October 2014 Newsletter
Monday, September 15, 2014
ET U2, BRUTUS?
Last month, I released my new record MILLTOWNS in the great company of Ryan Adams, Ellis Paul, Justin Townes Earle, Drew Kennedy and many others who also issued new projects on the same day. As I waited for the orders to trickle in, I passed the time in the most optimistic and decadent manner I could imagine: I sat down to write a new song. Everything was going great (I wrote one), until I learned that U2 had just given away its brand new record, Songs Of Innocence, in the most dramatic way possible: Apple unilaterally placed it in the library of over half a billion iTunes customers, whether they wanted it or not.
DISCLAIMER: I have been a U2 fan going on 30 years. I grew up with the videos on MTV. I remember the scent of my girlfriend's new perm when she leaned her head on my shoulder in a dark theater during Rattle & Hum on its opening day. I tailgated at Foxboro Stadium when the Achtung Baby tour came to Boston. I've covered their songs in my shows. They've had their artistic missteps over the years, but for the most part I'm incredibly moved by their music, but this essay is about something bigger than any one band.
Free music is nothing new. I've been giving it away to members of this list, one track at a time, every month since about 2001. I'm extremely proud of the way I've managed to survive in this business, at how I've followed my muse while branching out into sideman and production work. But I won't lie, it's gotten tougher to get people excited enough about new music to actually purchase it. All the old models have faltered, leaving us with a sort of digital wild west for producing and consuming music. Some aspects of this lawless purgatory are thrilling, some not so much.
Independent artists like myself are still trying to figure out how make a living by selling their music, while there are lots of other actors whittling away at the notion that music should cost anything at all. Companies like Apple, Spotify, Pandora and their ilk would love nothing better than to change the way you think about supporting the arts. They want you hooked on paying for the hardware and software used to deliver music, while the price of music goes from $15 per album, to $9.99 or less...you can guess where this is going.
I know that U2 and I are not in the same league commercially. But this publicity stunt undermines the idea that music costs money to produce. And because the purchase of said music often pays for the creation of more music, I think the ripples of this disruption haven't yet reached the shore. Their "gift" of an album didn't actually involve much sacrifice on their part (the fine print said they were paid an undisclosed royalty and promised a healthy promotional campaign), but it salts the earth for other artists whose brand will never be big enough to attract corporate underwriting.
I know all this must seem a bit esoteric: the aforementioned turmoil doesn't seem to have noticeably affected the amount of music that gets released. I worked for seven months in my basement to try and make MILLTOWNS in an economically and artistically-viable manner. This I know: you can't keep revolutionizing the consumption of music without inevitably changing the ways it is produced, if it is even produced at all. Some changes will be good, some not so good, but they won't affect artists of all levels similarly. Some great music you'll never hear (or will never get made in the first place). Some music you won't be able to avoid because it'll already be in your iTunes library.
For now, we muddle forward together with all the respective tools available to us, trying to make good art and discover new music that moves us. But I don't think the current status quo is sustainable for artists or fans.
In other words: we still haven't found what we're looking for.
NEW VIDEO: I rarely have the patience to make it through a YouTube video, but one of my all-time favorites is for Josh Ritter's "The Curse." So...I went and hired the guy who did that (my friend Liam Hurley of Shutter & String) to make a video for one of my favorite songs ever, Bill Morrissey's "Birches." I am so proud of and moved by his visualization of this song. The video premiered on CMT Edge, and you can see it HERE.
MILLTOWNS REVIEWS: Have you picked up your copy of Milltowns yet? Why not? Here's a sample of all the great things people are saying about it...
"A tribute as heartfelt and understated as the artist it honors." -Boston Globe
“Milltowns” is an album that demands listening. Listen close; there’s sure to be something in there to break your heart a split second before it leads you straight to grace.” -Folk Alley
"The subtle vocal and instrumental nuances that Erelli has embraced on this tribute set are simply jaw-dropping." –No Depression
LINK OF CHAIN: I know I made a tribute record to Bill Morrissey, but I could easily have done a similar project for Chris Smither, one of the most soulful, wise and deep songwriters and guitarists I know. Jeffrey Foucault and I organized a 60th birthday celebration for him a decade ago, and now we team up for a track on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Our Everly Brothers-esque take on his "Song For Susan," as well as tracks by Josh Ritter, Bonnie Raitt, Mary Gauthier, Dave Alvin and many others is available on the new tribute project Link Of Chain.
MP3 of the MONTH: Of course I have to go with a U2 cover this month. I lovingly recorded this little demo of "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" in my basement, all the basement recording caveats apply. It's available HERE for free for the month of October. Enjoy!
Fri Oct 3 - Bluebird Cafe, Nashville TN - 9:30 pm
I'm so honored to play this iconic room in this iconic music town, opening up for and supporting my (iconic) friend Lori McKenna. I produced her new record Numbered Doors, which sounds a lot like what this show will sound like: two friends playing acoustic instruments and singing together live.
Fri Oct 10 - House of Love Concerts, Brooklyn NY - 9 pm **MILLTOWNS Release Show!
No, it's not a gig at a house of ill repute. At least I don't think it is. This is a house concert, open to the general public, just email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your tickets and find out the address of the show. I'll be joined by Charlie Rose on banjo and pedal steel, and we'll play a bunch of Bill Morrissey songs from the new record as well as older selections from my catalog. Charlie, who just released his debut cd Stowaways, will kick off the night.
Sat Oct 11 - Burlap & Bean, Newtown Square PA - 8 pm **
Great listening rooms located in strip malls (like the Bluebird Cafe!) is a largely southern phenomenon, but this one is as unexpectedly good as any of 'em. They make the music sound great, and treat everyone great, performers and audience alike. You're gonna love this place.
Sun Oct 12 - University Cafe @ Stony Brook University, Stony Brook NY - 2 pm **
I've played here several times over the last decade, most recently with Jeffrey Foucault as part of our Seven Curses tour. It's always a great time...really, probably the most fun you can have on a Sunday afternoon on Long Island.
Thu Oct 16 - Press Room, Portsmouth NH - 8 pm **
One thing I really wanted to do with MILLTOWNS was to play shows in some of Bill's old stomping grounds. The first time I saw Bill live, he was playing a church in Portsmouth NH with Patty Larkin. I'm excited for this one...Portsmouth is so close and yet I hardly ever play there.
Fri Oct 17 - Parlor Room, Northampton MA - 8 pm **
Northampton. I've gone on and on about this town before. I'll just say that this is where my musical dreams started to come true and it'll always feel like home. Maybe I can even entice a special guest or two to come out and harmonize with me. Bonus for you: Charlie Rose opens!
Sat Oct 18 - Passim, Cambridge MA - TWO SHOWS 5 & 8 pm **
Well, this is the one, folks. Passim is a legendary club with a star-studded history, but it's also my local hang and I get to play here a half dozen times annually with all different sorts of projects. Every new song I write, I feel like it doesn't really exist until it's been played on this stage. Charlie Rose opens.
Sun Oct 19 - Tamworth Lyceum, Tamworth NH - 6:30 pm **
If I wanted to take MILLTOWNS to Bill's old haunts, I can't do better than a gig in his former hometown, a few miles from the beautiful spot where he rests in peace. Can't wait.
Thu Oct 2 - Birchmere (with Lori McKenna)
ON THE HORIZON:
Nov 1 - Ripton Coffeehouse, Ripton VT
Nov 2 - Bellows Falls VT
Nov 7 - The Hamilton, Washington DC ^with Red Molly
Nov 8 - Sellersville Theatre, Sellersville PA ^
Nov 9 - The Grand, Wilmington DE ^
Nov 28 - Chris Smither Tribute, Northampton MA
Nov 29 - Signature Sounds 20th anniversay, Northampton MA (Barnstar!)