Today’s Feature – September 16-17: Mark Erelli

September 16, 2008 at 8:34 pm (Today's Feature)

Mark Erelli of Somerville, Massachusetts is the definition of the talented Boston-based singer/songwriter (with numerous amazing acts emerging from the scene) – but still has the skills to write a tune about PEV’s hometown: Baltimore. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

Seriously though, Erelli has been diving into the folk-Americana scene since his days on campus, back when he booked guys like Greg Brown and Chris Smither to play and talk about writing songs and making a living playing music. Compared to artists such as John Hiatt and Ron Sexsmith, Erelli has been a song producing machine, dropping album after album to more and more praise. After grabbing attention immediately with his self-titled debut, his 2001 sophomore effort, “Compass and Companion” spent nine weeks in the Top Ten of the Americana charts and garnered two Boston Music Award nominations. Next on the success list, the making of “The Memorial Hall Recordings” was recorded on film, and the ensuing documentary was broadcast on PBS stations nationwide.

Erelli’s third record called for him to team up with Boston country band The Spurs to record “Hillbilly Pilgrim.” Containing 11 western swing originals, the album fittingly spent 11 weeks on the Americana radio charts, and received two more Boston Music Award nominations. 2006 was an especially busy year, with two albums being released: “Hope & Other Casualties” (Folk Radio WUMB’s #1 record of the year) as well as “Innocent When You Dream,” his first all-acoustic record.

Today, you can nab a record that has once again raised the bar for Erelli, a collection called “Delivered.” Mark says “There’s no bullshit on it, I think these songs address hard questions about life and death and love and God in an honest way that strives to find some common chord that might resonate and bring us all together a little more closely.” No doubt, more award nominations are on the way.

While you missed Erelli on the Soul2Soul tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, you can still catch one of his intense and entertaining shows as he hits the road to support “Delivered.” He’ll be on tour throughout the US and the UK not only for much of this year, but for 2009 as well. Get into the XXQ’s for a whole lot more.

XXQ’s: Mark Erelli

PEV: First off… tell us more about your song for the PEV hometown entitled, “Baltimore!”

ME: Like some of my songs, Baltimore probably sounds more autobiographical than it really is. I do a lot of driving alone, so I know how a guy can go crazy when he has too much time to think. This is just a simple little doghouse love song, a plea for his lover to have a little mercy on a sinner when he shows up at her door in the middle of the night.

PEV: So give us the story – how did you get into music?

ME: I’ve always been a fan of music, I was dancing along with Michael Jackson videos in front of MTV when it came on the air. I was in musicals in junior high, rock bands in high school, and gradually drifted towards the folksinger thing in college. I played coffeehouses on campus, joined the student group that brought music on campus, and then booked all my heroes (Greg Brown, Chris Smither, etc) to come play on campus. I would be their guide for the day, sometimes I’d open the show, and frequently we’d hang out afterwards while they (very graciously) answered my questions about how one comes to write songs and play music for a living.

PEV: What were you listening to growing up?

ME: Starting out on MTV, I was mostly into the popular stuff of the day at first…the top 20, then heavy metal once adolescence kicked in, graduating to more classic rock and finally the blues and singer/songwriters towards the end of high school and beyond. I was a big Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead fan, two wonderful ‘gateway bands,’ in that you can really get yourself hooked on some great music by delving into the earlier traditional country and blues that inspired them.

PEV: You’ve been compared to John Hiatt and Ron Sexmith by The Washington Post – how does that sit with you?

ME: Hiatt and Sexsmith are two of my favorite artists, so any comparison is welcomed.

PEV: You recently had a son – how has that affected your music?

ME: Becoming a parent is one of the best ways to have your priorities instantly (and joyfully) reorganized. Fatherhood is like switching over from rabbit ears to high-def. I don’t know if it’s wanting a way for my son to know me that I may never be able to otherwise explain to him, but I am very focused on playing music from a place of honesty and distilling every thought and expression down to some core belief. This doesn’t mean every song is full of big revelations; it could just be trying to set an example for him by expressing and appreciating the simple joys in life.

ME: PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio right now, what would we find?

ME: A crib and a changing table. I used to have a space to make some noise in, but when my son arrived, the room became largely his. I have a closet full of guitars (high strung, tenor, a dreadnought, baritone electric and more) and a corner packed with amps and a pedal steel, which I borrowed from a friend in a fit of optimism.

PEV: When you sit down to write, what kind of environment do you surround yourselves in?

ME: Before I became a father, I was very disciplined about writing, sitting down each morning at our dining room table with a cup of coffee, notebook and guitar. Now, I mainly try to grab inspiration where and whenever I can. I write fewer songs, but have more scraps of ideas and melodies that I try and hold onto until I can examine them more fully and see if there’s any potential for a full-blown song.

PEV: What can fans expect from your release, “Delivered”?

ME: I am really proud of this new record. It’s the record I’ve always hoped I had in me. There’s no bullshit on it, I think these songs address hard questions about life and death and love and God in an honest way that strives to find some common chord that might resonate and bring us all together a little more closely.

PEV: How does this collection differ from “Hope & Other Casualties?”

ME: I would say it takes that album’s exploration of how the personal and political intertwine even further. The personal songs go deeper, the political songs are even more direct and unvarnished, and the songs where the two collide, they do so with greater force and higher stakes than on previous records.

PEV: How was the “Soul 2 Soul” tour?

ME: The Soul2Soul tour was a really fun experience, mainly because I was playing music every night with Lori McKenna, one of my dearest friends. It was a real honor to be entrusted with helping to introduce her and her songs to 15,000 people every night. Tim and Faith were really good to us, and it was a fun five weeks, playing in huge rooms, traveling as part of this musical circus, pretty much isolated from any hard work or trouble that you might have to deal with in the ‘real world.’

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for you?

ME: Pretty good thus far. I have been trying to stick closer to home, to the extent that is possible in my line of work. I love traveling and playing music for folks, but often that comes at the expense of seeing my wife or missing my son growing up. It’s a constant dance and juggling act, but so far so good.

PEV: In all your travels, which city do you think offers the best scene for music?

ME: Of course, there are great writers, singers, performers and pickers just about everywhere you go. Bob Dylan, Mississippi John Hurt, Hank Williams and everyone else was, at one time, an unknown artist hanging around some small town singing their songs, so I think there is great stuff everywhere if you look hard enough. However, I would stack my hometown of Boston up against New York, Nashville, Los Angeles or any other music business hub.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Mark Erelli performance?

ME: I play so many different kinds of shows in such a wide variety of venues, that I just try to bring the same joy and commitment to each show. I don’t consider what I do to be, ultimately, entertainment. If that is all someone wants from music, there’s always a wardrobe malfunction happening somewhere. I strive to be entertaining, but I want to connect with the audience on a variety of levels; challenge them, lift them up, hopefully send them home feeling a little less alone.

PEV: Before a show, are there any pre-show rituals you do or is it just go out there and perform?

ME: I don’t really do much more before a show than try and have a decent meal and a glass of red wine.

PEV: Do you have a dream collaboration that you haven’t had yet?

ME: Until a year ago, I would have said to write a song with Ron Sexsmith, but I wrote a song with him and Lori McKenna last summer, so it’s time to find a new dream! I think most of my dream collaborations envision myself in someone’s band, as an accompanist, rather than out in front. I would drop everything to be in Bob Dylan’s band.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist out right now that you think we should all be looking into?

ME: No one comes to mind, but that’s all due to the fact that I barely have time to cover all the music I need to know to perform and record, let alone keep up with the latest new thing. I’m sure I’m missing out on something great and new that’s coming out right now, though.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Mark Erelli?

ME: I am, or used to be, a pretty good tennis player.

PEV: When you are not touring or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

ME: I am usually hanging out with my son, walking around the neighborhood, making up songs about the things we see along the way. He’s only one year old, so he doesn’t know what I’m singing about, but I think he likes to be wheeled about, listening to his dad’s voice.

PEV: In one word, describe Mark Erelli.

ME: Does “sleep-deprived” count as one word, or two?

PEV: So, what is next for Mark Erelli?

I used to have a whole list of future projects that I wanted to do, but I think now I tend to go more on gut and instinct. I am looking forward to getting the new cd “Delivered” out into the world, and I’ll just have to wait and see what the world has in store for me once that happens.

For more information on Mark Erelli, check out www.MarkErelli.com

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