June 24, 2014
Discovered when he was 23, Mark Erelli released his debut album in 1999. For the past 10 years, he’s toured internationally, sharing the stage with Dave Alvin, Gillian Welch, John Hiatt and others, and appearing at many major folk festivals, including Newport, Philadelphia and Shrewsbury (UK). Erelli gained notoriety as a multi-instrumentalist, accompanying artists like Lori McKenna and Josh Ritter everywhere from Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry to London’s Royal Albert Hall. In 2009, he was one of eight artists invited to participate in the Darwin Song Project, a collaborative release featuring songs inspired by the life and work of Charles Darwin.
Consenses Interview with Sally Taylor:
What was your first reaction to this image? (thoughts, emotions, memories?) If you had to choose one word to sum up the image what would it be?
My first thought after viewing the photograph was a lyric from a previous song of mine which contains the phrase “birds, like buckshot, whistle and wheel / in the gun-metal sky above the stubblefield.” The image evoked a bleakness, but also a sense of stark beauty. The birds aren’t centered in the frame, and they look like they’ve been frozen in the middle of an exodus towards the edge of the frame. I’d sum it up in one word: leaving.
What part of the song came to you first?
I was focused on the birds, so the lines with the avian imagery like “this town would surely be deserted if not for mourning doves and crows,” and the image of these old-timers perched on their barstool roosts.
Take me through your process.
My song takes its title from that single word summation of the photograph: The Leaving Birds. Humans have always envied birds for their flight, but I think it’s deeper than that. For me, flight represents a freedom from ties, the ability to escape. That’s something that I think we’ve all felt the urge to do at one time or another. The birds were the thing that caught my eye first, though looking at it now I also see the tops of the trees. After I settled on the influence of the birds, I simply fleshed out a backstory populated with characters that are rooted in place which envy one that wants to take flight.
Are there certain choices you made which mean something specific to you that the observer might not know?
In my mind I think of this song, like so many others I write, as songs that are very rooted in New England. I’ve lived here all my life, and I’m very attuned to the natural rhythms and the flora and fauna, so things like the fall migrations and specific species that are common to the region tend to populate my songs. I hope that someone who isn’t from New England might be able to find some of their own town or geography in the song, but for me it’s a very bleak, late November in southern New Hampshire kind of song.
What made you want to participate in this project?
When I was a boy, my grandfather moved in with us after my grandmother passed away. We became very close…we ate breakfast together nearly every morning and we shared a love of drawing. He had a big book of Norman Rockwell pictures that he loved, and one in particular came to mind when the concept behind Consenses was presented to me. It was a painting of a game of telephone, of different characters passing on a changing secret or piece of gossip from one to the other. It’s a fun concept that holds the prospect of leading you to a different place, a chance encounter with the unexpected. As an artist, I’m always interested in opportunities that have the potential to shake me away from my normal habits and routines, and Consenses seemed like one such opportunity.