Mark Erelli

May 2016 Newsletter

May 2016 Newsletter

A recent study found that students exhibited better recall of a lecture from taking handwritten notes, as compared to typing their notes directly into a laptop. This finding, though personally validating, didn't come as a surprise to this former biology major and graduate student--I still can't remember anything unless I physically write it down. But the scientific benefit of physically putting pen to paper also gave me some insight into my decidedly old-school songwriting process.

I have as many gadgets as the next guy, but I still write songs exclusively with pen and paper. It doesn't matter what kind: the best writing implements or surfaces are the one you have close at hand. Given a choice, I opt for an ink ball roller pen (which feel like they write "fast") and a college-ruled, spiral-bound notebook...just like the ones I once used in school (also pictured in the FOR A SONG liner notes). As I write, snippets of lyrics, phrases and images distill into verses, and a song begins to coalesce. When I inevitably hit a wall, I switch to a blank page and re-write the nascent lyric from scratch. There is no rule for how, or if, the song eventually comes together. Sometimes it takes a few pages, sometimes I rip pages of promising unfinished lyrics out of filled up notebooks and physically transfer them to fresh notebooks. Such orphaned ideas may not be incorporated into a new song for years.

The physicality of my process is creatively satisfying, but in light of the results of this recent note-taking study there may be a certain efficacy built into my method. When students take handwritten notes, they are forced to assimilate and summarize ideas in their own language, as opposed to re-typing the professor's lecture verbatim. When I hit a road block and begin copying lyrics anew on another page, the process of translation is imperfect. As I sound out the lines in my head, words may get tweaked or deleted altogether--I feel like I'm writing, but I'm shaping and editing subtly as I go. It's then that I most cherish the more modest pace of pen and paper, because my mind is less likely to race ahead in search of fulfilling a certain rhyme scheme or adhering to some lyrical form. What shakes something loose is almost always the time I take to contemplate a simple question: what is it that I want to communicate?

When I sit down to co-write a song with someone who pulls out a MacBook Air, my lowly notebook makes me feel more akin to some sort of 21st century monk. I recognize that various tools and methods work for differently people, but I can't imagine ever forsaking my pen and paper for a digital format. There's plenty of time for 0's and 1's when it comes time to head into the studio and record a finished song, where there is much virtue in capturing a raw and musical performance quickly and efficiently.

But first, I need to have something to say. For me to figure out what exactly that is, I know I'll be working my way through the pages for the foreseeable future. And I may need another notebook while I'm at it.

EXTRA, EXTRA: The early reviews are in on FOR A SONG, and I am very humbled by the response. CD Hotlist says "The whole album is gorgeous and at times borders on heartbreaking." Folk Alley declares "The songs on FOR A SONG are worthy of this man's voice; they are the best of his career, so far." And NPR has tagged "Look Up" as one of the "10 Songs We Can't Stop Playing." But don't take anybody else's word for it...get your own CD or digital download directly from me by ordering HERE.

T-SHIRTS: "But I already have the new album," you say. Wait...there's more! I now have a wonderful new t-shirt, featuring my name lettered in a hand-drawn custom font and a beautiful silhouette of the French King Bridge. I've sold out of a couple of sizes already at my shows (lots of XL men out there!), but you can still order men's and women's tees in most sizes HERE.

MARKERELLI.COM: Check out the brand new look of my website! Thanks to Jim Infantino and everyone at SLAB Media for updating my home on the web. There's all sorts of great new material and features. If you have a good picture from a recent show, send it to me at mark@markerelli.com and I'll put it up in the From The Audience photo gallery!

MP3 of the MONTH: After losing Prince last month, there was really no question as to what this month's download had to be. I don't like to repeat songs, and I've offered a download of "Purple Rain" 6 or 7 years ago, but this is a brand-spankin' new version with full band from my recent album release show at Club Passim. It's available for the month of May for free and you can download it HERE.


Thu May 5th - Lizard Lounge, Cambridge MA - 8:30 pm
My April 29th Passim show sold out so quickly I am glad to get another chance to play my hometown so soon. I will join Dietrich Strause on electric guitar for his set (along with Zachariah Hickman & Billy Beard), and then perform a rare, acoustic duo "tweener" set of my own material, followed by Planet Radio. A wealth of Boston musical riches in one Cambridge basement.

Sat May 7th - The Eclectic, Willimantic CT - 8 pm
Hartford-area people, this one's for you! Never played this particular venue before but I'm always excited to get back to CT, and this time with a new album in tow. I'll be joined by Zachariah Hickman on upright bass, and the incomparable Dietrich Strause (who has a FINE new album of his own on the way) will kick off the night.

Sat May 14th - Red & Shorty's, Dover NH - 8 pm
Never played this house concert series before, if you can even call it that. I mean, this concert will take place in a house and it IS open to the general public. But this series is hosting other recent shows by the likes of Jim Lauderdale, Mary Gauthier, John Gorka, Marshall Crenshaw and many, many others. Sounds like the best venue in southern NH if you ask me.

Thu May 19th - Live at the Ludlow Garage, Cincinnati OH - 8 pm
When I was in high school and a rabid Allman Brothers fan, I would sometimes put their "Live At Ludlow Garage" album on late at night and listen to the 43-minute "Mountain Jam" til I fell asleep. I can't believe I get to play the very same venue, all these years later. My whole set will be considerably shorter than that single Allman Brothers' song, as I'll be opening for (and then accompanying) the great Paula Cole for this evening.


May 20 - Franklin Theater, Franklin TN# #accompanying Paula Cole
May 21/22 - Decatur GA#


June 2 - St. Lawrence Arts Center, Portland ME
July 23 - Cape Ann Marina, Gloucester MA
Aug 19 - Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield ME


updated: 3 years ago