“Being a scientist and a singer/songwriter require the same skills,” Mark Erelli said.
He should know because the Massachusetts resident is both. Erelli has chosen the later as a career but also holds a graduate degree in evolutionary biology. Erelli will be demonstrating his musical skills in a Norman concert Sunday evening as part of the Winter Wind concert series.
“People think of science as black and white with art being shades of gray but that’s really not the case,” he said. “They both require a lot of hard work, creativity and persistence. You need the same skill sets, just applied to different areas.”
Naturally, Erelli has written a song about this topic and it’s titled “Mother of Mysteries.” He learned as a scientist that questions are never fully answered. One discovery leads to more inquiry.
“I began to view the universe as one giant Russian nesting doll,” he said. “The quest for knowledge goes on forever as far as I can tell and it’s the same with music.”
Erelli feels that with every new record he gets satisfaction but after a short time he’s eager to continue the pursuit for a higher level of artistic achievement.
Sunday will be Erelli’s fourth performance in Norman. He has a special place in his heart for this place in no small part because of being interviewed by Oklahoma journalist Jim Chastain (1963-2009).
“He called and we just hit it off,” Erelli said. “We had a lovely conversation and Jim gave me a book of his poetry that blew me away. I actually put one of his poems called ‘Coming Home’ to music and it’s on my most recent solo album titled ’Little Vigils.’”
He was able to perform that song for Chastain on one of his last visits here. The affection that Bostonian Erelli has for our little town on the prairie will undoubtedly be reflected in his performance here.
As is the case with most musicians, Erelli’s career is a grab bag of different projects. He does a lot of side-man work with other artists. This year one of those sessions snagged a Grammy nomination on Alastair Moock’s “Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids” in the Children’s Album category.
“That was such a rush,” Erelli said. “Not for me but for my friend Alastair. We’re musical and family friends, our wives share a birthday and our kids are the same age (3 and 6).”
The Bravest Kids songs were inspired by little twin daughter Clio Moock’s courageous struggle against leukemia.
“Those Grammy nominations don’t mean you’re set for life, even when you win” Erelli said. “But it is nice to see good music recognized, for sure.”
Being a father of two young boys has changed many aspects of his career including time management. On this day Erelli was doing an interview from a vehicle parked outside his son’s grade school in advance of attending a Valentine’s Day party.
“If anything the boys have made my art matter more to me,” he said. “They just raise the stakes. Before, I was trying really hard to put all of myself into my music. But they have enlarged my heart and there’s more to put in because of them.”
Erelli also observed something that has been noted by other young artistic parents. Kids are fun. Being with them and experiencing their youthful joy brings playfulness and often innocence back into songs and paintings that may have been too solemn before.
“Rocking out a bit and staying loose is an important part of life,” he said.
Erelli has a deserved reputation for not shying away from expressing his progressive politics in song. His “Hope and Other Casualties” album was released in 2006 during the darkest days of the Iraq war. Those views have not mellowed over the years.
“It’s probably even more so now,” he said. “Whenever I tell friends I’m going to Texas or the plains they say ‘Oh, you better watch yourself’ but I tell them not really.”
Erelli finds that his audiences tend to be like-minded even in the reddest states.
“I find a lot of common ground,” Erelli said. “Those songs come from a very open, honest and deeply thought place. I’m not just up there spouting political views and I think people recognize that.”
If You Go
What: Mark Erelli in concert as part of the Winter Wind Concert Series.
Where: Norman Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave.
When: 7 p.m. March 2
Mark Erelli plays Winter Wind Sunday evening.