Evolutionary Biologist Mark Erelli Turns To Music

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Mark Erelli admits that MTV was his introduction to popular music.

Growing up in Reading, he quickly gravitated towards Bob Dylan and James Taylor and eventually discovered WBOS, a station that played the likes of Patty Larkin and Chris Smither. Tune after tune, the small radio station opened up a new world for Erelli. It was the first time he connected with music on a profound level and the simplicity of the voice intertwined with guitar made him believe that maybe he could make some of that music himself.

And he did.

After enrolling at Bates College in Maine, Erelli started playing open-mic nights and eventually worked to get major folk artists to perform on-campus. Somehow, he also managed to open for them.

Mark Erelli (Nancy Giroux/Courtesy)
Mark Erelli (Nancy Giroux/Courtesy)

Erelli corned them after gigs and asked them for advice. "They were very generous with their time and wisdom," he laughs.

He majored in biology but couldn't leave music behind. His undergraduate advisor convinced him that he needed a day job to fuel his music dreams and he enrolled in a master's program in evolutionary biology at UMass Amherst. In-between labs and studying, he kept on showing up at those open-mic nights.

His first major gig in the Boston-area was at Cambridge's Club Passim — since then, he hasn't put the guitar down. While he appreciates the grounding biology gave him, he's proud to say that making music is now his primary occupation — not that it's easy. He also provides childcare for his two young sons while his wife works full-time.

While Erelli gets a lot of support from his family, he also gets a lot of help from his music community. He's the recipient of an Iguana Music Fund Fellowship from Club Passim. Created by an anonymous donor, the fund awards small grants between $500 and $2,000 to individual artists with an affiliation to New England. Erelli put his grant money to work by setting up a home studio in his basement.

Erelli sat down with Radio Boston's Anthony Brooks to sing a few songs and chat about his circuitous, yet successful path towards singer-songwriter.




This segment aired on March 17, 2011.


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