GRETCHEN PETERS’ NEW SINGLE, “LAST DAY OF THE YEAR” B/W “CONSTANZA’S KITCHEN” OUT NOW ON NEED TO K
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The best songwriters manage somehow to paint vivid pictures with a small selection of the choicest words. For instance: “In Costanza’s kitchen, there’s a picture of the Pope. There are flowers in the window. There is garlic on a rope.” Not ten seconds into “Constanza’s Kitchen,” the B-side of Gretchen Peters’ new vinyl single, you see the kitchen, and you feel a warm glow about Costanza. She could be your grandmother. With a few delicate fingerpicking acoustic guitar chords and her sonorous, contemplative vocal, she shows you a whole world. You can practically smell the sautéed peppers and olive oil simmering on the stove.
Peters explains, “I was in Tuscany doing a songwriting workshop, and we were staying at a villa run by two sisters. It’s an ancient family home, and one of the things we did in the evenings was a cooking class in the villa with one of the sisters, Costanza, which was an incredible experience of the senses. One morning, I told the class, ‘I want you to write a song called “Costanza’s Kitchen.”And they all went off and did the exercise, and I did the exercise too. I think I got the first lines about the picture of the Pope and the garlic on a rope and stuff, and I wrote most of the lyric, had no melody, put it away, and forgot about it. I thought it was just an exercise. I dug it up two years later, looked at the lyric and thought ‘this is really good’ and I took it to Barry (Walsh, her husband and keyboardist) and he and I fleshed out the melody and the chords together.”
When queried about her gentle, thoughtful songwriting, so much at odds with modern music that assaults you with volume and aggression, Peters says, “That’s kind of my wheelhouse. I feel like there’s — not just in music — so much STUFF out there that’s just loudly trying to get your attention right now, and I just find that exhausting, and maybe I prefer creating something that’s more asking you to fall into it. I just feel like there are some people out there who are like me and would rather be wooed in, rather than beaten over the head.”
On the A-side, “Last Day of the Year,” the songwriter reflects on what has happened — and hasn’t — in the past year. Adding to the poignance, perhaps, is the fact that it really was written on the last day of the year. Several actually. “I started that on New Year’s Eve 2004, at a momentous and trying time in my life,” she says, “I just kept writing every December 31st, because I just thought maybe a magic little window would open if I just kept coming back to it on that day. I’ve never done that with a song before or since. Finally, I finished it, and I use that term very lightly because I really don’t think you finish things like that. You decide where to leave them.”
The author of Martina McBride’s 1994 hit “Independence Day” (a song about spousal abuse that’s often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem, apparently just because of the title), Peters, a Pelham, New York native, has been weaving sublime and subtle musical word pictures for more than three decades in her adopted Nashville, but it all started when she was seven and attended a summer creative arts camp for gifted children. “All the things I wanted to be when I grew up were related to the creative arts,” she reflects, “I wrote a play in third grade, I loved to dance, I loved theater, it all came back to making stuff up, basically.”
Making things up has been good to Gretchen Peters. While America has proven to be a tougher nut to crack, she sells out theaters in England, where she’s a bona fide star. Produced by longtime collaborator Doug Lancio, the new single is available now from San Francisco’s redoubtable Need to Know records.