The Other 22 Hours

Gretchen Peters on recalibrating your definition of success, strength in artistry, and bucking industry expectations.

Episode Summary

Gretchen Peters is a Grammy-nominated, CMA Song of the Year winning member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, who had an extensive touring, has released 14 albums (mostly on her own label), and had songs recorded by the likes of Etta James, Martina McBride, George Strait, Patty Loveless, Shania Twain, Neil Diamond, Trisha Yearwood, and Bryan Adams, just to name a few. This episode jumps right in with Gretchen's decision, and the public (and private) reactions, to retire from touring, and we go on to talk about the powerful effects of recalibrating your definition of success, bucking industry expectations in the name of your creativity and artistry, the strength of artists, and so much more.

Episode Notes

Gretchen Peters is a Grammy-nominated, CMA Song of the Year winning member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, who had an extensive touring, has released 14 albums (mostly on her own label), and had songs recorded by the likes of Etta James, Martina McBride, George Strait, Patty Loveless, Shania Twain, Neil Diamond, Trisha Yearwood, and Bryan Adams, just to name a few. This episode jumps right in with Gretchen's decision, and the public (and private) reactions, to retire from touring, and we go on to talk about the powerful effects of recalibrating your definition of success, bucking industry expectations in the name of your creativity and artistry, the strength of artists, and so much more.

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All music written, performed, and produced by Aaron Shafer-Haiss.

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Aaron: Hey, and welcome to this week's episode of The Other 22 Hours Podcast. I'm your host, Aaron Shafer-Haiss.

[00:00:04] Michaela: And I’m your host, Michaela Anne. And since this show is not even a year old, thank you so much for checking us out if it's your first time. Thank you for coming back if you're a repeat listener.

[00:00:13] Aaron: Yeah, if you are a repeat listener and you have a favorite episode, if you wouldn't mind just passing that along to somebody that has no idea who we are, we'd really appreciate that. the way we can keep having these conversations is by getting in front of new listeners. And the best way to do that is word of mouth.

We don't have any sponsors. We don't have any backers. Nobody writes about podcasts. So if you could just take a second and pass an episode that you love on to somebody that doesn't yet love us, we'd really appreciate that.

[00:00:38] Michaela: Yeah, and we're not your typical promo show, if you want to describe it to them. We are not promoting artists albums or tours.

We're talking about all the stuff that we don't post about on social media. The conversations that we would be typically having around the dinner table. The really honest, behind the scenes stuff. How we all keep going in an ever changing, challenging industry, how we stay inspired, creative, and sane while building a career around

[00:01:07] Aaron: art.

Which is an insane thing to do. And so we have these conversations by focusing on our circle of influence and what is within our control because there's so much in this industry that is outside of our control. So for us, that's our mindsets, our creativity, and what we actually make. We distill that down to the question, what do you do to create sustainability in your life so that you can sustain your creativity?

And we asked that question of the great Gretchen Peters in today's episode.

[00:01:36] Michaela: I am a huge Gretchen Peters fan. I met her, I think, once in the lobby of the Hutton Hotel during Americana Fest and then tweeted at her some fangirl thing of like, I don't know if you knew, but this is me type of thing. Anyways, her songs cut to the core. She is Grammy nominated, CMA winning, She's in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

She has written hit songs for Martina McBride, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Patti Lovelace. She has a cut on the first Shania Twain record. Neil Diamond. She has co writes and duets with Bryan Adams. She has toured relentlessly and one of the big parts of this conversation was talking about her decision to retire from touring.

[00:02:18] Aaron: Yeah, and with that, I'm sure that sentence alone sparked a lot of emotions in our listeners, you know, so with that we talked a lot about the idea of like weakness and strength and using those words towards artists and by artists. And we also spent a lot of time talking about one of my favorite things, which is recalibrating your idea of success on what you actually create and not on numbers and not on some kind of metric that is outside of our control like ticket sales.

[00:02:46] Michaela: and talk about something really important, which is why is it important to talk about the culture and industry expectations in the music world? Not just see it as complaining, and if you can't hack it, move on. So I love that aspect of this

[00:03:02] Aaron: conversation. Yeah, this is one of those episodes that's really fun where we just start on the edge of the diving board and jump right in, right from the start.

so we're not going to keep you from it. Without further ado, here is our conversation with Gretchen Peters.

[00:03:16] Gretchen: Thank you so much for being willing to sit with us for an hour and talk about All of the things. I feel like I kind of want to jump right in at the point of, one of the bigger things we had said we want to talk about that you had said you want to talk about also it's made its resurgent recently of people taking a clip from your, statement that you released when you announced that you were retiring from touring and it just started getting shared like wildfire on social media.

[00:03:43] Michaela: I think a couple weeks ago.

[00:03:45] Gretchen: it went viral. It was just an excerpt from like public announcement that we were not going to be touring anymore. And it was just really the tail end of it was just me wanting to express. It's my dismay, over what is seemingly asked of artists now over and above just making art.

And how I think, I mean, from my point of view, how overwhelming it is, how exhausting it is. And for an artist such as myself, and I know there are a lot of people out there like me who really needs time to just let things. germinate, this need for output. I think it does harm. I think not the natural state, certainly not my natural state I'm not productive 100 percent of the time or even probably 50 percent of the time.

But I look at all that, dormant. time as being part of the process. It's not just that you're sitting around, on the couch watching TV and eating bonbons, the fuel that fuels you creatively is replenishing itself. And I feel like artists just are really not getting that time because of all these, demands for really Silly things, make another reel, make sure you make X amount of posts a week, make them engaging, be this, be that, and I just think it's killing the soul of a lot of, a creative people, or at least it's depleting them, and when they're depleted, they're not going to be able to give us their best, and after all, that's what we want, I want my favorite artists to have their downtime and have their creative time so that the next thing that they bring forth into the world is something that I treasure.

And I think we're going in the wrong direction that way.

[00:05:28] Michaela: I think what's hard for people to understand are what are the real consequences of losing great artists or great art? Because I just read this Substack email the other day from someone who isn't a musician, but is in the music industry and was talking about, All these announcements people still on even, higher levels of touring, cancelling tours, talking about the very real, economic challenges of touring and the physical and emotional hardships of touring and in the essay, they were saying, I have such empathy for these artists, but at the same time, I hope it doesn't breed weakness.

And I felt myself just be like, who? I don't know.

[00:06:08] Gretchen: That's such a um, boy, isn't that a... Like a statement about what a sort of toxic, um, environment we're all living in and breathing in. I mean, The idea that strength and weakness is the measure of anything. to me, the people that have gotten me through the last seven or eight years By and large are artists and that's how it's always been since time began That's what our function is.

I think that our function is to Look at the world synthesize or just still what we're seeing try to put it in a form that creates empathy between the artist and whoever the audience is whoever's I hate to use the word consuming, but consuming the art and it

It helps us do two things. I think it helps us make sense of what's happening to the extent that we can make sense of it. But it essential to human beings because it makes us know.

that we're not alone. It makes us feel community with other humans. And God knows through, what we've all been through the last.

Six, seven, eight years, we need that so much. And this idea of, we don't want weak artists. it's fascist.

[00:07:17] Michaela: It also breeds the idea that I think has been ingrained in a lot of us of, It'll just weed out the weak ones. And so it's not a big deal It's the distorted idea of like the cream rises to the top, but what kind of cream is rising to

[00:07:32] Gretchen: what kind of cream? And it's also, okay. So the parallel might be the extreme emphasis on looks in the music business. Let's just weed out the ugly ones. It makes about as much sense as that.

[00:07:45] Michaela: Really let's weed out the ones who don't have money to support this. Cause that's also a very real challenge of building a music career.

[00:07:53] Gretchen: Exactly. And I think the strength or weakness thing is, just part of our kind of toxic productivity fetish. And I think for me I was living in that matrix for a really long time. I felt that if I wasn't productive in some sense, every single day I was failing.

Thank you. And I lived that way for a long time, decades, probably. And getting outside of that and realizing that you have, basic stuff. Like you have the right to exist on Earth without producing something every day. You don't have to be a worker bee all the time. I just think once you get outside of that, you can't ever see it the same way.

And the whole thing feels that it imposes this idea of strength and weakness, and this idea of competition, and this idea of you're either winning or you're losing, on a thing that isn't about winning or losing. if you really take it to its extreme, and I would.

I don't think art is a competitive sport. I don't think there's a best album, or a best new artist, or a best this or that. It's fine if you can keep that stuff. Out of your psyche, and keep it from affecting you if you're not the best but I mean, I just don't think that's what we're really about and what worries me and what was in that little clip that went viral was really just my own thoughts about my own plea to please try especially young artists, please try to protect yourself and the part of you that is vulnerable because that's the part that makes the art, from this kind of toxic way of thinking, because we need you and we need your best work.

We need the work that you want to bring into the world, not your latest Instagram clip.

[00:09:33] Aaron: Yeah, I always am relating to like the commoditization of the art. You have all of these industry people, luckily some of them have been artists and I think they're a little more understanding they have been in the trenches, but a lot of these people are coming from, a place in my experience of loving music.

And being big fans, but not understanding the creation aspect when you put that kind of pressure for capitalization on art it inevitably Makes it a product and it makes it a commodity and essentially the artists get turned into livestock and where cows that need to be milked all the time and you know We're not producing enough milk or whatever And then something I was thinking about the other day Keeping the farm analogy going.

I mean you relate that to fields. If you're planting the same crops in the same fields every year, eventually it's not going to grow anything. You're going to suck all the nutrients out of the field and you have to rotate that around and it, been proven time and time again in, in farming that it's as you rotate the fields, it'll become more productive.

You get more, you actually produce more, you get more money, whatever it is. And I just don't see that being accepted in the creative industry.

[00:10:38] Gretchen: and the wisest mentors that I've had, including, publishers along the way in my career have I mean, lucky me, they have always said, take the time you need. If you need to get in the car and drive to Florida, and just think just take the time you need.

They have understood. and how they, tick, and how they work. if you don't have that it can be really crushing this kind of pressure. I mean, The commodification has always existed and it always will. And we do have to just deal with that.

But I think like with a lot of things, that get out of balance, we're out of balance. I think the whole world is Out of balance, but that's another podcast. But I mean, I think we're, I think we are out of balance in terms of what we demand from artists. And I did get a little blowback from that.

Not a lot, but I got mostly, amen, 100 percent agree. But there was a little blowback and it came in the form of, the Beatles put out. X amount of albums a year back then and, so and so was, you know, you had to put an album out every six months and they managed to do it.

So what's wrong with you, that kind of thing. And I would just submit that the environment we're living in, the pressures, there was no social media. Also the Beatles were young people and not all artists were the Beatles. I mean, I just think that's a specious argument for so many reasons, but none of us existed in a world where there was social media you heard from the Beatles when the Beatles had something to say.

And then when they didn't, you didn't, and you waited, because you were a fan of the Beatles, and that's how it worked. It's not like that anymore. I don't think that's really a valid, we're not living in those times. And I think we have to get back into balance somehow. And I know, it's easy for me to say because, an independent artist.

I own my own record label. I'm not under pressure from a, you know, an A& R person or anyone at a label to, you know, put out more social media posts or whatever. But I just think artists have to come from a place of self protection in the midst of all of this.

[00:12:43] Michaela: two things in response to that. I feel like there is also an argument of, would the Beatles even be possible today? Would they be able to create the music that they created and have that creativity and that freedom in a world of streaming and not massive record sales that have so much money and the social media demand.

And the, taxing of their brains, you know, that social media and our phones and all of those things. It's due to us. you know, it's a hypothetical, so you never know, but I think it's hard to imagine the Beatles. There isn't a band like the Beatles today.

[00:13:19] Aaron: Well, I'd also like to point out that the Beatles also stopped touring.


[00:13:23] Gretchen: Very early.

[00:13:25] Aaron: very early.

[00:13:26] Gretchen: And they were focusing basically on one thing. No, I think, obviously it's all hypothetical and you can't know, but I just don't think that argument holds up we're in a completely different environment now. And I, guess we have to reinvent how we exist in that environment, how we cope.

With these pressures that are on artists now. And, you know, I know this can sound to people who are not in the middle of it. It can sound like, Oh, poor me. Like I can see, you know. try getting a factory job, I understand that response, but I maintain that we really need art.

We really need artists. We probably need art more than we've needed it in a long time right now in this place that we are in the world where the news is just relentlessly bad and we're all trying to figure out how do we live in this world and how do we cope with it? I think we need artists and we need to you know, it's like a lot of things.

We need to value them the way we need to value teachers, the way we need to get our freaking priorities straight because a society, a healthy, Evolving society doesn't exist without artists, without teachers, without people that think and have ideas and help us frame our own existence.

I we're in a massive state of flux and,I'm not going to keep my mouth shut about it. Right.

[00:14:49] Michaela: I think also then the counters for people who are still, coming up or don't have hit songs or, are trying to like build. It's the feeling of, well, what can we do? We have to play the game. And then getting to a point of deciding, is trying to achieve a certain type of success and following what the roadmap is that I've been told, is that worth the things that I feel like I will lose by doing this?

I'm a spy relentlessly, like being driven by posting and numbers and whatever. Or am I okay with the consequences of well, maybe I won't be as successful as I hoped in this music industry, but that means for my situation that I'll feel more connected to my actual artistry, whatever it is. And that's why we have these conversations because we were seeing friends who seemed like they were having their biggest year yet.

They're stressed and anxious because it's like, well, when do you get to slow down? This is great. But once you start gaining, then there's the anxiety of you have to keep going because now there's even more people who depend on you and you have to sustain this and build it even more.

[00:15:55] Gretchen: And that doesn't stop ever. I mean, It never stops until you stop it.

[00:16:00] Michaela: Can you talk a little bit about that? Because you've definitely had, very big career highs and what that has felt like in different times in your life.

[00:16:08] Gretchen: I think about some of the highest highs. And there's always that sort of cocktail of exhilaration and, pride and all the things that you would expect mixed. with pressure. Can you do that again? when I won the CMA for Independence Day, everybody wanted, Oh, we want another one of those.

And I knew when I wrote it, I would never, ever write another one of those. You can't, it just doesn't work like that. So there's always like that. pressure and I, realize much of it was self imposed. Cause as I said, I internalized a lot of that productivity ethic, the work ethic I came into the music business at a time when, you know, before I even moved to Nashville, recently listened to the first radio interview I ever did when I was 19 years old, and the interviewer asked me, what were my goals in the music business?

And I was curious because it was like listening to somebody that I had never met. That 19 year old, I don't even know who she was, but she, I said, I just want to make my living doing music. That's my goal. And I thought, wow. it wasn't like I want to be famous or I want to have a hit song or I want to, it was, I just want to be able to make my living.

And that was my benchmark of what it meant to be professional. And back then that was, not easily achieved, but it was an achievable thing. I mean, there was kind ofin the music industry back then, there was kind of a middle class, you know, you could, Move to Nashville like I did, and even if you didn't have hit songs, if you wrote enough good songs that got on people's albums, you could make a nice living.

You wouldn't get rich, but there was this kind of middle class that existed in the music industry, and I know a lot of songwriters that existed in that sort of stratus. And it was an honorable thing to me. I felt like making your living as a musician being a professional. That was a big deal to me.

And I think now I look at it completely differently. I don't think, first of all, that middle class is evaporated. You're scrounging on the bottom or You've made it. You're making tons of money and, things are great. And there's no middle and I have told countless young musicians that have come to me and said, what do I do?

This like the harder I work. I still have to have a day job. I can't, I My definition of success has completely changed, I think, and I wouldn't tell young aspiring musician now that you should make that your goal to only do music.

Get a job that allows you the breathing room to write some songs. Do what you have to do to make your life work so that you can. Do this thing that you're called to do, because let's face it. If you're called create then. You have to do that. You're going to be a miserable person if you don't do it.

Find a way to make your life fit that. I'm not saying it's easy, but I think that's what you have to do. And don't judge yourself by externals like, I do or don't have to have a day job to make this work. that's not a benchmark Of anything anymore, because the whole world has just completely changed.

And I think it's in turn, that's made me reevaluate my idea of success. at the heart of it, I always felt like success to me really meant artistic success. Like If I feel like I've written a song that makes me proud. And makes me feel like I did that well. That's about as successful as it gets.

Whether the song... Goes out into the world and, makes a lot of money or resonates with a lot of people or maybe just a few, eh. It's nice when that happens, but that's not really my definition. the work that I will stand on, you know, when I die and say, I did that. There's not a whole lot of correlation between, What was commercially successful and what I feel was artistically successful.

So I try to tell young writers and, artists that too that's, really important you're going to be looking back at your life at some point, and you're going to want to have created those things that are the very best that you can do.

And it's hard to do that when you're in the middle of it, it's hard to do that when you feel like nobody's listening, you don't have to find a huge audience. if you can tour and you can find a smaller audience, you can have a wonderful life.

It may be hard in spots and money may never be plentiful, but. If that's what you want to do, it's still possible to do that because I really do believe the one thing that is probably never going to change is that people want to be in the room and have that moment with a performer that you just can't replace any other way.

You can't stream a song and have that same experience. And I just don't think there's any replacement for that. you can do that, there's a place for you. It may not be. Carnegie Hall, but there's a place.

[00:21:10] Aaron: One thing, because I agree with everything you just said, and I'm a strong proponent of viewing your art, that you create and tying your, idea of success to that. to me, it stays within your circle of influence because you have complete control over what you create.

And so trying to align your, definition of being successful, like how, close to that ideal creation you get, that perfect song in your mind. How well you captured the idea, the essence, the emotion that you're trying to convey, all of that. But one thing that I start to struggle with, at least in like, conveying this to other people is, you know, inevitably, year after year, people, I think, humanly, like to feel growth and progress. Is there a way that you've found... To be able to track that or keep that in perspective year after year that's, not, sales or money or something, very tangible. Numbers growing.

[00:22:06] Gretchen: Back in, 2010, I had one of those years in my life that was just, kind of, you blow up your life. You're, everything... Big, huge changes, monumental changes, shifts, which is unsettling and puts you off balance, but if you approach one of those years, with fluidity and a willingness to be off balance, just to see, you know, in other words, if you don't push back, but you just let what's happening, happen. I feel like there's a whole lot you can learn from that. And one of the things that came out of that year for me was this absolute knowledge that I was not writing deeply enough, I wasn't making myself uncomfortable enough I was, Leaning on my facility with words, I could toss off a pretty good line without really feeling it. But in the end I felt like it showed. and this was mainly because of other writers who I really admire, friends of mine who, would write something and I would think why aren't you pushing that hard?

Why aren't you doing that? I really made a conscious decision at that point that I was just going to go to the discomfort, And talk about the things that I think about at three in the morning in the midst of a year like that. And it was terrifying because you feel naked and you feel like you're revealing all these things about yourself.

And you're like, I really want to say that? And do I really want to put that out in the world? And what will people think of me? And of course the big lesson is. They're not thinking about you. They're thinking about themselves. When you Go there, and you write a song that's deeply vulnerable and comes from that place of self doubt I think of it as that was the year I started writing the questions instead of the answers

and when you do that people See themselves it's like you're holding up a big mirror, and they see themselves in it and once I Made that connection and realized that I just know I felt like my writing deepened in a way the next album that I put out after that was hello cruel world, which was just full vulnerability and doubt and I saw the reaction that the songs got and I realized of Course then it's not about me.

It's about them So that was to me like Awards, money, all that stuff. That year was the most successful I've ever been. Because I went past whatever that barrier was in myself that was shielding myself and guarding myself from fully being seen and being vulnerable.

And I'd take that success. Over any award or any financial success any day of the week, because it made me a much better writer and I learned some very, profound things about life and about art in that year. Yeah, I think that's as good of a yardstick as any, really. Yeah.

[00:24:56] Michaela: That's beautiful. Paired with that, your comment about believing that what will always be there is people wanting to be a room with an artist this last weekend I played some house shows that I just like posted a Google form on social media and like let fans apply to host because I wanted to try out new songs and was kind of an experiment and what I took away from it was just.

how affirming it was that it's always there, that there are these people, the hosts were people who were deep fans of my music, but they invited their friends and community that didn't know who I was. So I wasn't like putting tickets out there to promote and sell on my name. They were saying, Hey, friends and family, this is an artist I care about.

She wants to, you know, try out some songs, please come over and let's eat some food and listen to her. And the experience of just people being open to that. And then the exchange that happens of sitting in a room, sharing songs, sharing stories, being really vulnerable, and then what I received in return from them, I came away from it feeling like, Okay, wow, that was so much more fulfilling.

I wasn't building ticket history in markets to prove to agents or promoters or whatever, but on the economic side, I came home with more money than I, usually do on promoted tours in clubs, but I really came home with a deeper understanding of. Oh, no matter what, this is there.

People are out there who want to experience art. And like you said, they're not sitting there judging me. They're listening to my stories and immediately thinking of how it pertains to their life and how they feel. And I think the challenge is holding on to that when we're Sitting scrolling on our phones when that's like our main mode of connection to others

[00:26:43] Gretchen: Yeah of course, because that doesn't exist on your phone. That whole dynamic just doesn't exist because it's virtual reality. It's a different experience. And think that's what I meant by really do believe that young artist can find their people. may not be. Millions of them. There may not even be many thousands of them, because, think about it. It's, very organic. the way we share music. If you hear a song, you think of three or four people. Oh my God, I have to play that song for so and and that's what a lot of these wonderful souls who, labor for no money doing these house concerts and all kinds of things. You know, I used to have a really terrible attitude about house concerts back when they first started. I thought well, I'm not playing in anybody's living room.

I mean,I graduated from playing in living rooms. I'm never going to play in anybody's living room. Because I used to do that when I was a teenager, you know, and that meant I wasn't a professional. Well, Some of those house concerts are the most profound. Experiences because everyone is there not to drink,

they are really there for the experience that you're bringing so Totally get that and I think it's really what do you value Will you not be satisfied unless you sell thousands and thousands of tickets to a show or millions of records or, I don't know, does anyone sell millions of records?

Whatever. Millions of streams, whatever. Or will you be deeply satisfied if you make that connection with people and are able to make a life doing that? And I think the second option is the more soul filling, option. You know, There'll always be pop stars. and that's fine, but that's a whole other thing. that's not what we're talking about.

[00:28:22] Aaron: We had a guest about 20 episodes ago named Ron Pope who's a singer songwriter and he made a really great point about calibrating your expectations for the music that you want to make. And so if you want to make really vulnerable, exposed, honest music, chances are you're not going to sell out arenas.

And that's great. If you want to sell out arenas, there is, a specific type of music where that is a real possibility. and that will change every... Five to ten years, that will change what that popular music is. But if that's what you want to do, great, then gear your art towards that outcome.

But if your artistic fulfillment is in writing these really honest, vulnerable, deep, moving songs, then understand what you are writing, essentially.

[00:29:07] Gretchen: A couple of days ago, my husband and I were talking and He was in my band back in 1996 when we played Farm Aid. a you know, outdoor stadium. I don't know, there were probably 50, 000 people there. I don't know, it was my first experience playing in a venue like that.

And I came away feeling that I never, ever wanted to do it again.

Mm hmm.

Because it's not my wheelhouse. I like to have a dark room. A thousand people is great. A hundred people is great, but I want to create a hole for them to fall into, and that's a whole different thing from playing in a, arena like that or a stadium like that where you're just, pushing out.

you're projecting this huge presence. It's, It's a different animal. And I think a lot of the trick a healthy kind of state of mind as an artist is being honest with yourself, what you actually want. Because we were so trained to want. You know, I went into Farm Aid thinking, Oh my God, it's Farm Aid and I'm going to play in front of 50, people and all kinds of great things are going to happen.

And that was what had been pounded into my head, not what I really actually felt about it. And if I had been capable of being honest with myself which a bit later I was, that's not the career I want. I never wanted that. I really ended up getting the career I wanted and should have had, and the one that was appropriate for the kind of music that I make, as you just said.

[00:30:37] Aaron: Your process of realigning your tangible desire, to the career that you actually wanted, there a grieving process there

[00:30:45] Gretchen: Totally. Totally. when my first record deal, Yielded a record that, I was proud of and Some people really loved the record and, it had little pockets of success, but overall, certainly commercially, it was a complete failure. And that was sort of, you know, the death of my major label dreams, again I, came into the music business with, you know, that's what you wanted.

You wanted to. Be signed by a major label and go down that road. And there was definitely a grieving over the loss of that dream. But at the same time, the entire experience of being on that label and doing all the things that I had to do, I was never comfortable. I felt like I was in a pair of shoes that didn't fit me.

I mean, It just. Was excruciating, everything that I had to do, people started telling me, you know, We would do TV things and they would be like, walk this way, and I'm like, I'm a singer songwriter I don't, I don't walk. I just, I just play the guitar and you know No, don't tell me how to walk, because then I'm going to think about how I walk, and then I will be completely paranoid, you know, it was, it was just full of, of moments like that, and, it's really, really hard to let go of what you think you want, so of course there's a grief that goes with it, and then I really think my, The biggest asset in my life, I've said this over and over again, my biggest asset is that I have a very big set of blinders.

And I have this ability to wallow for 24 hours I'm disappointed, if something that I wanted to happen doesn't happen. I will wallow in it for about 24 hours, then the blinders go on and then I go forward because the work. Of writing the next song, or making the next record, or whatever it is.

That's what's in front of me. And, that has saved me from despair, really. always, Always forward. I don't like looking back. some anniversary of my first album passed. Recently and somebody suggested that, I should go back and remaster it and maybe re record the song and I just thought God I can't do that.

I don't even know who that was that wrote those songs or made that record. I can't even listen to it I'm gonna go forward. So I think that is really stood me in good stead when it comes to like Moments where I have felt, devastated by losing that dream of, whatever it was I thought I was destined for.

it took me 24, 48 hours really to go okay, we're done with that next. What are we going to do now? And I think that's so life saving for me. To be able to think about what's my next thing, but the only way that works is if you put the work first,

if what you really want is the gratification and the adulation or whatever, if what you want is external, then you're going to be, spending a lot of time In a position of please can I have you know, I I always think the music business with artists it puts us By default in this position of can I please have this can I have a record deal?

Can I have a publishing deal? Can I sell tickets? Can I play in your venue? Can I do you know, you're always asking permission from somebody for something and I think mental health comes Instead of feeling like you're in that supplicant, position all the time, instead thinking, what's the next song I'm going to write, what's the next record I'm going to make?

What am I going to do creatively next? Because that is the only thing you have any control over at all. And it's something that you can do all by yourself. You don't need anybody's permission. And I think, That kind of framing of it super important to me, through all of the inevitable disappointments.

I always knew the work was what was next and what mattered.

[00:34:38] Aaron: Yeah, I think about that often in regards to... You know, What we deem as a failure, because you hear people say all the time like, Oh, there's no such thing as failure. There, there are only learning experiences, you know, which, is a very quick hit of like, Oh yeah, amazing.

And then, so in thinking about that more, you know, I've kind of cleaned it down to, it is how we respond to the failure if you wallow in it, if play the victim card over and over to yourself, speaking inwardly here. That just perpetuates that failure. like a self fulfilling prophecy in my judgment of then becomes a failure, but if you kind of look at your disappointment comes from, you can look at, exactly what is next, how do I, Make a better record.

How do I write a better song? How do I step into this path that is more fulfilling and more true to what I want to do? Then this point of failure in retrospect can become this point growth a massive change

[00:35:32] Gretchen: there's a, maybe a slightly more base aspect of it, I guess, or a more petty aspect of it. Which is, when somebody rejects you, or doesn't give you whatever the thing, the opening slot for Artist X, or whatever it is that you wanted. It doesn't hurt to have a little I'll show them. In you, there doesn't hurt to go the next song I write, you're going to be really sorry didn't, that's a motivator to maybe it's not, your highest self, but, I think a little bit of that doesn't hurt because it shows a belief in yourself. shows a basic core belief in what you're doing and in your talent.

[00:36:08] Michaela: think the conversations that we have and why a lot of the conversations we want to have on this podcast, We have like people that are on their first record deals or first couple records and we're like, let's talk in like five years because even like reflecting my own journey of, I was so have such a different perspective when I was like just getting the first taste of yeses and then how things evolve when you start to realize.

Oh, there's nothing guaranteed in this business. One, person can love you and adore your music and say yes to all these things and then the next day decide, I'm over it and treat you very differently. And think when you first are getting the yeses, you think, they really love me.

And this is going to be like, I'm on the rise and I'm special. And

[00:36:56] Gretchen: mean, that kind of ties into the type ofperson that even becomes an artist. certainly a performer. hey, look at me, we're all that like five year old kid, who really gets a taste of that attention and the audience and just Feels good. Yeah. denying that. But Yeah.

you're right. I mean, Then you realize how it really works, which is not only can someone love you one day and lose interest the next day, they can also love you one day. And then someone else tells him you're not cool.

And then they don't love you anymore for even stupider reasons. You know, so not something you should ever hang your hopes and your aspirations on. It's not reliable.

[00:37:36] Michaela: Yeah, and I think what I've been noticing in myself and what I hope is the positive evolution of those experiences is the shifting from making decisions on your art or how you live your life all within the context of well, what do I think is going to get me what I want in my career? Even if that means I have to sacrifice my mental health for a time because it'll pay off and then I'll be able to like, be healthy or sacrifice my time with my family or my personal life or whatever because it will pay off.

The shift from that mindset to, okay, I am living a life that's centered around my art, but I'm also not going to make every decision based on what I think I should do to get what I want career wise, and rather... That I'm a whole human that has all these other aspects to my life and that my art is also dependent on taking care of all of that.

It's like a huge shift in decision making and how you spend your time that I'm observing peers and myself and I'm very grateful for.

[00:38:39] Gretchen: this was a big thing in my decision to stop touring, realizing that your art is part of your life. It's not a compartment that you manage over here on the side and then you manage these other things on the other. it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize.

That my touring life didn't exist in a vacuum. It affected everything, my health, my relationships, my ability to see people, that I wanted to, keep up with every possible aspect of my life, it affected that and it didn't exist all by itself and that even down to the finances of it I used to think, okay, this run.

Has to be in the black. How do we make it, be in the black? And, my stepmother actually at one point she said, I hope you're, you know, you're flying to the UK four times this year, I hope you're upgrading your flight because you need to take care of yourself and be rested and I thought, have to be in the black, mean at some point I just realized this is also your life.

and your health and everything else that that entails. And maybe if I can look at it more holistically, what is going to work? And I'm going to come home at the end of a tour and feel still like a human being instead of a complete wreck. And that's hard enough anyway. Touring is just brutal.

Physically, the older you get, The more brutal it is, but in the end it's much, much healthier to look at the whole thing in a holistic way, rather than trying to compartmentalize and again, you know, we live in this culture where compartmentalization is, part of our ethos, I loved the series that came out about the guy went to work and they,severed part of his brain so that when he went to work, he was just at work and his, personal life didn't exist. I was like, that's a corporate dream. That's exactly what that is. And we are not made like that.

[00:40:28] Michaela: Oh yeah, I think about that. All the time, Especially we have two and a half year old now. I observe it in Aaron's life too, how becoming a parent has impacted our ability to work. and for me, my experience as a woman becoming a mother and how I'm also treated so differently and just how it's like this idea of, Oh, people would, prefer that.

Anybody who's operating in society like don't have children because we need to hide them away and do you do that? It's who we are, but it's an inconvenience because it impedes on productivity and money making and your ability to tour nonstop. it always feels at odds but it's what makes us who we are, and then therefore deepens our artistic work.

How do you write a great song if you don't have a deep, rich personal life? And you can't tour and have a deep, rich personal life. There's just not enough hours. I think about. Your song Patti Lovelace recorded. You don't even know who I am.

I still remember the moment. I heard that song It's stopped me in my tracks and a person who hasn't lived Deeply they couldn't write that song

[00:41:35] Gretchen: Yeah.

[00:41:36] Michaela: the nuance of human experience and long term relationships And it feels so counterintuitive to me these ideas especially in the music industry

[00:41:46] Gretchen: Well, That's sort of,goes back to what we started talking about, which is, artists need time. They need time for those ideas to germinate to everybody who's written a song, knows that the really big ones, the ones where you're like, I've got a, tiger by the tail, this is a big idea you know, you get excited and terrified that you won't be able to, make it happen.

Those are the best songs, but they're also the hardest to write. And those are the ones that take a lot of time usually. And like you say life experience, sometimes those songsthe ideas present themselves and you have to wait a year and a half or two years or five years before you are the human that can.

Write that song because you're the person that's had the life that will allow them to write that song. So Again, that's just another reason why I just think this relentless demand on Artists to do all this other stuff that just really is not the point Can really impede your artistic growth

[00:42:43] Michaela: have two like, bigger questions that I was hoping to, get to at some point, but what the cycles of your life were years ago between touring and much space would pass or time, was there ever a year that you didn't tour at all? And then how that has evolved in recent years as like the economics of touring have changed and how you've seen that.

[00:43:05] Gretchen: my first record came out in 1996 and I was advised to tour strategically and selectively. I'm pretty sure that was bad advice. I think what I probably should have done then. everywhere and I could. had the benefit of I was somewhat known because I had won the CMA the year before.

And I think because I was a solo writer, my name popped out more easily cause it all by itself, so I had this benefit of that and. I probably should have toured everywhere I could, but number one, I was advised not to for whatever reasons. And number two, I had a small child.

don't think it would have been in anybody's interest for me to be gone all the time. Certainly would have affected my child. For my career, probably it would have been a help, but that's what it was. But the result later on around 2004, I put out.

albums. My marriage ended. my ex husband was my producer and manager and, completely involved in every aspect of my career. And that.

all ended, and my child was grown. All I wanted was to get on the road because I, felt like I had much lost time to make up for.

And I got myself an agent who was a folk agent. I really, always felt like that's where I really actually belonged anyway.

And I proceeded to work. Every gig I could possibly get for very little. I mean, I just told her put me out there.

I don't care. I need to get a foothold here I have a lot of time to make up for and I toured the UK I had always been going to the UK and really stepped that up too I was in a life position where I was able to do that. I didn't have a kid at home anymore mhm,

You know, I was in a good position

And... It took me especially in the US, in the folk world. There was a, Oh, she's a Nashville songwriter. That's not really our thing. It probably took me 10 years to get past that with people by, you know, talent buyers. Understandably they had the wrong idea.

And that is because We, my team and me early on had given them the wrong idea and I had gone down probably a career path that ultimately wasn't a good fit for me. But I toured relentlessly, I had the opportunity, I had the lifestyle that allowed me to do that. I was lucky that Barry and I were together and Barry had been playing music with me

before that, that we could go out on the road together. So it didn't even affect my primary relationship. It was perfect for a number of years and really up until COVID hit. That's what we did. We toured and toured. but I will tell you before COVID hit, I know this because in 2019 I felt like I was.

Not even able to slow down enough to think about what I really wanted. If you had asked me in 2019, What do you want, in life? I don't think I would have been able to say. And so I went on a retreat by myself for about a week, because I just said, you know, can't even think. I we're moving so fast. I don't even know who I am or what I think or what I want or anything. So I went on this retreat. So obviously I was dealing with the question and I was dealing with probably burnout and, really the focus of this retreat for me was asking the question, who am I? Without this, who would I be?

What would this look like without all this? And then COVID happened. And it was like the universe said, Would you like a little preview? Yeah. And I started to very slowly nurture the other parts of myself. Like the part that likes to garden. The part that loves to go hiking with my dog, the, things that I just had put on the back burner forever and ever and ever, it seemed like, and it was a really slow process, because my entire identity was really wrapped up in this career, but I, slowly started to realize during lockdown and during the three years between 2020 and Oh, there's a person under there.

There's somebody with a lot of different aspects and facets and interests and desires and I'm not going to dry up and blow away if the touring artist Isn't part of that anymore, but again, speaking about grief, there was also a lot of grief over that. I have loved that part of my life.

I miss it. No question, but I just, negatives outweigh positives at this point, physical toll that it takes. The way the world has changed as far as touring. I mean, You mentioned the economic realities of it. I mean, Between 2019 and 2023, everything's changed. It's

so much more expensive.

Your bottom line, it's.

completely changed. Anybody that's even booked a hotel room. I don't care if you're a touring musician or not. If you've booked a hotel room or rented a car since the pandemic, you know what I'm talking about. Yeah, it's outrageous. that made it, a little easier to go, you know, I think we're done. But also I just, on a more global level, I felt Barry and I have had this incredible adventure the last, 18 years or whatever.

We've had all the highs and lows and it's, been amazing and That's enough to have that. And it's time to, Have our private life and have, I'm getting very emotional just talking about this because it's a huge life decision. But part of that equation was it's also time to make a little space for younger artists to come in and get those gigs.

And, it's just part of the natural cycle of things.

[00:48:57] Michaela: I've never heard someone say that, of it's time to make space the younger artists to come


[00:49:05] Gretchen: think part of it is my experience teaching I'm so invested in.

Mentoring young writers and artists, it's been the most unexpected, wonderful surprise. of my life, how much I love it, and I think that if I hadn't gotten into teaching, I might not feel that way, but I really feel like, you know, gosh, God be with you, and if I can help you in any way, I would love to be of service.

I love that. you said 2004 when you got an agent and really started touring. Can I ask if you're comfortable sharing how old you were when you, Uh, I would have been, I was in my forties. It's really hard to know how old I am. That's another thing that?

happens when you have enough, birthdays. I was, Mid forties, I guess.

[00:49:47] Michaela: I ask only because age is still something, of course with, women a lot. It's a constant conversation, but even with male artists, I've heard this recently of just feeling like, is it too late? I, know, am I too old and, I have those questions and those fears and I'm always like, consume stories of no, look at so and so, look at so and so and

you know, my, agent, then that I, Hooked up with in 2004, also booked Eliza Gilkyson, who's older than I am and was at that point in her fifties and having this flourishing, wonderful career, and that was hugely inspiring to me and made me feel. And I also felt like in the folk world, it was less of issue.

[00:50:30] Gretchen: There are certainly genres and, environments in which that would be Much more of an issue, but I just felt came as close to my ideal world where I was really judged on, what I, put out there as opposed to anything like ageism or anything like that.


really though the age issue to me came into play more In my decision not to tour because it is physically just brutal and it's not something you can do forever. I mean, You can do it forever if you're Mick Jagger and you're on a private jet and you don't lift anything.

You don't even lift your own

[00:51:06] Michaela: Yeah.

[00:51:07] Gretchen: But the realities for the rest of us is we gotta carry things and we gotta, constant motion and, That's not doable forever. you have limitations, physical limitations. It's just reality.

[00:51:17] Michaela: think it was in the pandemic or it might have been right before Roseanne Cash wrote this incredible essay in some magazine or something where she talked about just like the ups and downs of touring and addressing it. And there's this scene that she describes of like, flying somewhere and being with her husband and maybe a couple other musicians or something and kind of trailing behind them, carrying suitcases go get the rental car.

And she said, I don't want to do this anymore. And they all kind stopped and turned around and said, what, and then just kept walking. And it was like way she wrote about it just has stuck with me because it was can happen where you're just like, I'm done. And then you go play a show and you're like, Oh yeah, no, I love this.

But like all of the wear and tear and those moments of like, why are we going through this? And I'm only in my thirties and I still relate to so

[00:52:05] Gretchen: I, I remember when that piece came out and I, so related to it and it was interesting when I made my announcement, once I had gone through the whole process of, okay, are we really gonna do this? I just decided well, we have to,Be public about it because there are probably people out there that would like to see us one more time, you know But I remember my friends who are artists and people that I knew who are artists the reaction was very interesting.

There were a number of them that went. Oh god I wish I could do that You know I wish I could just even just saying I don't want to do this anymore is kind of a radical act it's been your whole Life, but the other response I got was even maybe more interesting, which was you can't stop You know, and I think that reaction is more about them it really didn't have anything to do with what I was doing.

It was more if you say you're gonna stop then stopping is a possibility and I don't want to consider that Stopping is a possibility. I think that was more what that was about. But it certainly brought up feelings in people.

[00:53:11] Michaela: Cause stopping, I think also has all those connotations of weakness or giving up or you can't handle it. And the other side is all of the beautiful things that you're gaining by stopping, but it's not viewed that way. But all of the time you get to know people in your life better to go hiking on the trails and you know, all those things that I think, We consider like, for normies, and you're supposed to be on the road and do this forever.

if you don't, then who

[00:53:43] Gretchen: Well, one of the things that I really wanted out of stopping was I had gotten to a place where I had such a contentious relationship with writing. Because I felt like I was on this hamster wheel, write the album, make the album, go out and tour the album, rinse, repeat. And the writing is the hardest part, for me by far.

And gearing up to do that again. I found myself just resisting and saying why do I need to write another album? What is this insatiable and it was coming from internally But I mean nobody was standing me with a whip saying you need to make another album, you know It was internal but nonetheless the pressure was immense and it was giving me I felt like a very dysfunctional relationship with writing.

And one of the things that I really wanted to discover was what would it be like to write a song with no agenda knowing, I'm not making an album necessarily, I'm just writing a song. I stopped writing during the pandemic. I didn't want to go near it. I didn't want to have anything to do with it.

And the only thing keeps that flame alive is when I get my heart cracked open by going out and hearing somebody and hearing a song that really moves me, and I wasn't getting any of that, I wasn't getting fed. That way. you know, just the other night I went out and heard my friend Jeff Black and I listened to his set and I was moved to tears several times and I thought, oh, the old beast is after me again.

I'm gonna have to sit down and write. But at least I feel like I'm free to do whatever. I'm free to write one song and let it live in my notebook for a while without worrying about where is it going to go? Who's going to release it? What album is it going to be on? All of those things that aren't really the point.

[00:55:25] Michaela: Yeah. beautiful. That's so beautiful. Well, We have gone past an hour, so we want to be really respectful of your time, but thank you so much these are the kind of conversations that we need to be having. So we really appreciate your generosity of time

[00:55:40] Gretchen: Well,

It's wonderful to be able to talk about this particularly. Thank

[00:55:44] Michaela: Yeah,

[00:55:44] Aaron: Gretchen, thank you so

[00:55:45] Gretchen: Thanks, you guys.

[00:55:46] Aaron: carving out time to be here with

[00:55:48] Gretchen: I just love that you're doing this I'm really happy to be, I know Joe Henry is a new friend of mine and, I've got your podcast with him queued up for my next walk andI saw some of the clips, I'm like, the guy's brilliant, so

[00:56:01] Aaron: he really

[00:56:02] Gretchen: just honored to be here.

Thank you.

[00:56:04] Michaela: Thank you. that's a special conversation and one of

[00:56:06] Gretchen: he's, he doesn't do anything but deep and special. I mean, It's his default,

[00:56:11] Michaela: yeah. What's fascinating to me though is also in these conversations, has so much wisdom, but Everyone's approach and thoughts around songwriting and creativity are, not one size fits all. Like, You and him and everybody has a different feeling about their songs, there's overlap, but it's just been incredible to get to see the ways like, oh, there's so much wisdom to take from this and yet it's different than this person's perspective who has built an incredible body of work and incredible career.

Which is just like expanding. And that's what I nerd out on and

[00:56:47] Gretchen: it's, it's, it's the stuff that keeps us going. You know, Hearing other people talk about.

their own process and hearing like, Oh, I do that. That's a thing, or I don't do that. Maybe I should try that. It's Yeah,

[00:57:00] Aaron: it's great. There's this funny anecdote of one of Michaela's songwriting students. to Rodney Crowell's

[00:57:05] Gretchen: Uh

[00:57:05] Aaron: Oh yeah. And, Joe was, teaching there.

[00:57:08] Gretchen: That's where I met him.

[00:57:10] Aaron: Oh, okay.

[00:57:10] Michaela: you

[00:57:11] Gretchen: was teaching there too. Yeah

[00:57:12] Aaron: guess,

[00:57:12] Gretchen: went to lunch together every day. Like we were like new best friends. It

[00:57:16] Aaron: Oh, cool. I love that. That's so great. Yeah, so maybe you were present for this, but I guess Joe said something about like you need to,

his philosophy was that he not confessional songwriter andhe's, you know, makes narratives andand he was like, you need to, know, read 10 poems a day.

[00:57:30] Michaela: And student said that Rodney was like, No. Why? his approach was so different, it was like, no, you just, you, you know, you take from your own experience

[00:57:41] Gretchen: You know, I, yeah, I can, I can, it's funny, but I can totally see that.

And I actually think I'm more on the Joe side of the spectrum. I really believe like, fiction in the form of books, poems, movies is my food. And I can totally see that with Joe. But then again, I can see how Rodney's... written an incredible body of work basically on that little boy that grew up in Houston. yeah, so it's kind of wonderful that it can happen in so many different ways and but I'm with Joe. Read, everybody read poetry. poetry is amazing and.

nobody reads it.