Tired of staring at the walls of the same studio he’s been recording in since 1984, John Mellencamp decided to set up a mobile studio in a Florida Keys hurricane shelter for his next album. After nearly three weeks of fifteen-hour days, he and his band emerged with six songs for an album due next spring.
Mellencamp says the album, which he’s calling “Kiss My Mule,” will have a more varied and upbeat mood. “This is my twenty-first record so I really wanted to try something different,” he says. “Because when you do something that’s not normal you don’t get normal conclusions. I think the record is going to be quite a bit different than the last record just because of the way it sounds and you know my last records have been too serious.”
He also says that the music is more straight-ahead rock & roll, with no hefty arrangements or “anything else to muddle up the melody,” adding, “We have some really talented guys and women in the band and they can really play their instruments. You see, that’s the difference between us now and, say twenty years ago. We’re fighting the impulse to play like accomplished musicians.”
Plans call for Mellencamp to return to the hurricane shelter studio in October for another three weeks of recording. He says he will then head to New York or Los Angeles to mix the album.
Until then, Mellencamp has also been popping up in unexpected places, accompanied only by a fiddle player, performing impromptu sets for those who happen to be around. “The idea is to be able to just walk out on the street corner like I did thirty years ago with a guitar and just stand there and play,” he says. “I call it the Good Samaritan Tour cuz we’re not gonna charge anything. It’s just for the fun of it and if people are having fun with it that day then I’ll run with it and if they’re not, then I’ll just get in the truck and go on. It’s like we’re really and truly doing the traveling minstrel thing. Although I have to say it’s not exactly Jack Kerouac, but, this as close as we can come today.”
As for George W. Bush’s use of “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A” at a campaign event, the very liberal Mellencamp is surprisingly calm. “I think that it is good that he likes the song, as an eleven-year-old girl I once talked to did,” he says. “I don’t think that anybody that knows me would think I have the same position as this man. I’m on the other end of the spectrum. But I really think that music is intended to be enjoyed by everybody and I’m sure that is a good thing. And I think it’s great that there is a place where these guys can have an opinion and appear to be changing the Republican Party stance, which I think is the main reason to use that song. I think that party needs a new face on it. I think that both parties could use a new face. Quite clearly I’m a liberal. I don’t see any sense in being silly about it. It’s entertainment. It’s a song.”