An open mic performance in the Oregon woods was the birthplace for Mark Erelli's "Her Town Now," premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Sept. 3), from the Massachusetts singer-songwriter's next album.
Erelli and co-writer Chuck Prophet were serving as instructors at a songwriting camp preceding a folk festival and played some songs during an introductory open mic. The two decided to collaborate, which led to both "Her Town Now" as well as the more rock-oriented tone of the album, which is tentatively titled and expected out next spring, according to Erelli.
"I really loved what Prophet] did and was looking to force myself to collaborate and break down ways you may not have known were in your mind," Erelli, whose "By Degrees" is up for song of the year at this year's Americana Music Association Honors & Awards," Erelli tells Billboard. "Chuck’s more of a rock 'n' roller than I've been in the past. I thought he might be able to help me make something out of this chorus I had for 'Her Town Now']."
Prophet also brought in his frequent collaborator, poet Kurt "Klipschutz" Lipschutz, to help out and craft Erelli's goal "to explore the concept of something that once belonged to two people and now very clearly belongs to just one of them" after a romantic breakup.
"Chuck helped me get in touch with that more stripped-down rock 'n' roll vibe — 'Let's not wait too long 'til we get to the chorus,' that type of thing," explains Erelli, who wrote two other songs with Prophet during their session. "For a long time I had been trying to get at the essence of what I connected with and what I loved in Tom Petty songs. I think of it as the Dao of Tom Petty — simplicity beyond simplicity in the best rock songs, where everything is both carefully constructed but doesn't sound overthought."
There will be even more of that on the new album, Erelli's 12th, which he recorded in Nashville with his bassist Zachariah Hickman (Ray LaMontagne, Josh Ritter) producing and members of Jason Isbell's 400 Unit and Kacey Musgraves’ band. As well as a stylistic tweak, it's also the first time he's recorded outside of New England, which was also a goal Erelli had in mind.
"Basically, the album is the result of trying to shake myself up a little bit," says Erelli, who also plays in Lori McKenna's band and plans to release additional singles from the album before its release. "I felt like it was time to see what would happen if I want somewhere else, but I didn't want to just go someplace for the sake of going to that place. It was obviously about the people involved, and it just so happened all these guys live in Nashville. I didn't go down there trying to make a 'Nashville' or country record — I've made countrier records living up here — but it really worked out perfectly."
Hear “Her Town Now" below.