September 2014 Newsletter
Sunday, August 24, 2014
WHEN I PAINT (OR PHOTOGRAPH) MY MASTERPIECE
Deciding how to record an album all boils down to two basic approaches--painting and photography. The former method is gradual: throw some paint on the canvas, step back for perspective, then add another layer, a color over another color that makes yet another new shadow or tone altogether. The latter is instantaneous: the shutter opens, then closes, and a brief passing moment is captured indelibly. Though fundamentally different, each approach is valid and I used both of them on different records set to be released this month.
MILLTOWNS (due out Sept. 9), a tribute to my musical hero Bill Morrissey, is a painting. I actually didn't even know I was painting at first, I was simply doodling. I needed a song to sing while honing my home recording skills one day, and picked one of Bill Morrissey's out of a stack of his lyrics that happened to be on a nearby music stand. I had so much fun that I sang 11 more, plus one of mine, right in a row. Listening back afterwards, I heard parts from the original versions that I wanted to try and add to mine. Sometimes it was a direct tribute, like adding a bluesy harmonica solo in the vein of Cormac McCarthy. Other parts were recontextualized and a fiddle part was played on the mandolin instead. And some arrangements were mine alone, driven by instruments that Bill never used (e.g. lap steel).
I'd step back and listen to my painting in progress after each short session, sandwiched in between school pickups, drop-offs and babysitter coverage, letting decisions about which colors or textures to add next come to me organically. Sometimes, this gradual approach can present so many options that it's difficult to know how to proceed, but if I waited long enough the right choice always seemed to come. And it was also evident when I'd taken it as far as I could on my own, and when I needed to bring in few other friends to help me out. Painting is more time-consuming than photography, and MILLTOWNS took me about 6 months to finish. But I couldn't be more proud of the results.
I used more of a photographic approach in producing a new record by Lori McKenna, NUMBERED DOORS (due out Sept. 23). The idea going in to the studio was simple: a few mics, some acoustic instruments, and the two of us singing and playing knee to knee while the tape rolled, just like we do in concert. If only I'd known that we'd nail 5 of the 6 songs we hoped to record...in the first day. The next morning, instead of going back to the studio to cut one song, I suggested we do another 5 and have a proper record. Lori had already had the same thought, and just like that we were making a full-length release. Knee-deep in Milltowns at the time, I would have been stressed out had I anticipated the logistics of a full-length project. So maybe I tricked her into doing a whole album, but she also tricked me into producing one! We ended up with 10 simple and acoustic recordings, each one a snapshot of performance (except for one overdubbed slide outro), the whole thing as vibrant and true as anything she's ever done.
Painting, photography, some combination of the two...it's all valid and the only rule in making a great record is that there are no rules. Sometimes it's great to have all the musicians in a room, everyone going for broke. But other times, you can do things on your own, gradually and quietly, that you would never think to do in a traditional ensemble approach. You can end up with great records either way, and I'm pretty sure I did. But don't take my word for it...pick up both of these records when they are officially released later this month.
ADVANCE PRAISE: The promotional gears are turning, and the early reviews on MILLTOWNS are everything I could have hoped for and more. No Depression says "the subtle vocal and instrumental nuances that Erelli has embraced on this tribute set are simply jaw-dropping." And the Portland Press Herald states "Erelli treats (Morrissey's) songs with tenderness and care." Pre-order the record today!
EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES: You've read about two records coming out this month of which I am extremely proud, and there are actually two more I need to let you k now about. Charlie Rose, a Barnstar! compadre and multi-instrumentalist who appears on MILLTOWNS, is releasing his debut solo effort STOWAWAYS on Sept. 23. I play and sing on it and it's fantastic and you need to check it out. Also, Canadian songbird Rose Cousins, who sings on the title track for MILLTOWNS, has a new EP coming out on Sept 2 called STRAY BIRDS. She covers my song Tired Eyes, paying me the hightest compliment a songwriter can receive. Pre-order it now!
MP3 of the MONTH: I've talked a lot about how Bill Morrissey's influence on me often leads me to explore New England imagery in my own work. This month's track, "Old Stone Walls," is an unreleased song that ruminates on the stories the landscape can tell you if you listen. It's available for free for the month of September on my Bandcamp page.
The MILLTOWNS tour kicks off this month and I am so excited. I'll be joined by Charlie Rose on banjo & pedal steel for all of these shows (except where noted), and he'll open many of them with a short set of his own material. I'll play a mix of Bill Morrissey songs and selections from my catalog that showcase a bit of his influence on me. I always associate Bill's music with New England in the fall and winter, so I'm staying close to home for the rest of the year. I strongly suggest a road trip to see a MILLTOWNS show...we won't disappoint you!
Fri Sept 5th - Harmony Hall, Three Rivers MA - 7:30 pm
Sat Sept 6th - Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit MA - 5:30 pm
Sun Sept 7th - City Winery, New York NY - 8:00 pm (Mark solo) (SOLD OUT)
Tue Sept 9th - Release date for MILLTOWNS!
Fri Sept 19th - Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, Old Saybrook CT - 8 pm
Sat Sept 20th - New Moon Coffeehouse, Haverhill MA - 8 pm
Tue Sept 23 - Release date for Lori McKenna's NUMBERED DOORS!
Fri Sept 26th - Subculture, New York NY - 8 pm
Sun Sept 28th - One Longfellow Square, Portland ME - 7:30 pm
Sun Sept 21 - State Park Bar, Cambridge MA (Charlie Rose's "Stowaways" cd release show!)
Sat Sept 28 - First Parish Church, Cambridge MA (Lori McKenna's "Numbered Doors" cd release show!)
ON THE HORIZON:
Oct 3 - Bluebird Cafe, Nashville TN (with Lori McKenna)
Oct 10 - House of Love Concerts, Brooklyn NY
Oct 11 - Burlap & Bean, Newtown Sq PA
Oct 12 - University Cafe, Stony Brook NY
Oct 16 - Press Room, Portsmouth NH
Oct 17 - Parlor Room, Northampton MA
Oct 18 - Passim, Cambridge MA (TWO shows 5 & 8 pm)