John Mellencamp has kept a very low profile this year, but he's gearing up for a very big 2014. "I just signed with Universal," he tells Rolling Stone. "So I'm back on a major label. I've got a notebook with 85 new songs that I've written for my next record. T Bone Burnett is going to come out to Indiana sometime in early January and we're gonna go into the studio for however long it takes to make a new album. I haven't done one in five years."
A few months ago, Mellencamp brought his touring band out to Indiana to run through some of the new tracks. "I don't know if any of those songs will make the record," he says. "But we arranged them and recorded them on a small digital recorder. And this month I'm bringing out the core of the band, not the violinist, but the guitar players and bass player, and we're gonna go over the new stuff."
Mellencamp has recorded his last two albums - 2008's Live, Death, Love and Freedom and 2010's No Better Than This - with Burnett. "I never want to work with anyone else," Mellencamp says. "At least, I want to work with him as long as he wants to work with me. He's a minimalist. He was able to strip down all my songs. My Nineties records were almost paint-by-numbers. He came in and said to me, 'You don't need this part. You don't need that part. Take out these background vocals…'"
Despite having enough material for seven new albums, Mellencamp still finds himself writing more. "Sometimes it surprises me," he says. "The other night I woke at 4:30 AM and I had to get out of bed to write this song. I didn't wanna do it. I was like, 'No! Not fucking' now! I wanna sleep!' But I had to get up and write this song. It came out all at once. There wasn't any head-scratching involved. It was just there, totally complete."
Once the album is done, Mellencamp plans to promote it with an extensive world tour. "I want to do one hundred shows in the United States and Canada," he says. "Then I'll deal with the rest of the world later. I want to play places I haven't played since the 1980s. I want to go to Hays, Kansas and Youngstown, Ohio. In the 1990s I kept playing these same fuckin' sheds and arenas. It was a drag. I'd walk in and realize I'd been in the dressing room fifty times before."
Nothing is booked right now, but Mellencamp hopes to play many types of venues. "I'm going to devise a show that works in arenas and theaters so I can go back and forth," he says. "Like anything else, if you do too much of one or the other you get burned out. I will probably never play outside again though. I really have a terrible taste in my mouth from playing outside. . . But I might though. I don't want to say never, but in my mind now I don't wanna play outside."
In the meantime, the singer is releasing the massive box set John Mellencamp 1978 - 2012 on December 10th. It contains his nineteen studio albums from that time period with bonus tracks and remastered sound. "Before CDs go away completely I wanted to make sure that people who are fans of John Mellencamp can go, 'Ok, I've got every fucking record he's made,'" he says. "Part of the deal is that it's not going to be expensive. . . I have a good rapport with the guy who runs this leg of Universal. We've been friends forever. There are very few record company guys that I ever get along with. He said he wanted to do this, so I said 'Let's figure out how to do it.'"