By Marisa Torrieri Bloom
For many musicians, the loss of performance opportunities in the pandemic has been unbearable – professionally and emotionally. Mark Erelli is one of them.
His twelfth record, Blindsided, came out just a few weeks after everything shut down. Tours were rescheduled, then rescheduled again, then canceled. Shows with a full band turned into solo live streams from his basement. This week, we catch up with the Massachusetts singer-songwriter and dad of two to discuss the challenges of creating music in 2020 and staying positive for the new year.
Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months?
Mark Erelli: I am a parent of two boys, 10 and 13, so there have been many educational, logistical, and emotional challenges of guiding them through this year. But challenges of that nature always exist, though I’m not usually around so consistently to help address them because of my work. So the parenting has been tough but, in a way, it’s been a bit easier because I’m here for my kids and to support my wife.
The biggest challenge was the impact of the pandemic on the release of my twelfth record, Blindsided, which came out just a few weeks after everything shut down. Tours would be rescheduled, then rescheduled again, then canceled. Shows I was really looking forward to playing with a full band turned into solo live streams in my basement. For once in my career, the groundswell of publicity and my musical profile were kind of synced up and it was all teed up to be a big, career-defining year for me. Of course it wasn’t, or at least not in the way I’d hoped for. And it’s not really something you can recreate, the moment passes and then it’s gone. So I’ve just had to try and wrap my head and heart around that, something I’m still trying to do.
Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process?
Mark Erelli: For a while, I wasn’t really feeling like picking up a guitar and singing or writing. When a new song finally came to me here and there, I found I was far less critical in the early stages of the process. I didn’t worry about if it was good or deep or how it dovetailed with anything else I’d done, I just wrote it and took it as far as I could, then if I liked it I would go back and be a little more ruthless as far as editing and honing the finished work.
I also used alternative media, like video making and animation, to help develop musical projects in a way that I’d never quite done before. At a time when it felt difficult to write songs, figuring out how to make an animated video allowed me to stay creative, but not be burdened by any of the expectations my normal musical approach might have.
Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?
Mark Erelli: Honestly, I just want to begin the process of moving back toward a life in music. I’ve been working however I could this year, but it’s nothing like it used to be. Live performance — my own gigs and working as a sideman for others — is a big part of what I do, and I’d like for that to be a big part of my life again on the other side of this. But there’s no “going back” to how it used to be. It needs to be safe for myself and my audience, and we’re going to have to evolve some new work/life balance strategies for both me and my family, and those take time. I can envision some stuff happening outside in spring/summer, and maybe even some proper shows toward the end of 2021, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to recreate the musical life I want until 2022.
Rockmommy: If you could plan the perfect summer for 2021, what would that look like?
Mark Erelli: Summer of 2020 I did a few outdoor shows, but they were all very reactive to changing restrictions and guidelines. I would like to see conditions be a bit more stable and for promoters be very proactive in providing safe performance opportunities for artists and audiences to come together. We know better how to work under these constraints and so I’d like to take advantage of what we’ve learned and use it to provide more chances for community around music.
Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Mark Erelli: I released a Christmas song, written on Thanksgiving 2020, that came out over the holiday. It’s called “Not Quite Christmas.” And come Valentine’s Day, I’ll have another 3-song EP coming out, with each song exploring a different take on love.
Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life?
Mark Erelli: It’s not a one-strategy-fits-all sort of thing, every artist and every family is different. What works for me is saying no a lot. My family needs a lot right now, and they are the most important thing to me. So that means I say no to a lot of music opportunities and say yes to the ones that are especially meaningful. I try to choose music opportunities that aren’t too disruptive with us all cooped up in one house and have sometimes been able to livestream from locations outside of the home safely, so I’m not keeping everyone quiet while I work. I want my kids to know that I love my job and making music very, very much. But I also want them to see me balance it with being there for them, physically and emotionally. In my book, if I were to have an amazing musical career that came at the expense of my marriage or family, it wouldn’t even be worth it.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.