Story Behind the Song: Mark Erelli, ‘By Degrees’
Singer-songwriter Mark Erelli's critically acclaimed 2018 protest anthem "By Degrees" was a feat of organization. In creating the song, he tapped Lori McKenna, Rosanne Cash, Josh Ritter, Anais Mitchell and Sheryl Crow to contribute.
With 100 percent of the song's proceeds benefiting Giffords: The Courage to Fight Gun Violence, "By Degrees" conveys a powerful sociopolitical message. Read on to learn the story behind the song, as told by Erelli and McKenna.
Mark Erelli: I was just trying to pull it off. We were under the deadline of the midterm elections, and I wanted to get it out, like, a month before -- as long before the midterm elections as we could, to kind of help raise awareness and change the conversation. So I was just trying to make it happen by whenever everyone told me it needed to happen by. One person would say no, or they couldn't do it, and I would just move on.
Sheryl Crow was the last person to fall into place. I'll never forget it: It was Labor Day weekend, and I got her track, and I listened to it in the driveway of a friend's house. I was like, "I can't believe I pulled this off!"
I think some of the iconic figureheads of the genre -- the Willie Nelsons, the Johnny Cashes, the Loretta Lynns -- those artists never shied away from speaking to social issues and were pretty much always on the right side of history with that sort of stuff. I think those are some pretty great footsteps to try and follow in, but we gave it a shot.
Lori McKenna: With "By Degrees," Mark wrote it in such a unique way, I feel like, because he's not really judging anybody. He's just sort of bringing light to a moment in time, what's happening to all of us. I think, on any side of the spectrum, you can draw from that song. I think he did a really great job writing it from a well that's sort of -- everyone can gather information from.
Mark and I are dear friends, and he's my bandleader, and my little brother -- not really! -- but he's a great pal. So when he asked me to do it, I was thrilled and happy to do it.
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