Singled Out: Vanessa Peters' Just One Of Them

Vanessa Peters

Vanessa Peters released her new album ""Foxhole Prayers" today and to celebrate we asked her to tell us about the song "Just One Of Them". Here is the story:

I wrote this song almost all in one afternoon. "The Great Gatsby" has always been one of my favorite novels, even though a lot of the characters are kind of abhorrent. That's part of what's fascinating about it to me - it manages to suck you in and make you care about the characters, even though almost all of them are shallow, spoiled, and selfish. The writing is just gorgeous, and every time I read it, I find some new turn of phrase that makes me want to get out a highlighter (nerd alert!).

Last year, I re-read the novel for the umpteenth time, and I began noodling on the idea of a Gatsby concept album, but I couldn't see how to really make it work, not least because the characters are generally so fallible. How do you write an album worth of songs about people that are mostly unlikeable? The short answer is that you can't. But I decided to at least try, and I started with Nick Carraway, the narrator. He's generally a good guy, but he has this self-important streak that I really wanted to highlight, because I think it's pretty common. He's convinced that's he's a blameless participant in the tragedy. But in any piece of fiction where there's a first person narrator, you have to ask yourself - is this person reliable? And of course we come to realize that Nick whitewashes his own flaws and hasn't given us an entirely truthful spin on the story. It's only at the end of the novel, when everything is in pieces, that he realizes that he spent an awful lot of time judging the other characters without really acknowledging his own shortcomings.

The week that I was writing this song, I had gone a little writing retreat/vacation. I cut myself off from the news and social media and was just trying to focus on songwriting. I was stuck, because I really wanted to tackle some of the current events that were weighing on me, but I didn't know how to do so without being preachy or judgmental. But the fact of the matter is that we are/were reliving the 1920s and '30s to some extent - just look at the rise of populism and nationalism and massive income inequality, the grift and corruption that hardly even bother us anymore because we have become so numb to it. So it seemed natural to revisit Gatsby, and I settled into the character of Nick Carraway in order to write this song. It's part of a trilogy of sorts - "Just One of Them," "Carnival Barker," and "Trolls" - all of which were written that week. Like much of the record, those songs are largely sociopolitical in nature, but I also tried to use them to address the way in which those larger forces that are completely out of our control really affect us on a personal level. It was a lot to tackle in a 4-minute song, but I really love the way it came together.

Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!

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