By Thad Requet - Photos Courtesy of Brian Bruner
When Dane Clark replaced Kenny Aronoff as the drummer in John Mellencamp's
band in 1997, he did so without missing a beat. Clark has been a key
musician for Mellencamp and his ever-changing music. But what many may not
realize is that when Dane isn't keeping the beat for Mellencamp, he is
writing, recording and performing his own music.
Dane Clark grew up in Anderson, Indiana. He started music at a young age. "I
actually started playing the piano in third grade. I learned how to read
music from that. I played it for a couple of years and then I started taking
guitar lessons. And then started taking drum lessons," he explained. Dane
was about 11 years old when he started playing drums.
Music always seemed to come easy for Dane. "It was a passion for me and I
knew at an early age that I was going to be doing this kind of stuff." He
wrote his first song when he was in sixth grade and played drums and sang it in
his sixth grade talent show.
Dane said that as a writer, he has been influenced by music in the 1960's
and 70's. People like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Van
Morrison, Lou Reed. "All the great songwriters, especially the guys who were
lyricists...Donovan's early work, Leonard Cohen's early work," he
Dane's Band and Sound
Dane has a five piece band backing him, guitars, drums, bass and a utility
guy who plays steel guitar, dobro, banjo and mandolin. His lead guitar
player also plays keyboards. He explained that he also has a guy who comes
up on certain songs and plays the harp.
Clark described his sound as "kind of a gritty back porch, rock-n-roll
that's leaning toward contemporary country." He and his band are currently
looking to expand their horizons on where they play. He says he has a really
great band and they have been busy promoting his latest album. "We have a
video out off the new album
Postcards From The Hard Road its the first track called "Dream Stealing Town"," he explained. This is
Clark's fourth solo album.
He said he feels his sound has evolved to be a little more organic. "This
latest album leans a little bit more towards contemporary country," he said.
Dane produced his latest album and recorded much of it in his own home
studio. "There are a couple tracks we cut live at Static Shack, Bob and
Tom's studio, with my friend Alan Johnson. Drum tracks I always record
someplace else. There were other things we did when Mellencamp was out on
the road...the things that Troye (Kennett) Andy (York) and Jon E. Gee
contributed we did when we were out on the road. Larry Crane, from the old
band, is on a song. Jenny DeVoe, a singer/songwriter from Indianapolis
guested on three songs. And also band members from (60's rockers) Moby Grape contributed,"
he said. Clark said things always take longer than expected, especially when you have
as many different projects going on as he does. He said he writes songs all
the time and already has 20 new songs written for his next project. "I could
finish it in a week if I had the available time. It's just a matter of
finances and things like that," he said.
"Dream Stealing Town" from
Postcards From The Hard Road
"Over It" from Postcards From The Hard
"Lucky Guy" from No Apologies
"Lady Blue" from No Apologies
Dane wrote "Robert Johnson" and "Waylon And Johnny" in the same day. He
explains that they are similar songs but go in a different direction. "If
Robert Johnson comes after you that means you're dying, right? But didn't he
sell his soul to the devil? So if Robert Johnson is coming for you it might
not be a good thing. I wrote that song really quick and I'm really happy
with it. But I thought, I'm not sure this is how I want to go out. But then
I thought, going out should be more of a celebration, so let's go to a good
place. So then I wrote "Waylon and Johnny" where it says, "I'm going to live
my life, have fun and be free, till Waylon and Johnny come looking for
Dane explained that with the songwriting process, for him the words and
music both usually come about the same time. "Occasionally there will be
songs I write where the music comes first. Those are usually the most
complex. Then there will be songs where I'll get an idea and I won't have an
instrument and I'll have to get the melody for it later," he explained.
He also explained how he has notebooks full of lyrics and ideas. "I found
one the other day from about 20 years ago. I didn't really like the chorus,
then I realized what it could be, and I finished it in about a half-hour and
it's great. I just didn't have the stamina, or whatever it took at the
moment, to finish it. But after a fresh look, it came together. Songs come
in all kinds of different ways. Usually the quick ones you can trust and
then you have the long distance ones you can figure out later," he
The Music Development Process
He said he enjoys all the stages of the development of music, from writing
to recording to performing. "I will say the mixing process can become very
grueling. I don't really like that. The problem is you've already heard the
song a million times. Because you are trying to figure out what parts are
sounding right and what aren't. After one of my records comes out, I won't
listen to it for a year. I'm usually off on my next project," he explained.
He also talked about the challenge of taking 18 or 19 songs and narrowing
them down to 10 or 12 for a new record. "It's a big challenge. I'm not very
good at it. I think you need other people to help you and say "this one
should go, this one should stay." Bob Dylan is a good example of that. If
you are familiar with the Bootleg Series...all those songs he left off
like "Blind Willie McTell" and Foot Of Pride...I mean, are you
kidding me?" He left "Series Of Dreams" off of Oh Mercy
. I've tried to learn
from that with my own work.
With John Mellencamp
Dane joined the John Mellencamp band in 1996, but it wasn't the first time
he had worked with Mellencamp. He did a lot of work on 1992's
was playing with Larry Crane in 1990 in a side band while Larry was still
with the Mellencamp band. "Kenny was off playing on...I think it might have
been an Elton John record in 1990, so he was gone. They needed somebody, and
I'd done a ton of studio work in Indiana. I did five songs, maybe six on
that soundtrack. I was there for three days," he said. "I added drums to a
John Prine song "All The Best". A few months later down at the Blue Bird
bar in Bloomington, IN drinking a beer and leaning against the cigarette machine, talking to
John Prine and he was telling me how much he liked what I did on his song.
That's one of my favorite moments in time," he said.
Before that, Dane had played in a band called the Indy All-Stars which had
Toby Myers on bass, and John Cascella was in the band. "So I knew all these
guys. So it was a situation where Kenny was leaving and they auditioned all
kinds of guys. I prepared two songs. One of them was the original version of
"Love And Happiness" and the other one was "Paper In Fire". I went in very
prepared," he said.
"When I got there the band told me that John wasn't even going to be there,
I was just going to play with them. And at the last second John walks in and
sits right in front. I played "Love And Happiness" first and then John said
"hey why don't you come up here" where he was. I had pretty long hair at
the time, what John called my Contemporary Christian cut. He said "I think
you'd look pretty good with that hair cut off"; and I said "I'll shave my
whole body, I don't care."
"The thing was, he thought I was funny, I went in there and did great on the
drums, and they all knew me," he explained. So those three things all made
it make sense for him to choose Dane. He explained how it's important for
band members to be able to get along. "You're going to spend more hours
talking about your families than you are playing the songs. We all got
along, so I think that helped with me getting in the band," he said.
Dane talked about the first time he played in front of an arena size crowd.
"I'm not going to say it wasn't a rush, because it really was. But once
that's what you do, you'd flip yourself out if you sat around and thought
about what you were doing. Hey I'm going to go out and play for 40,000
people tonight...wow! You can't sit around and think that way, you have to
just be like "hey I'm going to walk in here and play the drums today."
That's how I approach those things," he said.
Dane has played Madison Square Garden in New York City and then played a
street fair in Illinois the next day. "I've enjoyed both, they both pay and
both were fun," he said.
Clark said when he first got in the band, John was a little tough on him.
"He was wanting something different. He was tired of the sound of the 80's.
Those records were great, but John didn't want to hear that anymore. He
wanted to deal with the groove, and have something a little more earthy
sounding. It took me awhile for me to figure out what he was wanting, but
not too long. The VH1 Backyard
(one of Dane's first public gig's with John) went over real
well," he said. Rolling Stone magazine gave it a good review and said
positive things about Dane's performance. "I was never trying to compare
myself to Kenny Aronoff. I was just trying to do my thing and give the music
what John wanted. There are great drummers everywhere. There are guys in
their 20's that would make you want to quit drumming and start selling
bumper stickers," he said. "Many times John wants something that he's never
heard before, especially in the studio. And that can be very challenging,
but it's cool," Clark said.
No Better Than This Tour
During the very long and successful
Better Than This T
took place over the last three years, Dane spent two-thirds of the
two-plus hour show playing a cocktail set. A smaller and simpler drum set
that is played standing up, often seen in lounges and quieter musical
settings than a rock show. "I loved it. People kept telling
me that they hadn't heard that thing played like I played it on that tour. I
haven't seen that many guys play it. Obviously Steve Jordan (who's played
with Saturday Night Live Band, The Blues Brothers, Keith Richards, and Eric
Clapton among others) plays it. He approaches it a lot more mellow than what
I do. I'm hitting that thing like a rock drummer."
Dane said he thinks part of it might be a visual thing that Mellencamp
likes, with the cocktail set and the upright acoustic bass. "But it also pares things
down. It';s cool to try to figure out how to do something different with
less. And John's always been for that. He took all of Kenny's toms and
cymbals away...well he did the same thing to me. That was fine, I didn't
mind that," he said.
Describing the challenges of playing the cocktail set, Dane
explains..."you're leaning on one foot, so you can';t use it. You basically
have a snare drum and a little tom drum, a ride crash cymbal, a hi hat
cymbal and a piece of wood to
bang on...good luck pal. I think I might have invented a different way to
play that on that tour.
Dane said that always recreating the sound and style is a cool thing to be a
part of. "I think that's what has made John a strong survivor of the music
business all these years, is that he has changed and tried to do things
Favorite Mellencamp Record He's Played On
Dane has played on eight studio albums for John Mellencamp, not counting the
Soundtrack. When asked if he had a favorite he mentioned
Trouble No More
a fun record to make. That one was very cool. We did it really quick. I
think we rehearsed for a week with just Andy (York), Mike (Wanchic) John and
I. I think Toby still played upright bass on that. So we brought him in for
a few days and Jon E. Gee in for a few days. At that point we were two weeks
in. We brought an engineer in and then I think we recorded for a week and a
half. The whole thing only took a month," he explained.
Another favorite that Dane mentioned with
Love And Freedom.
with T-Bone Burnett, he was really fun to work with. I thought those tracks
really came out unique and cool. And I used the cocktail kit on that
record," he noted. "It was cut in less than 10 days. I don't think we played
any song more than twice...maybe three times. And a couple times, he'd take
the first half of one, he'd snip it and take the second half of another
take. And he already knew what he wanted to do when we came back in the
room. He's pretty amazing," Dane said describing Burnett.
Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County
Dane played live during the performances of John and Stephen King's musical
Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County. He describes that experience and what all
it entailed. "I used a different drum set on that than I've ever used
before. That's a hybrid cocktail drum set. I deliberately used bigger drums
and a deeper sounding snare. I didn't use any drum sticks at all, except on
the last song I used one. The rest of the time I either used mallets with
rattles in them or brushes. It was an entirely different kind of feel, and I
wasn't playing very loud at all. I never had a bead of sweat on my forehead.
It's because of the nature of what you're trying to do, you have to be
quiet. It was just creating an entire different thing and T-Bone loved it.
It was a really fun band, we had Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, No Better Than
Sun Studio sessions) playing bass. He is
a master of the rockabilly bass sound."
"I was down in Atlanta for a couple of months. I was recovering from
(shoulder) surgery, rehabbing my shoulder. It was a great way to play drums,
but I didn't have to work so hard. It was a great thing, I was able to keep
my chops up and at the same time I really enjoyed it."
He explained that the musical was a very dark thing. "It's been re-written
since we did it down there and it's been workshopped in New York City. The
changes are fantastic that Stephen King did with the dialogue. I hope it
goes to Broadway," he said.
Meeting Others Through Mellencamp
Dane talked about some of the people he's had a chance to meet and work with
while playing with John. People such as Bob Dylan and Donavon. "Donavon and
I have worked together and wrote some songs together for his last record.
It's incredible. It's like when Fogerty toured with us back in 2005. He got
up on stage with us every night and I got to play "Green River" with him."
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