Vanessa Peters Returns Home For Upcoming Texas Tour

Photo: Brent Baxter Photography

Although singer songwriter Vanessa Peters is technically a Dallas-based musician, you’re lucky if you actually see her perform here.  Peters has been consistently touring all over the U.S and Europe since 2000, to grow her fanbase without the help of a major label.  Her last album, The Burden of Unshakeable Proof, came out a little over a year ago and is a testament to her poetic songwriting abilities and spirit as an independent artist.  In a rare treat, Peters will be performing two shows Saturday April 8th at the Kessler opening for the legendary band 10,000 Maniacs.  Fresh off her brief tour in Italy we caught up with Peters to talk about her years on the road, songwriting and releasing her first album on vinyl.

Your first album came out over 10 years ago, how do you feel like you have progressed since then as a songwriter and a performer?

It's pretty amazing to think that it's been that long.  The first one came out 13 years ago... which seems impossible. I know I've progressed as a performer, because I used to be terrified of performing.  Now I genuinely enjoy it, which is something I could never have foreseen. I still get nervous before big shows, or maybe if the lineup or setlist has changed drastically, but generally speaking, I'm comfortable on stage.

As a songwriter, I've become far less afraid of how a song might be interpreted, which has allowed me to write more freely, and in different voices. I always assumed in the past that the listener would assume that the "I" in a song was me, and that worried me, especially when it was a fictional account. Now I don't care if the listener hears autobiography or not; I am comfortable with the audience interpreting the songs as they see fit, and I feel like I'm able to be more inventive and creative with storylines and details since I'm not so worried about it being attributed to me autobiographically.

Describe your songwriting process.  Playing 200+ shows a year do you write songs on the road?

I'm not on the road quite as much as I used to be, but we still play about 100 shows a year.  I do write on the road, but I really need to be alone to work on songs - I can write lyrics if I'm in the van or the hotel room or even backstage, but I really can't work out the melody if others are around. I hate feeling like someone might be listening while I'm working the kinks out. It's just me being self-conscious, but even at home, when it's just me and my husband, I can't just close the bedroom door and work in private - I have to go out to the studio, or wait until he's out in the studio and I know I'm alone.  I'm weird like that.

Photo: Brent Baxter Photography

Has the time you have spent in other countries affected your sound at all?

Weirdly, it hasn't really. It's affected me on a nostalgic level in many ways - it's changed the way I see the world, and the way I relate to my sense of being "home," but it hasn't changed me musically all that much.  Even my original band, Ice Cream on Mondays - they were 3 Italian guys, but we didn't play spaghetti western stuff. They were really into Neil Young, The Jayhawks, Wilco - the same kind of music I listened to - and so even though we were this weird hybrid of Texas + Italia, we still played pretty straightforward singer/songwriter rock.

Who are some of your musical influences?

I love good lyrics first and foremost, so my list is heavily oriented towards singer/songwriters... Aimee Mann, Josh Ritter, Kathleen Edwards, The Jayhawks... I adore Hello Saferide, which is really just Annika Norlin (a fantastic Swedish singer/songwriter) and friends.  I definitely cut my teeth on 90s/2000 era pop/rock - Counting Crows etc - but lots of alt-country influences like Lucinda Williams and Whiskeytown, as well as bands like the Pernice Brothers.  Their sense of melody is incredible.

Even though you are from Dallas, you have previously stated that you have only really been a musician here the last few years and don’t consider yourself apart of the scene.  Do you ever think at some point you would consider taking a break from touring and focus on growing your Dallas fan base?

I don't know how to stay in one place. I've tried, I swear.  I actually feel like I have tried to be more Dallas-centered the last few years, but something always seems to call me away. I have been on the road now, in some form or another, since 2000, which is nearly half of my life, and which is essentially all of the time that I've been a musician. I love Dallas, and it will always be home to me, but it feels strange to me to focus on growing a fanbase in one area when ultimately one of the things I love best about being a musician is being able to travel and see new places and meet new people. But this is a good place to call home.

Photo: Brent Baxter Photography

Your last album was your first to be released to vinyl.  Do you think the vinyl reemergence is a way to combat against streaming services and the other limitations you face as an independent artist?

Yes... I want to think that, anyway. I think it's one aspect of it. I think we are seeing a greater number of music lovers realizing that streaming isn't enough, and I am hoping that, as with so many other facets of modern life, we gravitate back towards concrete support of artists, in whatever form that takes, whether it's buying physical product like vinyl, or supporting artists in a forum like Bandcamp or Patreon.  The farm to table movement has done a lot for raising public awareness about who grows our food, what goes into it, what is sprayed on it, how far it has to travel etc.... music isn't so different. I think the more the average listener realizes how hard it is to make a living as an independent musician, the more that listener will realize that quality requires capital investment to be sustainable.  The stories you hear of artists who survive on their streaming income are few and far between, yet they are held up as an example of "look, you too can make it in this brave new world!" and I think that's BS.  It takes 2 millions streams to equal 1000 CDs sold.  I'm unsigned and I have sold thousands and thousands of CDs; I can assure you I'm nowhere close to 2 million streams. The discovery mechanism is faulty, and ultimately it's largely another form of payola. One of the aspects of being a musician in this day and age is that, whether or not we like it, it's our job to make sure listeners are aware of alternative ways to support the music we make.

What can you tell us about your upcoming album and the cover album you are working on?  What artists will you be covering?

Excellent question. We're still hammering it all out. So far we've done songs by The National, Patty Griffin, Eels, and The Weakerthans. Rather.... eclectic.  Plus there's the Hello Saferide cover we released as a single - Last Night Bus. We may end up doing the whole thing as a series of singles. Not sure yet. It's a fun project, but it's still taking shape.  I've been wanting to do a covers record for so long that now I'm kind of paralyzed, in a good way, by how long my wish list is.

To see more upcoming shows from Vanessa Peters you can visit her website here.