John Mellencamp Talks Songwriting Evolution On New Album Sad Clowns And Hillbillies

Photo by Marc Hauser

Sometimes the muse really pisses John Mellencamp off.

Inspiration arrives on his doorstep unannounced, at unlikely and inconvenient moments, to make obscene demands on his time and attention, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Take “Easy Target,” which concludes his new album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. With its claustrophobic production and gravelly vocals, which at times recall the croaking rasp of Tom Waits, the song a sobering and not especially optimistic consideration of race in twenty-first-century America.

“I didn’t want to write that song,” Mellencamp moans. “I wasn’t sitting around thinking about race or anything like that, but this voice just interrupts and says, ‘Hey, you better write this down.’ Aw, I’m doing something else. Leave me alone. I’m busy. But this voice grows stronger and stronger. ‘John, you need to fucking write this down.’ So I have to stop what I’m doing and write it down.”

Mellencamp is never off the clock. He’s never too far from a pen and paper. However reluctant he might be a times to take dictation from the muse, he never ignores that persistent voice. “It takes however long it takes. Sometimes I can’t write it down fast enough, and sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes I only get a verse. You mean I stopped what I was doing for a verse. Are you kidding me. Don’t bother me with this shit unless it’s going to be something complete.”

Forty years into his career, with more than twenty albums, hundreds of songs, and thousands of shows to... Sign In to Keep Reading

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