615 Spotlight: Gretchen Peters Preps Her 'Manifesto'
615 Spotlight: Gretchen Peters Preps Her 'Manifesto'

This week, we kind of take a different approach to the 615 Spotlight. Most weeks, we take a look at some of country music's newest performers that you haven't heard from yet. However, you have heard the music of Gretchen Peters -- though you may not have known it. She has written some of the biggest hits of the past two decades, such as "Independence Day" for Martina McBride and "The Secret Of Life" for Faith Hill.

Peters has a brand new disc, titled "Hello Cruel World," which will be released this month, and she's counting the days until people can hear her new music.

"I'm very excited," she tells Billboard.com. "It's been about four years since I've had a studio project - not a special project or a 'Best Of' or anything like that. I'm really excited about this album because it feels like a manifesto to me. When the songs started coming together, and we got into the studio, and the tracks started to gel. I felt like there was a sense of importance to it for me, and I can't wait to get it out."

"Saint Francis"

One of the highlights of the album is "Saint Francis," which she co-wrote with Tom Russell. Of the collaborative effort, she says "He was finishing up his album, and had some song fragments, and asked me 'Do you mind if I just send these to you and see if there's anything that you feel you might want to do something with?' He sent me the first verse and a few little fragments, and I immediately gravitated toward it. I felt like it resonated with all the songs I was writing."

To say it was timely was an understatement. "At the time, I got his e-mail," she says, "I was at my house down in the panhandle in Florida writing for this album. The album has a lot to do with your ideas about faith and loss of faith - your world view when you're up against difficulty. There was also an undercurrent or a layer of that song that is about the earth and ecology. At that time when I was in Florida, the oil spill had happened. St. Francis is the patron saint of ecology for the earth, and that was swimming around in my head. To see that happen and feel so powerless over it were some of the reasons I said 'Let me take this song, and run with it."

The song is one of only two on "Hello Cruel World" -- "Camille" being the other - that Peters co-wrote. While she admits to preferring writing solo, she says there are pros and cons to co-writing.

615 SPOTLIGHT is Billboard.com's weekly look at emerging country or roots artists. Return each Wednesday for a new installment.

"The pros of it -- when you're writing with someone like Tom or Matraca Berg -- is that you get the benefit of their amazing ideas. You can refrain things in a way that you might not do yourself. The cons for me have always been that writing has always felt for me as a solitary and almost private act for me. If I have a song idea, it's almost something that I want to keep to myself. I feel like a co-writer comes in and says 'We can do this or we can do that,' and it's really too early. I haven't processed the idea in my own head enough, so I feel like it interrupts the process. As I've gotten older, I've let go of that some, and realized that the co-written songs are just a different thing."

Fans also will want to check out the haunting tone of "The Matador," of which Peters says is "one of my favorite songs on the disc. I've written a few songs over the past twenty years that are in some general sense about art. That song falls under that category, but for me, it has to do with loving an artist, and making those sacrifices. The woman in that song is coming to grips with loving someone with such a creative force, and what kind of sacrifices she has to make. In a sense, the male and the female in that song are prototypes - male and female archetypes. It was based on relationships that I've seen. I've known my share of difficult men. I have an ongoing fascination with Hemingway and Picasso, who were those sorts of artists."

2012 looks to be a big year for the artist, whose concert slate is filling up quickly. "I am so excited. The touring schedule is looking great. I'm excited to be playing again. I wasn't out on the road much in 2011, so that part, I'm really looking forward to."