Seymour native Mellencamp talks about his 25th studio album
Growing up in Seymour and falling in love with music at an early age, John Mellencamp said his vision was to make an album.
His professional music career began in earnest in 1976 when MCA Records released his debut album, “The Chestnut Street Incident”.
After releasing a few albums, he broke out in 1979 with his first hit, “I Need a Lover”.
Three years later, his fifth album, “American Fool”, was the best-selling album of the year with two big hits, “Hurts So Good” and the No. 1 single “Jack and Diane”.
Fast forward to January 21, 2022 and his 25th studio album, “Strictly a One-Eyed Jack”, has been released.
“I had no idea I would be 70 and still making records,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and now Bloomington resident said in a recent phone interview.
As a youngster, Mellencamp said he didn’t have the vision to reach such a milestone.
“Particularly back then, in 1974, 1975, when I signed my first record deal, there were so many people doing two records and they were done,” he said. “I’ve seen that a million times because that’s how record companies work, and I thought that’s what would happen to me.”
He said he had no idea it would be a lifetime occupation.
“But at the same time, I’m very lucky,” Mellencamp said. “I’m very, very lucky, and I appreciate the weather, the people and the music. I never really had a direct job. I never really worked for a salary. Maybe a little in the summer when I was a kid or a little when I got out of college, but think about it, I never had to work for pay. I’m very happy about it.
While the new release is his 25th studio album, Mellencamp said he has several more records than that if you count greatest hits, live and acoustic packages.
The new album was released on Republic Records. It was written and produced by Mellencamp at his own Belmont Mall studios in Bloomington, and recorded and mixed there by David Leonard. Scott Davis was an assistant engineer, Michael Stucker was a technical engineer, and Bob Ludwig mastered it at Gateway Mastering Studios.
The album features three collaborations with fellow singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen. He provides harmony vocals and guitar solos on “Did You Say Such a Thing” and vocals and tremolo guitar on “Wasted Days” and has an electric guitar solo on “A Life Full of Rain”.
Mellencamp said he had known Springsteen for a long time, but only knew him to “say hello and exchange pleasantries.”
In 2019, however, they performed together at the Rainforest Fund’s 30th Annual Benefit Concert in New York City.
“We just connected as friends, we both have the same job. We talked about music, but we also talked about other things,” Mellencamp said.
He enjoyed collaborating with Springsteen on this new album.
“He has the rare combination of having a lot of humility but at the same time having a good dose of ambition,” Mellencamp said of Springsteen. “It’s a rare combination to find, that they can balance that out.”
“Wasted Days” is the first single from the album, and a music video has been released. Mellencamp said he left those decisions up to the record company.
“I just said, ‘Whatever you want to do’ because I’m done trying to sell records,” he said. “Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not for everyone. I’m not for everyone. My personality is not for everyone. I don’t flatter an audience. I don’t do that. I don’t flatter people in real life. Some people say, “John’s a little prickly. Well, he’s always been a little prickly, even before he got a record deal,” and that didn’t matter. not changed.
Mellencamp said he made the records and it was the record company’s job to sell them.
“I think it’s fair to tell you that once upon a time I didn’t deal with things that way. I was in control,” he said. “But as I became a gentleman older, it was kind of like, ‘You think this is better, so let’s just do this.’ So if it works, great. If that fails, so be it. It’s on them, not on me.
When he was younger, Mellencamp said he would work on songs and try to direct them. Now he said he just lets the songs come to him.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t really sit down and think, ‘Well, I’m going to write a song about this or that.’ They’re just kind of in my head…and then I try to see if the band can play it,” he said.
After a while he said he just got out of his own way.
“I tried to control the songs when I was younger, but I found that by writing so many songs and painting so many paintings, you go out of your own way and don’t try,” said Mellencamp. “If you’re trying to do something, that’s the best thing I can say. I stopped trying about 20 years ago, and my writing improved and my performance improved. If you try too hard, you just put pressure on yourself and you can’t get out of it.
When asked what he personally liked about the new album, Mellencamp replied, “That I’m done with that” and laughed.
“I am already preparing to make a new record. I’m already writing songs for a new record,” he said. “I live the life of an artist. I paint every day or I write songs every day. I’m very solitary, very open to inspiration, whether on canvas, whether in a song. Things come to me. I am very lucky. Do you know what luck is? Luck is thinking you’re lucky, and I’m lucky. I have always been lucky.
Whether it was records, paintings or songs, Mellencamp said they were never finished.
“In other words, you could work on an album forever, if you chisel this, do that, they’re never really done. They’re just abandoned,” he said, noting that he’s currently working on a big board and that he could come back to it in a year, look at it and see what he can do with it.
Regarding the choice of title for the new album, Mellencamp said that something like that is creative that comes from him.
“A one-eyed jack is the most dangerous card in the game. There are only two of them, you see half of his face and there’s a sword behind his back,” he said. “This album comes from one voice. It’s a guy who tells his story, who talks about his life.
The album cover features a painting of Mellencamp wearing a patch over his right eye. This painting is special to Mellencamp because it was made by one of his sons, Speck Mellencamp.
John once said that Speck told him, “Dad, I never painted you,” and he arranged for Speck to do a painting of him and another painting of a friend from California at the same time. time.
“The paint wasn’t even dry on my friend’s paint and Speck sold it,” John said.
He said Speck was able to “make a living” selling his paintings and running the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts in Seymour.
“When he was growing up – I have five kids – he and one of my daughters, but he most, would come to my art studio and he would sit all day and watch me paint,” John said. “From the age of 9 and 10, I was like, ‘Do you want to paint this boot?’ so he had a real interest in it, and we knew right away when he started drawing that he had a talent for drawing, and then he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Mellencamp said he planned to tour with the new album and had shows booked, but for the third time the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to be canceled.
Looking to the future, Mellencamp was asked how many more albums he wanted to make and he replied, “I’ll make records until I die.”
“I’m a guy who just thinks about the future. I don’t think back,” he said. “I can’t go back and look at things and say, ‘Oh.’ I don’t. I always look forward to the next thing.
Mellencamp said he thanks his hometown supporters, including the late Larry McDonald, a schoolmate and former bandmate who owned This Old Guitar Music Store in downtown Seymour and spearheaded a project to have a mural of Mellencamp painted on the side of his building. Later, after this was completed, the Mellencamp family donated to add a spot in front of the mural.
“I know for him it was an important project,” Mellencamp said, “and so I’m very happy and grateful that Larry wanted to do this because it’s good for my dad (Richard), who’s 90. years, to see something like that.”