The following interview was conducted in January of 2006 by Tim Alderson. Fans of Pat's solo albums from the early eighties will remember that Alderson was the art director for "The Silence", and worked with a variety of L.A. based artists during that era, including Mark Heard, The Lucky Stiffs, and Tonio K. Alderson currently resides in Pasadena, California, and is the proud owner of a dog that can actually say "Hello".
TA: Your last album, "The Silence" was released in 1984. So what have you been doing all these years?
PT: I stopped touring back around 1986 and began spending a lot of time in Nashville writing songs I hoped other artists would record. I'm glad to say that I've been fortunate in that regard, but it's hard to believe so much time has gone by since I began that adventure. I’ve made a lot of good friends in Nashville and feel like I’ve learned a lot by co-writing with so many talented writers in that community. Along with that, I’ve still occasionally gone out and performed, playing writer's nights at the Bluebird Cafe, participating in NSAI's Tin Pan South, and various other showcases. I was honored to be a part of the Mark Heard tribute album, "Orphans of God" a few years back, and recorded one of Mark's songs for that. And last year the Pat Terry Group did a reunion concert that benefitted a friend of ours who needed a heart transplant. It was a fun experience and I'm glad to report that our friend received his new heart and is doing well.
TA: Speaking of The Pat Terry Group, have any of your older albums been re-released in CD format?
PT: I'm sorry to say they haven't. At one time I worked with an A&R person at Benson Records, trying to put together a two-disc set of PTG recordings. It actually got put on their production schedule, but unfortunately budget cuts and some new direction at the label during that time caused the project to fall through. It was frustrating because I’d been trying for a while to get some of that music re-released, but that’s the music business. Perhaps one day it'll happen. I just spend more time looking forward these days than looking back. I'm grateful those songs have spoken to so many people through the years though.
TA: You’ve caught some flack from a few people in the evangelical Christian community who seem to feel that you abandoned your faith when you began writing country songs. Do you have a response to that?
PT: Well, that’s been something of a disappointment to me, because it’s certainly not true that I’ve abandoned my faith, and I’ve always worked with a strong sense of trying to fulfill what I’ve felt has been a certain kind of calling on my life, which is about creativity. It's difficult when I hear that some Pat Terry Group fans felt let down by my not continuing making albums in the Christian music genre like I did in the seventies. It was a great privilege to have written songs during that era that touched so many people’s lives. But as time went on, maintaining an honesty in my work meant that I had to be willing to change and not bottle up creative urges that I believe came with whatever talents I'd been given. I hope in that journey I've grown in my faith, but in the end that judgment is up to God. Whether I write gospel songs or country songs or anything else is probably a very small part of the equation when it comes to God's view of my success as a person. I try to keep that in perspective. And ultimately I hope my Christian friends can consider that sometimes a change of direction can actually be a spiritual path rather than an abandonment of one's faith.
TA: So you don't think it's a conflict or compromise for you as a person of faith to write so-called secular music?
PT: Anybody who's heard the songs I've written over the last twenty years knows that not all my songs are gospel songs, and not all of them are even meant to be taken particularly seriously. Some are just for fun, you know. But they’re all written against a backdrop of a God who is there. The characters in my songs live in a world where God exists and there is right and wrong and a need for redemption. Working within that context, I haven't written any secular songs. That's the way I look at it anyway. Those who want to hear the spiritual element in my music, will. It's there. And I'm always willing to share my faith on a personal level with anyone. But it means something special to me, so I try to reverance it and not recklessly throw it into the marketplace of the music business to be marginalized, which I think often happens. These days politicians and even some Christian activists seem to have found the value in marketing religion, but it bothers me when I see artists doing it. I just don't like to be lumped in with that mentality, and I hate what it's done to how people view Christians and Christianity in this country. It saddens me to have to say that. I hope my songs can just speak for themselves.
TA: Why talk about this now, after so many years of basically just keeping to yourself and doing your work?
PT: Here’s the thing... I’ve been extremely fortunate to have lived a life in music. I’ve not only followed my heart and done something I’ve loved, but I like to think I've had the privilege of contributing something to people’s lives, and as icing on the cake, I’ve been able to make a living as well. It’s more than I could ever ask for. But some people seem to enjoy debating with me the decisions I've made when it comes to my music and my faith. I recently read an article on an evangelical website where my lyrics were quoted out of context, and then the writer used them as a basis to grieve over the fact that I'd left my calling and in a nutshell, squandered my creative gifts. It's tough to take, because that kind of criticism, which I consider completely off-base and frankly, unfair, makes it difficult for me to interact with that element of the Christian community. It's no fun being branded a black-sheep among people whom the scripture tells you are your spiritual family, but I've had to accept that there's a small element out there that's always ready to judge you if you're doing something in a way that they can't understand or that they disagree with. I'm not the first musician who's gotten some of that, and I mean no disrespect to those who want to go over and over that ground, but frankly, after so many years, I’ve made it a point to just not discuss it anymore. I suppose in the case of this interview though, I appreciate the opportunity to once and for all give my side of the story. For those Christian folks who’ve listened to any of my songs and somehow interpreted that I’m an unhappy person who has abandoned his faith and worse, sold it out, I’d like to say that you’ve misinterpreted my lyrics, you may not understand the nature of how songwriters make their livings, and you unfairly color other's perceptions of my songs when you spread those kinds of inaccuracies. I’ve wrestled with whether I should make such a statement, because I’m sure it sounds defensive, and there’ll be those who’ll want to take me to task for it. But at a certain point, I think if you care about something, you don’t want it to be misrepresented, especially when you work so hard to do something meaningful and you're following a path trying to get it right.
TA: So have you gotten it right? It does seem that you basically walked away from a very evangelical type of music presentation that you were doing in the seventies, and many of your fans just never heard from you again.
PT: Again, let me say that I have a great deal of affection for what our group, and a great many other writers and performers were trying to do back in those early days of what was then called “Jesus Music”. There definitely was a time back in the early years of my Christian experience when I would’ve said that I felt called to the music ministry. But I reached a point where for a variety of reasons, the term “music ministry” seemed more limiting than liberating when it came to expressing the things that were closest to my heart. Everyone who professes Christ has a calling. We’re to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Within that mandate, I try to exercise my creative gifts as fully as I can. And really, as a vehicle for expression, songwriting has a power all it's own. It’s not like preaching or apologetics. It’s something else entirely, and when it’s honest and comes from the heart, it connects in a very “down to the bone”, truthful way. That’s no small miracle in a day and age when truth has been replaced by advertising, and it's constantly being distorted to sell things, be it CD’s, automobiles, or political persuasions. I really believe Christians should be more concerned about that skewering of the truth than worrying about whether some musician is operating under a certain label or title. Just calling something “ministry” or “Christian” doesn’t automatically make it more truthful or better. If I can write a really good song, that affirms something real in the context of my view as a person of faith, it doesn't matter to me if people label it gospel, or country, or whatever. I just hope it can connect with people and move them in some way.
TA: So, you don’t think the gospel is a “greater” truth and more important than the usual subject matter of most of the popular music of today?
PT: I understand you asking that question. I’m not discounting the enormity and sacredness of the gospel message, whether it’s found in a song or a sermon or whatever. I’m just saying that truth doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Emotional truthes having to do with the everyday joys and struggles of life are part of the context that makes religious truth actually mean something. I appreciate any artist who reminds me of my humanity and the needs and responsibilities that come with that. It makes me appreciate the grace and mercy I’ve experienced through my faith all the more. Bruce Springsteen's music always moved me, but I don't know anything about Bruce's personal faith. All I know is, when he hits on something real, it resonates inside me. The same goes for Steve Earle, or Emmylou Harris, or any number of thoughtful artists. And for that matter, I'd include the great hymn writers like Fanny Crosby and Ira Sankey in that list too. The music of these artists has sometimes given voice to feelings I haven't been able to express for myself, and I think that's what good songwriting does. In the end, that's what's important. I think God honors that more than something that's contrived to be "Christian", but lacks honesty. That's all I'm saying. For a songwriter, it’s a lot ot live up to. I'll be the first to tell you that I’m rarely satisfied with my work. I haven't always achieved in my own songs what I'd like. It's a difficult process to peel back the layers and get down to the heart of what you want to say, but in the end that's certainly my goal.
TA: So will we hear some new music from you anytime soon? Anything in the works?
PT: I've actually been working on an album project on and off for a while, and I'm trying to dig in and finish that over the next few months. I'm doing it in my own little studio, Horse and Sandwich, so I've got the freedom to work at my own pace. No doubt when it’s finished some folks will say, “It took him twenty years to come up with this?” (laughs) I admit, the pace has been a bit slow, but I’ve just been doing other things and making albums hasn’t been my primary focus. I’m enjoying it though and it’s coming together. Once the album’s done, it'll be available through the website. I did recently release a single song CD which is a project that was done as a fundraiser for a historical restoration project in my hometown of Smyrna, Georgia. It's a tribute to our community here, but I think anyone who grew up in a small town would relate. It's called "Where Dreams & Jonquils Grow".
TA: What's a jonquil?
PT: (laughing) I get that question a lot. It's a daffodil. Smyrna is called "The Jonquil City" because we have so many jonquils. It's beautiful around here when they're all in bloom.