The Music Man

(page 5 of 6)

He pauses for a hearty laugh. “And then it was, literally, ‘Thank God. Now I can move on with my life.’ ”

But Peacock’s career decisions and the resulting book have had ramifications far beyond him and his family. Take the Fray, one of the biggest rock bands to emerge in America in the new century. Its first album, released in 2005, went double platinum, and the follow-up debuted in 2009 at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The Fray’s members were raised religious, but broke with the insular Christian music world when time came to pursue their own music. Says Fray frontman Isaac Slade of Peacock’s book, “It echoes my experience of coming up in the church and some of the opposition I got for wanting to play outside of the church.” Slade is speaking from Denver; it’s May, a few weeks before the Fray will join U2 on a series of North American tour dates. “If the culture is a neighborhood,” he says, “the religious sector ends up being a ghetto that very few people ever want to go into, and very few people ever manage to get out of.” Peacock recently produced a gospel song that Slade recorded with his wife, Anna, for an interfaith project. But Peacock’s influence on Slade precedes even the Fray. Says Slade, “As I was growing up, he was one of the main rebel voices that believed you could sing songs in bars and not go to hell for it.”

For Peacock, leaving the Christian music industry didn’t mean leaving Nashville, and one major source of continuity in his Nashville life has been Art House, which he and wife Andi founded in 1991. This is the country church they now live in. “The Art House is a hybrid home and a mixed-use space, which includes recording studios, offices and living areas, and the original chapel of a Methodist church built in 1910,” he says. “The space was deconsecrated in 1965, when the congregation moved down the road to a new building.” Creative people from around Nashville, as well as those passing through town, regularly sit at the Art House table and share their experiences. These have included U2 singer Bono, pop star Katy Perry, film producer Bruce Davey (Braveheart), theologian R.C. Sproul, country artists Keith Urban, Vince Gill, and Lee Ann Womack, pastor-artist Erwin McManus and banjo player Béla Fleck.

Actress Patricia Heaton, best known as the mom on Everybody Loves Raymond, says she met Peacock when she was in Nashville trying to raise money for a movie in the spring of 2008. “I never got the money,” she says, “but I met Charlie, and that proved to be the silver lining of the trip.” She has spoken at Art House, and describes what it’s like: “Charlie always opens his home to discussions about art, why we create, the deeper meaning behind what we do, the impact it has on culture—it’s sort of a salon for different artists, a space where artists can leave the mercenary aspect behind and just exchange ideas, talk about the impact of faith on our art and art on our faith, how to support each other, how to maintain integrity and still be successful.”

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On Apr. 12, Peacock made an announcement on his Twitter page, where he maintains a steady flow of thoughts, jokes, links and public conversations with fellow musicians. It was a statement that would change the lives of two Sacramento musicians: “Very proud to announce the signing of @attwatermusic to Twenty Ten Music @musictwentyten.”

Twenty Ten is the music company he runs with musician son Sam. (His daughter Molly works in development for NPR.) It specializes in artist development, music publishing and the lucrative realm of placing songs in movies and on TV. Songs that Peacock has worked on, as songwriter and/or producer, have appeared in films like I Love You Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey and Elektra starring Jennifer Garner, and television shows like CSI, Grey’s Anatomy and Smallville.

Attwater is the name of the Sacramento country music band centered around the songwriting core of singer Erika Attwater and guitarist Jonathan Richards. Twitter was a fitting place for the announcement because Twitter is where Peacock and the country aspirants met in the first place.

“This is how much I can’t get Sacramento out of my system,” says Peacock, who lists dual citizenship (“Nashville, TN & Yuba City, CA”) on his Twitter profile. “If someone follows me on Twitter,” he says, “and I see Sacramento, then I have to see if I know them, or know of them.”

Twitter may be great for quick introductions and split- second observations, but Attwater agreed that meeting up in person would be the best way to discuss this turn in their musical careers. They suggested one of their favorite Sacramento cafes, the artisanal coffee shop Temple Coffee on S Street between 28th and 29th streets. So on a sunny afternoon, we sit outside while someone installs fresh tiles in the patio and the steady rumble of the Capital City Freeway Loop provides an industrial sonic backdrop to a lengthy discussion about country music.

They are youthful (Erika is 24 and Jonathan is 31), refreshingly unguarded, and at some point they allow that aside from a radio appearance, this may be their first real interview. Ever.

Jonathan describes how their initial close encounter with Peacock came to be. “We had discussed where we wanted to go musically,” he says of himself and Erika, whose family name serves double duty as the band’s. “And one of the things we discussed is it would be cool if we could actually get in contact with someone who knew what they were doing. With Charlie specifically, we had been following him on Twitter, so I sent him a message. At first he was just giving input and advice. And then an e-mail came out of nowhere asking if we had any song samples, and that led to him wanting more samples and him saying, ‘I’m interested in working with you guys.’ ”

As a testament to the stature of Peacock’s career, both members of Attwater were fans of his before they knew they were fans of his. Jonathan mentions a song by the Christian act DC Talk that he had liked for years, without ever realizing Peacock was its author. And Erika is a longtime fan of the singer Joy Williams, one half of the duo The Civil Wars, whose recent breakthrough album, Barton Hollow, owes much of its success to Peacock’s untraditional, ultra-quiet production. (In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, country starlet Taylor Swift recommended the Barton Hollow song “Poison & Wine” as “a must-have for anyone who has ever experienced any kind of love at all.” The song features in the recent Kate Hudson film, Something Borrowed.)

Those industry connections certainly appeal to an ambitious act like Attwater, but for Jonathan and Erika, Peacock’s local credentials are especially important. “He played these clubs,” says Jonathan, referring to Harlow’s and other former local haunts of Peacock’s.

Peacock says his helping Attwater is all about payback: “I want to give someone the same chance that people gave me.”

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