are born with an inner compass, and your job is to nurture it, protect it and follow it. For young women in the music business especially, there are so many points in your career where you will be told to “let someone else handle it”, or that you need help, or that you must offer up your sexuality as part of your “package”. Beware, and be aware.
What do you most love about touring?
I love the fact that life is reduced to a very simple equation. Reality is suspended for the duration of the tour – and at the end of the day you get to do what you love most. It’s the circus – it’s heaven.
Is there a particularly special song on the album?
That’s a little like asking someone which one is their favorite child! I can’t choose a favorite, but I will say that the song “Jubilee” is very personal to me. My mother is in her 90s and she is an inspiration and a lesson in living well. I wrote the song in one afternoon and recorded it the next day. I was in tears the whole time.
If you could describe your new album in three words, what would they be?
Dark. Deep. Real.