Rock It: Mellencamp drummer Dane Clark has own storyMusician releases fourth solo album, 'Postcards from the Hard Road'
“I think people love country music because it’s the closest thing to classic rock but with new songs. You can only listen to ‘Old Time Rock n’ Roll’ or ‘Proud Mary’ so many times,” Dane Clark said.
Clark, the Anderson native best known as the drummer in John Mellencamp’s band, said that what a lot of people call country music now used to be rock 20 years ago. With much due to Mellencamp, it has been explored and expanded and is a big reason why it took a turn for country music today.
Clark is not only a drummer but a musician of many instruments and a songwriter, inspired to write in the genre that influenced him in the ‘60s and ‘70s to form a contemporary country sound.
“Postcards from the Hard Road” is his fourth solo album, delving into the heart, the hard-working middle class, pain from divorce, reflections on mortality and feel-good toasts to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.
During a long conversation, Clark talked about the album, John Mellencamp and what keeps him in the Hoosier State.Question
: How would you describe the sound of your solo band? How does it differ from the music in John Mellencamp?Answer
: I’ve been in John’s band for 17 years now — there is steel guitar in (my songs) and he doesn’t ever use that. It’s a little more contemporary country then his sound is. The themes are not really about the things that John writes about these days. I’m not trying to write like John, I’ve been writing songs since I was in junior high school.
I’ve been influenced by probably some of the same people that anybody my age would be influenced by- Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones.Q
: Compared to your other three solo albums, what is different about “Postcards from the Hard Road?”A
: The main difference is the instrumentation on the songs; fiddle was never on my other albums. It’s another step further toward contemporary country than any of my other albums.Q
: Tell me about “Dream Stealin’ Town.” Is this about your hometown? How have the people reacted to the lyrics in the song?A
: People understand it. I’m from Anderson and this was a thriving community at one time and it’s not now. The factories were once pinnacles of prosperity in this part of the country and they are all down now. The town is dwindling and there is just not much future for people who grow up here any more, it’s sad. It’s autobiographical to some extent because I still live here, but I want my children to find a thriving community to live in.
I’m not trying to just write about me, I’m trying to be honest. I did get a divorce and everything did not work out like I had planned in life just like it doesn’t for anybody and this town is disappointing to me now. I’m disappointed to what has happened to our country in these small towns.Q
: “Over it” has a very direct message. Do you consider yourself a very politically involved musician?A:
No, I’m really not. At the beginning of the protests, I was very intrigued and moved by the people who were standing up for what they believe in. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat that doesn’t make any difference, and that’s the main thing my song says.
"We ain’t talkin’ bout the right or the left, we just wanna save what we got left."
I want to be able to hang on to the little money that I got to be able to hang on to my house, to my car, raise my children. This song started out as being a song for the 99 percent and still is, but people started to use that movement to further their own means. Some people can take a good idea and ruin it really quickly.
I’m not hugely political, I’ve been independent my whole life and I just vote for the lesser of evils.Q
: Personally, which version of “Over It” do you like more? Moby Grape or the original?A
: The reason I did the Moby Grape one is because I knew it would sound good with a heavy rock version of the song. I produced a record for Moby Grape and am very involved with those guys. Peter Lewis said he loved it and wanted to sing on that. He put vocals on it long distance for the heavy version. I like the original just fine and I like the Moby Grape one, I’m proud to be associated with those guys.Q
: I’m interested to know about the subjects in the song “Another Lost Soul.” They are such good representations; were both of these stories based from your life, someone you knew, or was it just longtime observation?A
: I think it is a little bit of all of those things, I think anyone who is a writer knows if you pour your heart out in a song and tell nothing but the truth, something is going to come out as a rhyme and it isn’t going to be exactly what happened. Bob Dylan said in his last Rolling Stone interview “never let the truth get in the way of a good song.”
There are specific people I was thinking about, it’s real, it happened in their lives and I think we have all seen evidence of it in people and think, "Yeah it kind of reminds me of this guy."Q
: “Sweet Temptation,” “World Without You” and “I Gave That to You” sound incredibly painful.A
: Wow, well “Sweet Temptation” is a song I wrote 20 years ago. I brought it out at the last song because I needed another fast song on this record. I wrote it about someone very specific.I thought I did a nice job of painting a picture of somebody who was going down the wrong road. It doesn’t bother me like it did when I first wrote it to sing it.
“World Without You” was also about a specific circumstance and that would be tough to sing live, I don’t know if I will or not.Q
: “Postcards from the Hard Road” has a lot of the songs that hit on human vulnerability.A
: I’m a survivor, bottom line. It’s cathartic to write these songs for me.Q
: What do you want listeners to take away from this album?A
: I’m looking to try and make people think, I did put the political song on there twice but I thought it was a neat way to book in the record. I know there is some dark stuff on there, but there are also two songs I wrote on the same day.
“Robert Johnson” and “Waylon and Johnny” I wrote in about an hour and a half; I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery and pretty heavily medicated.
I couldn’t play a guitar and so I got my keyboard out and wrote “Robert Johnson.” It was about someone thinking about their own mortality, which you have a lot of chance to do when you can’t move your arm for three months. If Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, that may not be where you want to go at the end of this life (laughs).
After, I wanted to write a song that was more cheery and took a better view of the afterlife, so I wrote “Waylon and Johnny” for two obvious country music heroes that have both passed on.
"This is my last call, I’ll buy a round for the bar."
I wanted to make myself feel better. Lyrically they are similar but musically and melodically they are different.Q
: I saw that a lot of your show dates coming up are in the Indy area. Do you have plans to go on with a larger tour? What keeps you in Indiana?A
: I don’t have a national tour booked right now, but I’m still in John Mellencamp’s band so I’m still waiting to see exactly what is going to shake out for next year. I know there is a show in New York that is in the works and there is a Bloomington, Fort Wayne and Louisville show, too. I’ve been gone so much in my life I’m not sure if I want to just hop out on the road.
We do have plans with my new band, which is fantastic by the way, to really take this thing out and try to hit it in the next year. It could be a package thing with Moby Grape, I’m also working on a project with Donovan. I might be going to Europe next spring to do some shows. Yes we have plans, but now they are in the formative stages.
What kept me in Indiana is that I got married in my late 20s and started having kids and moved one city over to Pendleton for 15 years.
I already made it big around here when I had to be making a living here, doing what I like to do. Once I got in John’s band it didn’t make sense to move to Nashville or New York when I would have to go back to Bloomington to rehearse or get ready for a tour.Q
: As a session drummer, did you have to take on other jobs to support yourself as you were trying to make it big?A
: I pretty much did the jobs I do now when I’m not on the road with John. I’m a subcontractor and people know who I am; I’ve been doing sessions since the early ‘80s. I did a children’s record on Friday, did a gospel record the Monday before that, next week I have symphonic music to play, a marching band session, a visit on "The Bob and Tom Show” on Thursday. I’m just like any other musician in this day and economy — you have to wear a lot of different hats.
Especially if you want to be a studio musician, you have to be a master of all styles. Right out of college, I practiced the drum set eight hours a day, and at night I would sit around and work on these songs.Q
: Are your daughters into music? Do they want to follow in your footsteps?A
: My oldest daughter plays piano and guitar, but she is shy in front of people so she wouldn’t play in front of a stage. She never had a lesson and just went on the Internet and learned how to play “Blackbird” by the Beatles and it made me cry, I couldn’t believe it. She is OK with it being a release and not a vocation.
My middle daughter is more artistic with visual arts. My youngest daughter is a very good singer — she sang on this album.Q
: You’ve worked with Mark Hanna, Donovan, Moby Grape as well as other artists while being a member of the John Mellencamp band. Who has been the most intriguing artist/group that you have worked with? Who stuck out in your mind?A
: One of my main inspirations was when I played with Dizzy Gillespie when I was 23. He didn’t really say much during rehearsals or anything, but during the show, there was an eight-bar drum solo and he turned around and shook his head and looked at me and said “Yeah.” I don’t know if that meant "Kid, you’re fantastic,” but if nothing else it meant “You’re on the road to something there, son." That “yeah” from that guy really gave me the spirit to work hard.Q
: What are some of the lessons that you have learned over the years in the music industry?A
: Always be nice to people. We all have to make a living, for a musician to make a living is a difficult task, I have been able to do it. I don’t know how many drummers in Indiana can say “all I do is play the drums and write music and play it.”
I feel lucky and privileged to be able to do that but I worked very hard at one point in my life to get where I got and be ready for hard work. Hard work will take you a lot further than just thinking you’re great. Get a degree in something like business or music business because if it doesn’t work out for you, you have something to fall back on.Q
: Which is more rewarding for you - Creating your solo albums and being the lead in your band, or being in Mellencamp’s as a drummer and playing big stages?A
: On my 40th birthday, I played Madison Square Garden with John Mellencamp and it was sold out. The very next day, I flew home and I played some casual outdoor festival in a little place in Illinois for about 50 people. I had a lot of fun there like I did the night before and probably paid as much as the Madison Square Garden thing did. Everything is relative. I wouldn’t be able to afford to go out and make my own records if I didn’t have John’s thing.
When you’re on those big stages like Farm Aid and playing for 50,000, you can really only see 500 people anyway. That’s what gets people through that, otherwise they would be a lot more jittery musicians out there.Q
: What do you want to accomplish in the future?A
: That is the point of this record and the one I am working on in the future. I finally have the band that I feel like I can take this to the next level with. My main objective is to see what we can do with this and be national.
I’m not worried about doing it all in 6 months; everything takes time. I’m not delusional; I’m a 53-year-old singer songwriter. It’s good music and I believe in it, my band believes in it and there are a lot of other people that think it’s great too so I want the world to hear it.
Dane Clark will be on the “Bob and Tom Show” Nov. 8, with several upcoming shows in the Indianapolis area. To get a copy of “Postcards from the Hard Road,” visit iTunes.http://www.jconline.com/article/20121101/ENT06/311010007/Rock-Mellencamp-drummer-Dane-Clark-has-own-story?odyssey=mod