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For more than twenty years now, Andrew Peterson has been about the business of quietly changing lives in four-minute increments. In the city of Nashville where music is an industry in the same way fast food, generic greeting cards, and bumper stickers are industries, Peterson has forged his own path, refusing the artistic compromises that so often come with chasing album sales and radio singles and creating instead a long line of songs that ache with sorrow, joy and integrity, and that are, at the end of the day, part of a real, ongoing, human conversation.

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“I’m pretty emotional, so I was always looking for something that would evoke some strong feeling—whether loneliness, sadness, joy or peace. A great song could transport me, and as a teen I fell in love with songwriting because I was fascinated by the possibility of composing something that might move someone else. It wasn’t until later that I heard Rich Mullins’s music and I understood that there was something more important than just emotion—there was truth, and poetry, and longing. A song can help you to feel loved, less alone, more awake. What other art can change your life in four minutes?”  —Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson

After All These Years: A Collection

For more than twenty years now, Andrew Peterson has been about the business of quietly changing lives in four-minute increments. In the city of Nashville where music is an industry in the same way fast food, generic greeting cards, and bumper stickers are industries, Peterson has forged his own path, refusing the artistic compromises that so often come with chasing album sales and radio singles and creating instead a long line of songs that ache with sorrow, joy and integrity, and that are, at the end of the day, part of a real, ongoing, human conversation.

The Centricity Music release of Peterson’s twenty-song retrospective, After All These Years: A Collection, brings into focus the ongoing legacy of an artist who has never tried to imitate the last big thing or to create the next big thing. The collection shows that Andrew Peterson has all along been playing a longer game for bigger stakes. His theology of artmaking has always been one that focuses on long-term faithfulness to gifts and calling, rather than on an immediate concern for the appearance of success—but the ironic result of that approach is an emerging body of songs that will likely still be relevant and appreciated in a hundred years.

“I’ve learned not to push too hard for what I want,” Andrew says. “Most things I’ve really fought for were disappointments, and the real blessings came as surprises. I’ve learned that it’s only after you’ve stuck with something for years and years do you really begin to experience the fruit of your labor. You see the many ways the Lord has worked through you, the way little things turn into big things, and big things sometimes turn into nothing at all. I’ve learned that family and community and church are often the clearest voice of God we’ll hear in this life.”

After the masterful exploration of hope amidst sorrow that was Peterson’s last studio project, Light For The Lost Boy, and the labor-intensive completion of the fourth and final book in his series of fantasy novels, The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew sensed that he wasn’t creatively ready to immediately pen ten new songs. He warmed to the idea of a retrospective collection though, of revisiting and reinterpreting several of his older songs, offering some previously unreleased gems, and penning the title track, “After All These Years, as a new song to cap off a collection that marked his twenty years as an artist.

“‘After All These Years’ is a song of gratitude,” Andrew explains, “and that was a conscious choice. It’s a lot easier for me to write a lament—even a hopeful one—than a song of outright gratitude. But after turning 40 and surviving a pretty tough couple of years emotionally, gratitude seemed to be the obvious subject of choice. It wasn’t that I was forcing the song, but that I felt compelled to open this collection with an Ebenezer stone. I like the idea of having to sing a song that reminds me of God’s provision at every concert for the next year or two.”

The songs on After All These Years: A Collection cover a two-decade span, and range from the simple worship of the previously unreleased “Romans 11 (Doxology)” and the gentle lyricism of “To All the Poets” (a song penned with Gloria Gaither), to the driving, yearning affirmations of Andrew Peterson standards like “The Far Country” and “After the Last Tear Falls.” Taken as a whole, the collection reveals that perhaps the greatest gift Andrew Peterson offers to the rest of us, is the transparent honesty of a man so willing to weep at the brokenness of creation even while giving himself to the glad joy of the hope of creation’s redemption.  To do any less, Peterson’s songs remind us time and again, is to put ourselves in danger of missing the very heart of the story we find ourselves living within.

“I think the two songs on the collection that, set next to one another, mean the most to me,” Andrew says, “are ‘The Silence of God’ and ‘Don’t You Want to Thank Someone.’ The first was written during a dark night of the soul about twelve years ago, and was the result of a terribly lonely time that culminated in a monastery in Kentucky. It’s about, obviously, God’s silence—his sometimes maddening, infuriating silence. Almost exactly ten years later, I woke up one morning at home and thought I heard a melody drifting down the hallway from the kids’ rooms—the melody was attached to the words, ‘Don’t you want to thank someone for this?’ Weird, but true. I came downstairs in my pajamas and wrote the bulk of the song at the piano that morning. ‘Don’t You Want To Thank Someone’ seemed like an answer to the questions I had hurled at God’s silence ten years earlier, but it took ten years to learn it.”

Apart from the powerful confessional aspect of the collection, After All These Years also stands as a sort of vindication of the idea that a lone human voice expressing the deepest wounds and longings of an individual human heart, is still—in some sort of inexplicable juxtaposition—the best way to invite listeners to enter a song and make it their own.

“‘Nothing To Say’ and ‘Dancing in the Minefields’ are both songs that people seem to resonate with,” Andrew explains. “The more personal and specific songs are, the broader their reach. It’s counterintuitive. I would have thought—and when I sit down to write I still sometimes think—that if I want to really connect to a lot of people, I need to generalize. But if I shake off that tendency and quite literally tell my story, warts and all, that’s when people sit up and pay attention. That’s when people make the song their own. ‘Dancing in the Minefields’ was written after a fight with my wife. ‘Nothing to Say,’ which kind of put me on the map, was about a very specific trip to a specific place. The lesson: details matter. Little things matter. As one of my favorite songwriters, Pierce Pettis, wrote, ‘Everything matters if anything matters at all.’”

Peterson’s ability to paint the details of life in a personal (and therefore universal) way, has translated vividly into his burgeoning career as a writer of fiction as well. Andrew Peterson’s fourth and final novel in The Wingfeather Saga, titled The Warden and the Wolf King, was published and released in 2014 to an exponentially increasing fanbase and to much critical acclaim. The book garnered, among other awards, World Magazine’s 2014 Children’s Book of the Year Award.

“It took a while for folks to warm up to the idea of me as an author,” Andrew observes, “but by the time this last book came around there were enough fans that it sort of blew up. I think people may have been wondering if it was a passing thing for me, if I was really taking it seriously, or if the books were just a novelty. To be honest, I would be happy doing nothing now but writing books for the next five years. I’d miss music for sure, but I love the novel form just as much.”

If there’s an undercurrent running through all of Andrew’s work, novels and songs alike, it’s probably best summed up in the word homesickness. It’s in that concept that all of the restlessness and passion and joy and aching and hope that fill Andrew’s writings come together in equal measure.

“I’ve noticed that quite a few of the songs on After All These Years are about the resurrection and the life of the world to come,” he says. “As long as I can remember I’ve wished I had some place to really call home. I was born in Illinois, and lived in Florida from seven to twenty-two. I’ve been in Nashville for eighteen years now. I’ve fallen in love with Sweden where my ancestors are from, and Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK. Everywhere I go I’m wondering, ‘Is this the place where I’ll finally find whatever it is I’m looking for?’ As much as I love our home at the Warren, I still feel restless sometimes. These songs that we’ve compiled for the collection have affirmed that for me, but they’ve also reminded me that what I’m really looking for is a New Jerusalem—if the songs wake up a longing in folks for that city, then maybe that’s the whole point.”

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  • Tonight!
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  • About to watch the awesome @DaveBarnesMusic at the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall in Nashville. Love this dude.
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