Getting Candid with Mark Erelli: From ‘Blindsided’ in 2020 to New Music in 2021

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.  

Mark Erelli (Photo: Joe Navas)

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.

For The BeatBuds, Rocking ‘In’ and Livestreaming New Content is Key to Keeping Sane

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The BeatBuds — a couple of hilarious, LA.-based musician dads who write and perform fun, relatable rockin’ family tunes — have gone through a lifetime of highs and lows since meeting in grade school.

But nothing prepared #rockdaddies Jonny Jingles (guitar) and Matty Maracas (drums) for life after Covid: balancing work, music and raising kids ages 2 through 9, while trying to channel a positive attitude into the homes (and screens) of Americans everywhere.

The BeatBuds

The duo’s YouTube livestream series is full of delightful nonsense, random songs and engaging content (on a rainy day, I recommend binge-watching them with your kids).

This summer, they’re elevating their musical and virtual game, with the first-ever virtual BeatBASH on Sunday, July 12 at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT): The free event is billed as a 360-degree, immersive and interactive tropical island experience, which will feature an abundance of digital touchpoints, virtual instruments for kids to play, trivia games, and rockin sing-alongs. Tickets are available here

We recently caught up with The BeatBuds’ Matty Maracas (Shapiro) over email to learn more about the upcoming gig, family life, and music’s ability to improve creativity, lift moods and boost self-expression.

Rockmommy: You’re musicians and dads and have a really cool backstory. Can you recall how you felt in March when the world changed (due to Covid) and it became essential for music to shapeshift (from live settings to virtual streams)?

Matty Maracas: Thank you so much for the kind words! Obviously, our first concern was for the safety of our families. But after we took a moment and processed what was really happening, we could clearly see that things for The BeatBuds were not going back to normal anytime soon. Jonny came up with the idea to do a YouTube live stream simply as a way to maintain a sense of normalcy for the kids that we previously saw day to day during our many in-home classes, birthday parties, and special events. To be honest, not only did it help the kids and parents in that initial period of chaos, but it also helped us stay positive as we watched our thriving live event business come to a halt. After diving headfirst into the daily livestream we quickly started to learn how to be most effective for the kids in this new digital format that seemed here to stay.

Rockmommy: How old are your kids?

Matty Maracas: My girls are 9 and 6 going on 18. Yikes! They dance like crazy. Jonny’s son is 2.5, taller than most kids his age, and rocks the drums harder than I do!

Rockmommy: I’ve seen the livestream — it’s hilarious. How do you come up with such funny material that’s kid-appropriate (and on the fly)? 

Matty Maracas: We are glad you dig it! Jonny and I have been best friends since the age of 6. We’ve experienced nearly everything together as young kids, as grade school pals before we played music, and of course later on in our teens and all through adulthood as musical partners. With so many shared life experiences over a 35-year span, we know a thing or two about each other and how to riff off the other to create material that is not pre-planned. Because Jonny and I have a best friendship since super early childhood, a career in the ‘kid’ world, and are both dads, we have a unique ability to channel the dynamic we had as children and as best buds when we are together. It just happens naturally. Although we are adults and have the same responsibilities as other dads, husbands, and career driven people, our history and career allows us the ability to go to that innocent ‘place’ where we can come up with things that maybe an adult with a different history and background cannot. Long story short, we know exactly what the other is thinking and gonna do in performance situations, and we use that intuition to help us create honest, kid-friendly material on the fly.

Rockmommy: Why is music so important right now, especially for kids? What do you hope to give them if they’re in quarantine, or even post-quarantine?

Matty Maracas: As we go back to life’s basics and keep exposure to a minimum, music continues to be the perfect vehicle to help equalize the children.  Music has always been a source of comfort that encourages creativity, a mood controller, and a vehicle for self-expression. Kids can sing, dance, and perform in the privacy of their own home and can exercise that creative muscle without limitation. As always, and especially during this quarantine period, we aim to maximize the power of music and use it to inspire the kids. Amongst an interactive, ‘hands on’ music experience, our live stream and virtual programming also exposes children to a wide range of general education topics, crafting, voting, and sharing to name a few. Our mission is always to give the kids a fun, lighthearted, educational music experience that they can learn from and will inspire their creativity.

Rockmommy: What’s been the coolest “silver lining” of the new world? Making home videos?

Matty Maracas: The coolest “silver lining” of the past few months, although things are really ramping back up now, was the quality time we spent with our families. While, yes, it’s been scary, and certainly not optimum as we feel for those families that have not been so lucky, we have done our best to make it a time of positivity. As far as ‘silver lining’ for The BeatBuds, our livestream gave rise to a new set of skills that allowed us to pivot our business, offer virtual programming to our customers, and think in a new way. Not only do we now offer virtual services for customers who desire that format, but we can now offer our fun musical approach to customers all around the world. We’re global!

Rockmommy: What are you guys doing this summer, with life and the show? How will you keep the kids entertained?

Matty Maracas: This summer we plan to keep on rockin’ the YouTube live stream, re-enter the live event space safely, and maximize engagement through the digital realm. Over the past few months we have entered a new normal and instead of looking toward a time that resembles the ‘old days,’ we plan to take our most recent experiences as performers and organize the first ever Virtual BeatBASH! Yep! Imagine entering a 360 immersive and interactive world via your computer where you, your friends, and your family are in control of experiencing a live BeatBuds concert together in the comfort and safety of your own home. On Sunday, July 12th at 10:00am PST you will be able to jam with us, sing along, play virtual instruments, and navigate BeatBuds Island customizing it along the way through interactive ‘hot spots.’ It’s wild! We want the kids of the world to experience it, so get your tickets now at www.TheBeatBash.com and help us make this a summer to remember. See you at the Virtual BeatBASH!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.