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An Interview with Michael Peterson
By CSO European Contributing Journalist, Christian Lamitschka.

The success of the hit single Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie catapulted Michael Peterson into the national spotlight in 1997 and the follow-up release, From Here To Eternity, earned the singer his first number one hit. The self-titled debut disc was certified gold and Peterson was recognized as country musicís top selling new artist of 1997 and 1998.

CL: Michael first of all congratulations on your new hit single No More Looking Over My Shoulder in Germany. Please tell us something about it.

M.P: When I first moved to Nashville in 1995 one of my goals was to write hit songs for other artists. Sometimes writers get together and instead of co-writing they do what we call co-stareing, where you just sit and stare at each other for hours cause you donít have anything to write about. So you try to show up with ideas for songs you want to write. After doing that for months and months and months, one day I showed up at a writing appointment, with a very famous writer here, Craig Weisman. I said, ĄCraig you know Iím tired of trying to write just hooks. Letís forget about the hook and write something about our lives."

He said, Ąwell like what?" I said, ĄI donít know I have these lines that I wrote about my childhood. As a child I was told I was destined to be nothing. As I got older I fulfilled what had been said. Hiding ignorance and fear, I prayed no one saw me bluffing but I was laying a foundation for a future I would dread." He looked at me and said wow, and off we went. The ironic thing to me is that, that ended up being the very first song I had recorded by a Nashville artist that ended up becoming a hit and it was the day we decided not to try to write a hit. It has reminded me of the power of trying to write music thatís real... that means something...that comes out of your life. Thatís how that song got started and when I went to make my album for Universal AGR, I knew that, this was one song that truly talked about my life and about how you deal with unforgivness. You know you have to let go of it and press on into the future. There is a line that sayís Ąno more filling up my tomorrowís with yesterdays sorrows." I decided I would make a recording of that myself that was different from Travis Trittsí recording. You know Iím just really tickled that I wrote this song eight years ago and it is still getting heard, still is impacting people, and that people are still saying how much this song has touched them.

CL: Michael you are now so famous in Germany your new fans would like to know about your childhood up until the time you started playing and writing music.

M.P: I had a good family. My parents were divorced when I was real young and when I was fifteen my birthfather who I never knew when I was growing up was shot to death by his business partner. Then when I was seventeen my step dad took his own life. So there was a lot of pain in my life that I know gave me a desire to express how I felt to find healing. I think thatís why I started to write songs. I was an athlete. I played high school basketball, American football and baseball. I ended up going to Pacific Lutheran University on a football scholarship and a music scholarship. I couldnít do both. I had to make a decision when I got there. Having a jacket with a big Varsity letter on said youíre a star and you get the girls, and knowing I could always go back to music, I chose to play football. The ironic thing, Christian, is that the decision to play football and give up music actually opened the door to my career in the music business. Because when I played football I met a guy named Brad Westering who years later met and married the Pop Star Denise Williams Letís Here It For The Boy. Remember that song?

CL: Right yea.

M.P: Because I played football I knew him. Because I knew him when I went to make my first record, I said will you help me with it. He said oh yea and by the way hereís Denise Williams and letís sign you to a deal. If I had not played football I probably wouldnít have been in the music business. Sometimes you need to follow your heart when your growing up. It leads you in the right direction even though it might not make a lot of sense. I was a kid who loved music, who had some pain in his life, who loved sports, and who liked being the center of attention. I still do and I think that drew me to being a writer and being an artist. I love to make people laugh. I have three brothers two older than me one younger than me and I have a sister. My mom is still living and just got married for the fourth time. Sheís the happiest sheís ever been. I have two children and a beautiful wife of twenty years. I have a really good life in Nashville. I truly love what Iím doing.

CL: Michael you got into Christian music before Country music. Tell us about that part of your career.

M.P: Christian music was an expression for me, partially because the fellow I told you I met, Brad Westering was very involved in Christian music. When we started working together it seemed a natural thing to make a record that talked about faith about our belief in GOD. I ended up with a major record deal in the Gospel industry on a label called Sparrow. I made this record and had three top thirty singles but I didnít sell any records. I donít think I sold ten thousand records in Christian. In just about any format Rap, Rock, whatever you can sell ten thousand records by screaming in a paper bag. I just wasnít very successful selling records. It was kind of a time in my career were I was learning a lot about song writing and had a chance to learn about the recording process, while writing songs that reflected my faith. I know that helped me through my dadís suicide, through the things I struggled with in my life. I still write songs about faith but they just come out sounding like Country songs. From Here To Eternity thatís a pretty spiritual song even Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie is kind of a spiritual song. Itís talking about the connection between two people and thatís what Spirit is all about.

CL: Michael when you came out with your Country album on Reprise Records and became as they say an overnight sensation. Tell us what that was like.

M.P: It was a very satisfying feeling. I remembered all of the years that I wrote songs... thirty, fifty songs a year and nobody ever said hey those are awesome your totally great. I remember how many years I came to Nashville and had people that didnít really pay any attention to what I was doing. When you work for so long at something, to finally have some success is very fulfilling. To have something you dreamed of doing your whole life and to finally have the opportunity to do it and have the kind of explosive beginning that I had... I mean my first three songs were top five in Billboard including a number one...to get that kind of attention and that kind of congratulations and affirmation was a little overwhelming. You know it was really wonderful and incredible and I wish there was some way somebody could have prepared me, but I donít think you can prepare somebody for that because we are all different and we are all going to react differently. I remember talking to John Anderson, you know Swingin' John Anderson?

CL: Yup.

M.P: Before all of this happened to me he said, ĄI never realized when the height of my career was happening, how big it was until it was all past. Then I had a chance to look back and now I understand more." When your in the middle of it you are worried about...Where do I go next? What paper do I sign? Oh, my GOD Iím on in five minutes, are my clothes right? Iíve got a new album to make. I like that song. I donít like that song. Youíre just so busy that I think when you have a chance to slow down thatís when you get a chance to reflect and see what an incredible time it was. I have a mother in law who made scrap books of everything that ever came out for the first three years of my career. When I took a break a couple of years ago, I had a chance to look through them and it was pretty neat. Itís like wow, what a rare, rare gift and I thank God for that.

CL: Michael that brings me to the next question after your initial rush of success, did you find it hard to follow your own act, in other words, was Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie too successful?

M.P: Oh I would never say it was too successful because itís been seven years since I released it and Iím still working and still staying busy. Thatís because of the success of those singles. Too Good to be True, From Here to Eternity, Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie, and When the Bartender Cries...I wouldnít say too successful but again I had twenty years to write that first album and only eighteen months to write the second while youíre busier than ever. Itís like okay I need to stop and have a beer...sorry you donít have time...okay can I take a breath...sorry no time...write a song are you kidding me? Okay itís three oíclock in the morning I just finished a show in Laramie, WY and now were on our way to Debuk, IA. With an eight hundred mile drive I gotta write a song cause that was my only time. So yea I think it was tough to follow it up.

CL: The new millennium seems to have offered a chance for the rebirth of Michael Peterson. What are your thoughts, goals, plans and feelings about that?

M.P: My thoughts feelings and plans about the rebirth of Michael Peterson are that we made an incredible new album that reminds me a lot of my first album more than any album made since. I feel after having a couple of years to take some personal time I am refreshed, renewed and feel like I have the experience now so Iíll be able to better balance what matters, my family and my music. Iím all about touching people, entertaining them, making them laugh, and having them leave saying wow that was so great. Weíve been doing that this last year and a half so I know itís working. Now we have a great new album and the future is looking brighter.

CL: Tell us about your latest album Modern Man.

M.P: When we picked for Modern Man and wrote the songs for the album Modern Man what I wanted was story songs because as a kid I loved artistís like Jim Croce who had great story songs. So Iíve always wanted to do an album like that. Stories that you could see in your mind about that wheat field that I rode my bike in when I was a kid, or when you were twelve years old and you were out with your mom and you let the balloons go and you watched them as they flew away... just real people, real life. I believe that the power of a personís story is powerful. For me to tell my story is more powerful than to tell your story and itís more powerful for you tell your story than it is for you to tell my story. We both may have great stories because there is something thatís real about it coming out of you. That was how we made this record. There were some songs that ended up on the album that the label wanted me to record and I think if you listen to the album youíll know which ones those are. When you listen to the songs that I wrote and had a hand in youíll see that they are heartfelt, they tell a slice of my real life. My hope was that by doing that the people listening would go yea thatís me too because were not all that different we all have the same needs, wants, feeling, desires and that was our goal.

CL: Will you handle your second shot at success differently?

M.P: Yes. I mean there are a lot of things Iíll do the same. Iíll treat my fans with respect, admiration and affection the way Iíve always done. I wouldnít have a career if it werenít for my fans. I thank them for giving me a chance to do what I do and to share my music with them. There are some things Iíll do differently though. Iíll watch my money a little closer. Iíll be more careful who I chose to work with because I never realized how much that would affect a persons career. Iíll make my family more of a priority.

CL: Your name is on the lips of a lot of European country music fans. How can they more closely follow your career and enjoy your music?

MP: They can go to www.michaelpeterson.fanspace.com to keep up to date with us. They can visit us and drop us notes to say hi or to let us know what we can do. We love to hear from folks all over Europe we are going to tour in September hopefully all over Europe. Please come to the shows, read the web site and find out where we are going to be. We are dying to meet you, hug your neck, get our picture taken with you, sign autographs, play music, hang out, have a beer.

CL: Michael for European fans is it hard to get the latest information from an international artist such as you? Is there a message you would like to tell your European fans?

Well thereís a lot going on right now in America that I think is going to have a chance to affect what we are doing in Europe. Iím in conversation right now with a brand new record label and a group of people that I think are uniquely qualified to come together to do something thatís bigger than just put out a record. Look for a lot of great things promotion wise. I have not toured much in Europe and I donít know how many of my jokes work in Europe so Iím really looking forward to coming over this month and doing a lot of radio shows. What we are going to do is find the DJís all over Europe who have reviewed the record for the hot disk. Wouldnít it be neat to come in and do a free show for their listeners...where listeners could come together in a club or a theater and we could promote the radio show. It would give me a chance to meet with the European audience in an intimate setting which I totally love to do. It would help me to understand better what kind of records my European fans want to hear and where the music Iím making can fit into that. Hopefully we will do that in September and October. Iím really looking forward to this trip.

CL: After experiencing American and European markets which do you find easier?

MP:You know I donít feel qualified to answer that question because I havenít spent that much time in Europe. When I came to Nashville everyone said wow things happened so fast for you because within six months of getting here I had a major publishing deal. Within six months of that I had a major record deal and within a year of that I had chart toppers so in a way it looked easy. But what they didnít see was that I spent twenty years before that learning and working. Now we have gone to Europe with our first record and the first single goes to number one on the hot disk chart. It went number one in Germany and a lot of other countries and again itís like surprising and Iím grateful. Iím humbled by that and Iím looking forward to learning more about the European market. It would be hard for me to say which is harder and which is easier. I know this Iíve been blessed to have the open doors that I have had through AGR Universal into Europe, Iím blessed and Iím humbled and Iím excited about the opportunity to go and entertain people, perform and learn Ö..ask me this question in two years maybe I will have a better answer for you then.

CL: Michael Iíll bet there are many things you must do in the music business but when you have free time what do you enjoy doing?

MP:I think because of some of the experiences I have had, I have a lot of compassion for young people in difficult homes that feel a lot of pain and I have actually spent quite a bit of time working with young people to give them hope. I was a Tennessee spokesperson for Special Olympics for two years prior to being involved in Country music. I went around the United States, well really around the world speaking to young people with a message of hope. A relevant message of hope that you can be in awful settings and circumstances in your life and there is still a bright future ahead. Thereís hope for you and itís about trusting your heart, learning to forgive, being willing to take risks and making good choices. I am really excited about taking this success that God blessed me with and helping others... espcially children.

Christian Lamitschka ( Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de )

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