One on One with John Mellencamp
Scott Swan/Eyewitness News
Bloomington - Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp continues his "No Better Than This" tour in Indianapolis with concerts Nov. 8 at Clowes Memorial Hall and Nov. 11 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Hoosier singer and songwriter gave exclusive access to Channel 13 as he prepared for the tour. Mellencamp, who was born in Seymour and lives near Bloomington, allowed WTHR cameras to record a 30-minute music set with his band that included "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.", "Pink Houses," "The Real Life," "No Better Than This," "Paper in Fire," "Troubled Land" and "Rain on the Scarecrow."
Prior to the final rehearsal, Mellencamp sat in a director's chair on the stage of the Indiana University Auditorium for a wide-ranging 30-minute interview covering his new record and his career.
The following transcript is from Mellencamp's interview with Eyewitness News Anchor Scott Swan.
Scott Swan: "Why is "No Better Than This" so different than your other records?"
John Mellencamp: "This new record goes back into the past, the way records used to be recorded and catch a moment. Today's music, there's no moment to capture. It's all built. You put the drums in, they put that in. They put this in and then all of a sudden, you've built a song. This record is captured. It's capturing a moment of musicians playing songs. It was all recorded on on one microphone and a 1950's portable Ampex machine. So, the sound is going to be quite a bit different than a digitally recorded record."
Scott Swan: "What's the message in the song 'Save Some Time To Dream?'"
John Mellencamp: "Our lives have become so rapid and we have so much information. And our head is filled with so much nonsense, and information and important things that you really don't have time for yourself. My dad has always said that to me. He always said, 'John have you done anything fun today? And I said, no - just worked. And he said 'you better do something fun today. As we lose the ability to dream, I think life takes on a much duller meaning. So for me, I hope to continue to dream until the day I die."
Scott Swan: "What is more fun - writing the song, recording the song or performing the song?"
John Mellencamp: "Writing and recording has always been more inspiring to me than actually going out and performing the song. I like performing. But after you do - I've done some shows 180 times, it becomes like 'I wonder what's on the room service menu' about half way through the song. And then when you start having those thoughts, it's time to get off the stage."
Scott Swan: "Are you a better songwriter or a better performer?"
John Mellencamp: "I'm not very good at either. I'm just trying to make my way through. I'm just doing the best I can. There's been a lot better. But, there's certainly been a lot worse."
Scott Swan: "How has your song writing changed since you first started?"
John Mellencamp: "I've been making records my whole life. So, a young kid from Seymour or Bloomington, Indiana with a record deal. I didn't have any vision of what I was doing."
Scott Swan: "You and your wife (Elaine) were baptized while recording "No Better Than This." Where are you spiritually?"
John Mellencamp: "That's a good question. When hatred enters into religion, which it often does, under the name of God, I think it's an error. I think that's why organized religion is at an all-time low and attending churches that's my assumption. I know when I was a kid, Sunday meant something. I'm not sure what it means anymore. I think it's because money and hatred have eclipsed what the word of the Bible is. America is in a terrible place right now."
Scott Swan: "Are we worse off as a country?"
John Mellencamp: "Absolutely."
Scott Swan: "How so?"
John Mellencamp: "We're in a bunch of wars that we shouldn't be in. And of course, when I said that before the Iraq war, everybody thought I was a traitor. Well, it turns out maybe I was right. We shouldn't be in Afghanistan. What are we doing in these places? Why are we spending all this money? In the constitution, it says that the government shall provide for the safety and well being of its citizens. They always have the money for the safety - equals war. But well being, just don't have the money for that. Just don't have the money to take care of our sick people. Just don't have the money to take care of the homeless people. Just can't find the money for that. But to build a bomb, we've got the money and we'll go attack people for no reason at all. Why are we in Afghanistan? For what reason? Are we really safer now that Saddam Hussein is dead. Are we really safer? Are you afraid? It's (expletive), so that's how America's worse in my mind."
Scott Swan: "You were a supporter of President Obama. How do you feel like he's done?"
John Mellencamp: "I think he was so far behind the eight ball that you couldn't possibly tell now. He was left with such a colossal mess. But let's not forget, he's a politician. Politicians are politicians. They put on the suit of doing good and I put on the suit of singing songs."
Scott Swan: "Which of these descriptions are you most proud of? Legend, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Lifetime Achievement award, sold 40 million records, songwriter, keen social conscience, a man who will not fit it, pride of Indiana, or part of the fabric of so many of us?"
John Mellencamp: "Hypocrite."
Scott Swan: "Hypocrite best describes you?"
John Mellencamp: "Probably because I'm always in motion. I think people should be in motion. You think something for awhile and think that's not really true. You think you know somebody. And then you think, I didn't even know that person. So, you have to always be adjusting your opinion. If you think you know it all, then you know nothing."
Scott Swan: "So hypocrite is the word that best describes you?
John Mellencamp: "I think it's the best word that describes all of us, if we really take a look at ourselves. I think it's human nature to say one thing and do another."
Scott Swan: "So, how have you changed?"
John Mellencamp: "I'm always changing. (Expletive), you could talk to me tomorrow and I'll give you a whole different answer to what you've asked me. What's the matter, haven't you seen a hypocrite before (laughter)- the whole (expletive) country is full of hypocrites."
Scott Swan: "How has having children changed you?"
John Mellencamp: "I've had children forever. I've had children since I was 18. so, I've grown up having children. Sometimes I'm really good at being a parent and sometimes I'm really lousy. And I think anyone whose honest with themselves would have to come to the same conclusion. There are some things you are prepared to deal with and some things were not equipped to deal with."
Scott Swan: "(Your son) Hud is a heck of a boxer, isn't he?"
John Mellencamp: "Yeah, he certainly is. Yeah, but there are other things he needs to focus in on life besides being a fighter. He likes to fight. There's good sides to that and there's bad sides to that because he's a teenage boy. I'm proud as hell of what he's accomplished. Two times Golden Glove champ, two-times US boxing champ, it's great. He just came in third in the national boxing event in Kansas City."
Scott Swan: "What is it like being John Mellencamp in front of thousands of people, performing. What is that like?"
John Mellencamp: "It's the same as anyone else that has a job they've had for a long time. Some days you go in and it's like, well this is easy. And some days you go in and you think why did I ever start doing this? Some days you love your job. Some days you don't."
Scott Swan: "But thousands of people adore you."
John Mellencamp: "Thousands of people hate me too, so what's the difference."
Scott Swan: "But when you're up on stage, you're feeling the love that you've generated."
John Mellencamp: "See, I don't look at things like that. When I'm up on stage, I'm performing a song that I had written to my best ability. That's my focus. To be able to deliver a song in a fashion that the song deserves to be written in and delivered in. And hopefully the audience is coming to the song. I wrote a song a long time ago "I don't want to be a pop singer" I was young. And, I was very uncomfortable with that whole time period. It was embarrassing to me, the way people acted, the way people thought, the stigma with being a rock star. I didn't like it. You were stereotyped right off the bat. Well, he's a drug addict, I haven't been any of those things. I didn't really like the stigma. I never really cared about money. But, I always wanted to get paid. I never really cared about being on the radio, but I loved hearing my songs on the radio."
Scott Swan: "What's your favorite John Mellencamp song?"
John Mellencamp: "I'm still waiting to write that song."
Scott Swan: "You haven't written it yet?"
John Mellencamp: "Haven't written it yet."
Scott Swan: "So, when a John Mellencamp song comes on the radio, what do you do?"
John Mellencamp: "It depends. If I've heard it a billion times, I turn it down. If it's a new song, I'll listen to it. I wonder how this song sounds on the radio. I mean, I've heard Small Town on the radio before - laughter. It's nice that people still enjoy that song. But for me, I don't need to turn it up and listen to it. but, if a song off the new record comes on the radio, I'll turn it up and listen to it because I want to know how it sounds on the radio."
Scott Swan: "Your friend and producer T Bone Burnett said 'John you had the misfortune of being a big rock star in the 1980's, how will you finish your career with some dignity?'"
John Mellencamp: "I've played the hits to death. The reason we're playing these types of venues is because I want to be able to walk out with an acoustic guitar and I want to be able to play songs. I want to be able to play music. I don't want to be a monkey on a string playing hit records that I had 20 years ago. I think that's the conclusion that T Bone and I came to was that John, you have to reinvent yourself at this point and create something new and not worry about massive audiences because there aren't going to be massive audiences for anyone my age in the near future. We're doing 24 songs which is almost 2 and a half hours. My drummer will be a on a trap kit eight of those songs. The rest of the time he's playing percussion. That should tell you there's not a lot of boom boom boom bat. That's not happening."
Scott Swan: "Is playing in Indiana any more special than anywhere else in the world?"
John Mellencamp: "It's kind of embarrassing because I'm always able to look out in the audience and see people I know. Heah, how you doing? Heah, I saw you yesterday when you were over at my house last week. It's kind of embarrassing because people know me one way but when you walk on stage it's our responsibility to create magic and so you have to create that magic."