Vanessa Peters 'With the Sentimentals': Interview and Review
I confess my record collection is littered with the usual and mostly male No Depression singer-songwriter suspects. Yes, I love Lucinda, Aimee, Rhiannon, and Rain, but Alejandro Escovedo, Sam Baker, Jon Dee Graham. Jason Isbell, Steve Earle, Rhett Miller, Townes Van Zandt, Dave Alvin, James McMurtry, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, and the list goes on forever, dominate my playlists. Don’t ask me why.
Having said that, Vanessa Peters’ Sweetheart Keep Your Chin Up (2009) caught me by surprise and is one of my favorite albums by any artist male or female from any year. But there is a blessing and a curse in releasing a truly great album (ask Lucinda) in that everything that follows is compared to it. Peters' 2015 release With the Sentimentals is another collection of introspective, intimate, literate, metaphor-rich songs and is her strongest release since, if not the equal of, Sweetheart.
The Danish folk-rock band The Sentimentals adds mellow musical backing that perfectly complements Peters' beautiful, evocative vocals while the lyrics flow like lines from a short story or poem: "A binary code of dots and dashes," "how this quilt got pieced together," and "not be afraid of your angry ghost." It is highly recommended.
Hal Bogerd: Congratulations on your new disc with a new band. Who are The Sentimentals?
Vanessa Peters: Thanks! The Sentimentals are a three-person band from Denmark that I have worked with on and off for the last ... seven years? We met via MySpace, believe it or not. They invited me up to Denmark to tour with them when Little Films came out, and I also went back when Sweetheart Keep Your Chin Up was released. They have come to America as well, and I've toured a number of times with M.C. Hansen, the guitar player, who is a great friend of ours and even came to our wedding a few years back. I consider myself so lucky to know them.
It looks like you were pretty efficient recording the album with the band in two sessions.
Yeah, man, The Sentimentals work fast. They love to do a song in just a few takes so as not to spoil the magic. There are tons of little mistakes in the recordings, which is part of the charm -- they really were quick live takes. On both trips to Denmark, we did a day of rehearsal and about a day and a half of recording. I get kind of flustered in the studio so I was really happy with how quickly we did it.
I've never seen you live and when I check it seems like you are always touring Europe. You must have a pretty loyal following. Where's home?
I guess home is Texas, but I'm equally at home in Italy. I've lived there on and off for 15 years now (can't believe that) so it's hard to say. It's easier for me to tour Europe. I have more contacts and a booking agent over there, and the distances are more manageable. I am hoping to do some US shows this summer on the East Coast, though... I'm long long overdue for a true US tour. It gets harder as you get older. There's so much I want to do -- recording, work in the studio, and touring doesn't make much money, so it's hard to find time for it, honestly. And it's hard on your body. On mine, anyway.
I know you spend a lot of time in Italy. Rough life. Are you a foodie?
[Laughs] Yes! That's one of the first things my husband asked me when we met. I love food. And coffee. And wine. And spending so much time in Italy is great, I'm not going to lie. It's not all roses over here, believe me. Italy can be so maddening that I sometimes wonder why I keep coming back, but ultimately it's a fantastic place to call my adopted home.
So many of your songs would be perfect for a movie. Have any of them been featured in a movie or on TV?
Not as many as I'd like, but I'm glad you think so. It's hard to break into licensing. I keep hoping to land a few more placements. I've had a few songs on MTV and Oxygen, but nothing in film yet.
For a happily married woman you can certainly write an introspective sad song! Are they just easier/more interesting to write?
Most people would say it's harder to write a happy song, and I definitely think that's true. Sad [and] introspective songs come more easily to most songwriters, I think. They feel weightier, more important somehow, but that's not the case -- a good happy song is so important. They're tough, though.
You're organizing a singer-songwriter circle. Who would you pick to join you?
Songwriter circle... Tough. Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards, Neko Case, and Annika Norlin (a Swedish singer songwriter who records as Hello Saferide). If it wasn't a ladies night, I'd invite Gary Louris and Jon Brion, and find a way to bring Elliott Smith back as well.
Are you still doing handstands?
Oh yes. One day I'm going to collect them in all in a book... I have them on top of mountains, in the center of cities, in really random places. I still need one on stage though.