John Mellencamp and his band will play two shows in St. John’s at Mile One Centre July 6 and 7 as part of a Canadian tour in support of the album “No Better Than This.” — Submitted photo
As John Mellencamp’s guitarist and longtime friend, Mike Wanchic says the band is looking forward to their upcoming shows in St. John’s.
Mellencamp and his band will arrive for two dates from their “No Better Than This” tour at Mile One stadium, July 6 and 7.
The Canadian tour will travel coast-to-coast over five weeks, which will be a welcome change for the band after being off the road.
“We’re about a year and a half into it,” Wanchic told The Telegram. “We’ve been touring for quite a while. We’ve probably been across the United States twice, to Europe, to Canada — really looking forward to coming back. We’ve been off for a while, so I think people are itching to go play.”
“No Better Than This” is the latest album by John Mellencamp, produced by T-Bone Burnett and recorded at various historic locations including Sun Studio in Memphis, where Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash have also recorded.
“The whole point of this new record was an exploration, more than an attempt to make commercial records,” Wanchic says. “There was no attempt in making this record to kowtow to radio or anything else. It was to make a very musical record and make a musical exploration from it.”
The album was recorded on a 55-year-old mono tape recorder using vintage microphones — a process Wanchic says lowered the technological bar for the album and allowed it to be raw in composition.
“That’s where the record sits,” he says.
Audiences can expect the tour to strike a balance between Mellencamp hits like “Hurts So Good” and “Jack & Diane” and his newer material.
“It’s not hit parade,” Wanchic says.
“The whole point of this tour was to make a more musical experience for our real fans, not the general public. This is for fans, and it’s laden with hits. It’s nothing short of hits. But it also gives us an opportunity, from an artistic standpoint, to push a little bit — to keep us alive and vital as musicians, and John as a songwriter.”
Wanchic says this album and the tour show how the band has evolved from when they first started out in 1976.
“We’ve grown up, for one thing,” he says.
“The band has been stable now for over 20 years. It’s the same, fantastic band. And musically speaking, we have raised the bar — in this band’s eye — that we can tie old music and new music together and it all flows in a really sort of liquid way.”
The biggest transformation, however, has happened within the industry itself, Wanchic says.
Being on tour now is much different than it was back when touring was all about selling records.
“I think these days, the way record sales have dropped off and the way the industry has realigned itself, the thing that we have left is our touring legacy,” he says.
“I think that’s what we really care about. We’re not any more perfect. We’re not looking for promotional records anymore. We’re really trying to just do the art of music and hold onto our legacy and connect with our crowd, because our crowd and our audience is the one thing that we have that young bands don’t have.”
Wanchic attributes much of their long-standing success to their audience, as they continue to come out for concerts and buy Mellencamp albums no matter what the changes in sound.
“That’s the thing about doing what you do honestly and sincerely, and not underestimating or thinking less of your crowd,” Wanchic says.
“Our audience is smart. They know music. We don’t make the same record, ever, twice. The reason is because I think that’s a disservice to both the artists and to the listener. We have a very bright fan base — they know the music, they know the growth, they see the growth — and they’ve chosen to stay with us, and that is very appreciated by us.”
Somewhere along the way, Mellencamp has attracted the likes of a younger audience as well.
Wanchic says he sees all kinds in the audience and explains that the fact that bands like Mumford & Sons are gaining momentum signals a shift in the landscape of popular music.
“The thing is, right now, if you look across the music scene and you see a lot of the bands that are really popular right now, organic music is definitely sort of making a revival and it just kind of plays right back into our lap,” he says.
Having never left the more organic side of music, Wanchic adds now is the time for younger fans to relate to what they’re doing.
Especially with festival dates coming up in Ottawa and Sarnia, for example, which will present their show to broader crowds.
Wanchic says Mellencamp and the band haven’t played many festivals, but they make sure to match the same kind of performance level in every show, regardless of venue.
“We don’t really do that much different because the show is built in a way that we have energy flow that always rolls toward the end,” he says.
“So whatever we do, it’ll always end up at the same place.”
In addition to playing guitar, Wanchic has produced many Mellencamp albums, such as “Human Wheels” and “Dance Naked,” as well as providing back-up vocals, co-producing, or mixing some of the recordings.
Wanchic says the reason he’s been able to work with Mellencamp for all these years is because the music and life don’t always separate.
“There’s a brotherhood,” he says. “You know, we grew up experiencing life together as young cavalier men. Then growing into adulthood, having children at the same time, watching grandparents and friends die at the same time. It’s just a life shared.”
That bond extends right across the band, Wanchic says, which he hopes will make for a great show that will leave fans satisfied.
“The No. 1 thing is to have a fantastic musical experience and to be able to come into the room with us and join us through a variety of eras of ours and various forms that we put the music in,” he says.
“From acoustic to screaming rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a musical journey.”
The “No Better Than This” tour features special guest Cowboy Junkies. Tickets are available from Mellencamp’s website, mellencamp.com, or from the Mile One Centre ticket office.