By Peter Sblendorio - NY Daily News
As a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with 23 albums and a Grammy to his name, John Mellencamp has plenty to be proud of.
But after more than 40 years of churning out hits, the veteran rocker says one accomplishment stands out most.
“Still being here,” Mellencamp told the Daily News. “That’s a pretty big accomplishment to be here still. Of all the guys I started out with that are my age, there's a handful of us and that’s it. Everybody else either died, or they quit or they got smart and decided not to do this.”
Mellencamp, 65, added another chapter to his legacy last Friday with the release of his latest studio album — a rootsy and upbeat collection of 13 songs called “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies” featuring country artist Carlene Carter.
The album — his first since 2014 — places a greater emphasis on the musical aspect of the songs than some of Mellencamp’s other recent albums, which he describes as having a more minimalistic sound.
Mellencamp — long an avid painter — said he didn’t write any of his new music with a particular overriding theme in mind. Instead, many of the tracks for “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies” simply just came to him while he was at home spending time on his artwork.
“Songwriting for me has become like this: I'll be painting and a voice in my head will go, ‘Hey you need to put that paintbrush down and write these words down,’” he said. "And then I'll go to that voice, ‘I don’t want to write a song, I’m painting.’ ”
“So then I’ll stop painting and I’ll write the song down and then I’ll go back to painting," Mellencamp said. "Then in a couple days I’ll find that song and go, ‘Hey, when did I write this?’ It's a wonderful way of writing songs. That’s the way it's been for me."
It wasn't always that easy for the heartland rock artist from Seymour, Ind. He admits it used to be much more of a grind coming up with music during his younger days when he was trying to break into the rock industry.
Mellencamp didn’t initially intend to chase a career in songwriting. He ventured out to New York in the early 1970s in hopes of becoming a painter, but he ultimately ended up dropping off a demo tape of his performances with a bar band to a record label called Main Man, setting his career into motion.
“I didn’t even own a guitar when I got my first record deal. I had hawked my guitar to buy painting equipment,” he said.
It turned out to be a savvy business decision.
“I got a record deal and I sort of just followed that path, basically because the New York Art Student League wanted me to pay money, but the record company was paying me money," Mellencamp recalled. “It’s good to get paid money.”
Mellencamp — who shot to rock stardom in the 1980s with hits such as “Hurts So Good,” “Jack & Diane” and “Small Town” — makes it his mission to create something every single day. Some days that's a painting, others it's a song.
Just don’t expect him to go back and marvel at the finished products when he’s done.
“Once I make these records, I very rarely listen to them,” says Mellencamp, who is set to embark on a 22-stop North American tour in June.
“Do you want to go back and see your first girlfriend? (It’s the) same thing ... I like to be a forward-moving person and I don’t really need to rehash what has happened.”