Gretchen Peters’ Songwriting Survival Kit

3 May, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Gretchen Peters Songwriting Survival Kit

Gretchen Peters’ Gibson J45: “The first vintage guitar I ever bought and the best.”

We find out the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame inductee’s indispensable tools of her trade include coffee, naps and solitude

We’ve always had a lot of admiration for Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Gretchen Peters. Her 2015 album Blackbirds was yet another example of her ability to weave both storytelling and a personal narrative into her music. Peters returns this month with the follow-up, Dancing With The Beast. It’s a record which intentionally puts female characters at the fore, from teenage girls to old women, and continues her run of creating compelling material. Here, she reveals to us the essential pieces of songwriting kit which aid the creative process…


1. My little red piano
“It’s an ‘apartment piano’ from the 30s or 40s, probably – only 64 keys. I got it because it was the only thing that would fit through the stairwell in my writing room, but I love writing on it. It’s got some kind of churchy mojo.”

2. 1957 Gibson J45
“The first vintage guitar I ever bought and the best. I wrote Blackbirds on this guitar. I’m superstitious about guitars – if they bring good songs forth I will always go back for more.”

3. MacBook Air, circa 2014
“I do everything on this Mac, including write songs. It’s not very romantic to write songs on a computer, and the worst part is you don’t have all those wonderful scraps of paper afterwards, which serve as a sort of tribute to all the sweat and tears you put into the song. But the reality is that writing on a laptop is wonderful and helpful in many ways. I can start to see the shape of the song when I work this way. I can highlight and bold the good parts, and see where the weaknesses are.”

4. TuneSmith songwriting software
“This is where I write. The genius thing about it is that it keeps everything in one place – the audio recordings, the lyrics, the saved rhymes, the endless stream of consciousness stuff that I write before I actually write the song. It’s all in one place which prevents me from having to corral all those bits of paper and iPhone recordings.”

5. Solitude
“I’ve never been much of a co-writer, although I have a few friends I write with on occasion, who know my ways and understand that I have to be alone with the song for long stretches in between co-writing sessions. But primarily, I fly solo. And I need a quiet place away from everyone and everything. I need to get a dialog going with my subconscious, and it’s hard to do that with someone else in the room staring at you.”

6. Nespresso coffee
“A little shot of espresso (or maybe two) to kickstart the writing session.”

7. A couch or bed (not pictured) for naps
“I have found that taking very short naps during the writing process helps bring up ideas and solve problems in the writing. This is actually well documented; Einstein and Aristotle did it. The key is to get yourself in that liminal state between sleep and wakefulness. That’s where all the good stuff is,”

8. iPhone Voice Memo app
“For those times when you have an idea in an inconvenient place. I’ve definitely been seen singing into my phone on walks around my neighbourhood.”

9. A rhyming dictionary
“Yes, I use a rhyming dictionary! I don’t know any writer who doesn’t, although the times when it yields the perfect rhyme are surprisingly few. But something about looking through the all the possibilities is helpful, and a bit meditative.”

10. Invocation of the Muse
“In Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art, he describes the rituals he’s developed as part of his effort to fight ‘resistance’, the writer’s natural enemy. The Invocation of the Muse, from Homer’s Odyssey, is a sort of prayer said at the beginning of the writing session. I love this idea of the Muse as a collaborator. So I took Homer’s words and rewrote them to suit myself, and my particular brand of resistance.”


Gretchen Peter’s new album, Dancing With The Beast, is out 18 May via Proper Records. For all the latest information, head to gretchenpeters.com



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