Very few bands can grace the stages of our NYC hallowed halls with a cohesive energy that stirs an audience the way Ian Mellencamp did last week at Bowery Electric. The quintet glided through their set with surprising moments of levity and finesse, hinting that there might be another layer to this band—one they are still forming, one that isn’t quite ready to be exposed to the harsh stage lights, but its genesis is in motion.
Cheeky front-man Mellencamp sat down with P&W after his set to shed some light on where his band might be headed and to prove that a former tuba player can sometimes grow up to be a real rock ’n’ roller.
P&W: At what point did music become a part of your life?
IM: My mother got me into the piano at a really early age. I took a few lessons, got into the school band and I wanted to play the saxophone but those spots were all filled up so I sort of reluctantly, sort of excitedly picked up the tuba. But my father was really my first musical inspiration and mentor.
P&W: When did you feel that music was your calling?
IM: When the tuba became too heavy to carry around. No seriously, some friends in high school wanted to start a rock band.
P&W: And you were the automatic front man?
IM: No, not really. Someone wanted me to sing and I was like “ok.” I mean, my dad is a singer and my uncle is a singer (John Cougar Mellencamp) so I just kind of headed down that path. And I learned a lot from my uncle and I really respect him.
P&W: What impact do you want to have on the NYC music scene?
IM: I just want to be a part of it, you know? I feel like I missed the big era of NYC music. And there’s all this talk like, “Oh, this town isn’t what it used to be…” but I just want to be a part of what it is now. I wanna try different things. I want to start a scene.
P&W: And what would that scene be?
IM: My show is experimental, psychedelic. I want it to be that. I want an art community to be built up around the shows.
P&W: So what is the sound you are trying to cultivate? What is the signature “Ian Mellencamp” sound?
IM: It’s experimental. It’s going to have a rock foundation, energized, slightly aggressive at times. I want to talk about consciousness and awareness. I’m really into that kind of stuff and I want to spread that throughout the human race. I just want to change things. I want the world to be a better place. That’s why I chose this route: to speak a message that makes the world better. And I know that it sounds cheesy but I’ve had a desk job, and you can still do great things if you go that way, but I just feel like I have an opportunity and a route to say things through this kind of deal that will make some changes in the world.
P&W: Is there anything going on in the world that has affected you creatively or something you have directly translated into your music?
IM: Yeah, everything. All of it. I mean there is so much going on in the world and so much of it is bad. I just want to use my music to balance out all of the bad with something good. I mean 9-11 here in NY changed everything. It changed the way we view the world, changed privacy, changed how we deal with things and it opened my eyes up to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of before.
P&W: So with all of this new technology at our disposal, do you think it is easier to build a music career? Do you have to sit around and wait for a record deal or is that a thing of the past?
IM: You can be seen by everyone around the world with modern technology. I think you can speak your mind and not have to filter it. A big company isn’t going to pick you up and then use you for their message or their campaign and warp you into something. I think the big machine still exists but the internet is great. I mean, it’s over-saturated but the fact that you can share a video instantaneously with a neighbor kind of makes it great. It has an immediate impact but it’s also immediately forgotten. You have to continually flood the internet with your message to keep it out there.
P&W: So what is the Ian Mellencamp message? What do you want to tell the world?
IM: I have a tendency to complicate a lot of things in my life so I think it needs to be simple—just be happy and have fun.
Although Ian Mellencamp and his accompanying musicians are still in their fledgling state, one can see a promise of rock greatness shimmering within the melodic lyrics of songs like “Sticking to My Guns.” This band is one to watch as they grow into their skins and start setting the tone for other bands to emulate.
Article by: Hannah Soule
Photos: Manish Gosalia