Singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters talks about her new album, Dancing With the Beast, and debuts her new music video for “Arguing With Ghosts,” exclusively with C&I.
Gretchen Peters’ new record, Dancing With the Beast, takes today’s news and creates relevant song-stories about women.
A strong standout is the dreamy “Arguing With Ghosts,” a story of an older woman reflecting on her youth. Driven by slow pickings, winding steel guitar, and light drums, and wrapped in Peters’ deep, warm vocals, the track flaunts the best of her abounding talent.
The music video for “Arguing With Ghosts” is just as powerful and compelling as the song it portrays. Shot in a bright, misty haze, the video centers on close-ups and slow-motion to portray a strained relationship between a younger woman and an older woman who is no longer present.
Read our interview with Peters and get an exclusive first look at the beautifully shot music video for “Arguing With Ghosts,” below.
Cowboys & Indians: What has been the best response to your new record?
Gretchen Peters: It’s a dark album, full of songs about difficult subjects, and I think the thing that has made me the happiest is that people are willing to go in and listen to these stories, as painful as some of them are, and come out the other side feeling that there’s some kind of light and some kind of hope in the songs. Because that’s what I hope for. I mean, I’m not unaware that I write about these characters that are in a really, really dire situation sometimes, but I love to think that people go in and find some kind of heroism and some kind of hope in their spirits.
C&I: What was the writing and recording process like for you?
Peters: I don’t find writing easy. I struggle with [it]. ... I guess I’m a typical writer that way. It’s very hard for me to see the forest for the trees when I’m writing the songs. I think the writing was made a little bit harder, really, by the fact that I felt I had to include the landscape of America in 2017 without writing blatantly political songs because that’s not really what I do. It was sort of a balancing act of including this landscape in these characters’ lives. In a sense, it was a typical album process for me.
The writing process is really difficult; the recording process is pure joy. I worked with the same team making this album that I have on the past two, Doug Lancio and Barry Walsh — the three of us co-produced. We really have a nice rhythm. We know each other very well.
The recording process is like you get to sequester yourself in a big sandbox for a week and play. That is, by stark contrast to the writing process, really fun.
C&I: Any specific memories that stand out from the recording process?
Peters: A lot of hours in Doug’s basement. I did all my vocals in Doug’s basement. It’s bizarre, but it seems like such a long time ago because we just got off the road for a month. I do remember one thing: I went over to Europe and did a couple of shows and took about a three-week vacation. That was something I will never do again. It was excruciating because the whole time I was over there I was wondering, How’s the record? Is the record any good? What have we done? I felt so disconnected from it. I really learned a lesson there in that I need to stay with the project until it’s done.
C&I: You deal with difficult subjects in the album that center around women. Who were the women and/or situations that inspired you to write this album?
Peters: What I always do when I’m writing is listen for voices, listen for characters. The ones that really seem insistent are the ones that I end up writing about. In a sense, the women in this album were these characters in my head. Some of them are obviously influenced by real-life people. I don’t usually know that until I’m done writing the song. For instance, the song “Disappearing Act,” I think there’s a lot of my mom in there. My mom passed away in late 2016 and I think a lot of her voice ended up in there, but I wasn’t thinking of her when I was writing it. She just came out; her voice was in there. Same thing with “Arguing With Ghosts.” I think I was channeling this old woman. That song I co-wrote with Ben Glover and Matraca Berg.
The women, the characters that inspired these songs, came from inside me, but, to me, they end up being very real people. Their stories are very real, and I think that’s the only way to write is to get inside of a character’s skin until you really, authentically and honestly, know what they say and what they do and what they feel.
C&I: What artists inspired you for this album? Where did you get inspiration for the sound and so forth?
Peters: As far as the sonics, the sounds on this record, the three of us were building on what we had done before with Blackbirds and, before that, with Hello Cruel World. I always start out with a little playlist of songs or tracks that inspire me, but the album never ends up sounding like that, strangely enough. It’s just a way for me to get into the musical landscape, if you will. A lot of what I do is rely on Doug Lancio for sounds because he responds to my songs in terms of textures and sounds and that’s what I love about working with him. Actually, when I’m in the writing and recording process, I really try not to listen to other artists, other music, too much because I don’t want to copy.
C&I: How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist since then for this new album?
Peters: Blackbirds gave me confidence. ... There were a couple of things that happened in my life right around then that made me feel, in a sense ... I felt less like I had anything to prove. The success of Blackbirds made me feel that confidence, and I was really satisfied with that album. I was satisfied with the way it came out and I was satisfied with the way it was received.
The other thing that happened the year before that came out was being inducted in the National Songwriters Hall of Fame. That was a great honor and I’m thrilled about it, but I didn’t really realize until it happened how much it helped me integrate the two sides of my career.
C&I: You’ve written for so many people — Tricia Yearwood, Martina McBride, George Strait, many others. What’s the difference between writing for others and writing for yourself?
Peters: Well, see, I never really did write the songs for those people. I don’t think I would be very good at that. I’ve tried that on a couple of occasions and I’ve never been successful at it. What I did, always, from the start, was write songs because they felt like they needed to be written. Again, the voices that were loudest in my head ended up coming out on paper. I was incredibly, unbelievably lucky to have artists of that magnitude feel like they wanted to inhabit those songs. ...
C&I: You were born in New York City and raised in Boulder, Colorado. When you go back home, what are your favorite places to visit?
Peters: I spent my first 13 years in New York and then the rest of my teenage years in Boulder. Obviously, when I go back to New York, Manhattan is like a playground. I don’t know that I have a favorite place in New York. The beaches of Long Island are really special to me because I spent so much of my childhood there, so I would say that’s one thing. Honestly, I just like to roam the Lower East Side in New York when I’m there. That’s one of my favorite things to do.
In Boulder, there’s a little area in the foothills, kind of above the city, a place called Chautauqua. That also holds a lot of really good memories for me. There are hiking trails just above Boulder, and the last time I was there we spread my mom’s ashes up there. There are family members’ ashes up there. I have a lot of memories of hiking as a teenager up there. I smoked my first cigarette up there, you know, so I would say the foothills in Boulder where I’ve hiked would be my most favorite place there.
C&I: What’s something that fans might not know about you?
Peters: My dad was an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and an author. When I was little, he worked at CBS Reports, and so when I was about 5 years old, I would say, I sat on Walter Cronkite’s knee. Probably most of them would not know that.
Watch the new video for “Arguing With Ghosts,” below.
For more information on Gretchen Peters and Dancing With the Beast, visit her website.