Listening to John Mellencamp's latest album, "No Better Than This," is like
taking a trip back through time — and that's just what the rock legend had in
While Mellencamp wrote a new batch of songs for the record, he took an
old-school approach to making it. He used a vintage recording deck, a 1940s
microphone, and instead of trying to get perfect surround sound, recorded the
entire album in mono sound.
Mellencamp's goal was to recapture the spirit of music that would become the
building blocks or rock, so he also visited some of rock's hallowed ground to
record the music, including Sun Studios, where the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry
Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash recorded some of their earlier records.
Before Mellencamp kicked of his recent tour, he talked about the recording
process and shared some of his views on politics, nutrition, and the state of
AP: Tell me about the unique way you recorded this album?
Mellencamp: The idea was to get as far away from technology, and get back to the
origins how music was recorded. Originally, the idea was to capture something in
the moment, but through technology, there is no moment anymore, it's just
something that's built and constructed. So we wanted to go back and play music
and try to get as far away from where we have come with the technology to the
almost anti-technology where it all began.
AP: You recorded in some pretty special places.
Mellencamp: In Savannah, Ga., there's the first black Baptist church in America,
which sits downtown, which is unusual for a black church. The reason we recorded
there is that it was really the gateway of the Underground Railroad. The church
has been there — it's (a) real interesting story behind the church and the
congregation is fantastic. So we started there. And then we went to Sun
(Studios). Then we went to San Antonio to the Gunther Hotel, which is where
Robert Johnson had recorded some of his legendary blues songs.
AP: Was it an honor to record at Sun Studio?
Mellencamp: I think it is for any musician. It was really interesting because we
could only record at night because they had tours that go through there during
the day. So we wouldn't be able to go into the studio until seven o'clock at
night. So to be at Sun at three o'clock in the morning and the rest of Memphis
is asleep, and we're in there playing music, and you walk outside and the
mosquitoes find you, and you're in the south, it was hot and steamy. It was a
AP: Any plans to rediscover your older songs using this technique?
Mellencamp: That's a good question because I had a hit record a long time ago
called, "Jack & Diane," and I haven't been playing that for a long time. But my
band, since we're getting ready to go out on tour, we just rearranged that song
in the same fashion that my last record was recorded and we did away with all
the pop sound and the rock sound of that time period and just turned it into a
folk song. And it's a tragic song.
AP: How's your health?
Mellencamp: I had a heart attack in 1994, so I really had to start watching what
I ate. Because up until that point I was bulletproof. I smoked four packs of
cigarettes. I thought eating light was eating a fish sandwich at McDonald's. I
didn't know anything about my health. But now I try to watch what I eat. I'm not
always successful, but I try to keep things in moderation and I work out every
AP: You've been in this business for more than 30 years. Why do you think you've
had such staying power?
Mellencamp: I think that it's a problem that people have. It's human nature to
give up. I think people give up too early, and they shouldn't. ... I'm very
tenacious. And I've always been person, and I've always rolled the rock up the
hill. I enjoy rolling rock up the hill. I don't really care about getting to the
top of the hill. I just like the struggle of trying to get up there. And I think
that's what being alive is about, struggling. ... People think that it's our
God-given right to be happy; it's not.
AP: Are we going through scary times as a nation?
Mellencamp: Every generation would say that their time is scary. What would be
more scary than World War II? What would be more scary than the Civil War? ...
It's a scary world. And if you want a better world, it starts with you. And if
you follow the trends, then probably you're making a mistake.