After 20 years of sharing John Mellencamp with the world, Bloomington, Ind., has a new band of hometown heroes to boast.
Mellencamp and the rock quintet Old Pike may come from the same place, but the comparisons end there. Singer Tim Jones and his band mates share more in common with The Band, Wilco and the Jayhawks.
“Still, John Mellencamp’s not a bad reference point,” Jones said recently. “He has written some great songs and they’ve been a great band for a long time. ‘American Fool’ was one of the first records I ever had; I was like 7 years old when that came out in ’82. I remember identifying and knowing that he was from Indiana and thinking it was cool that he was on ‘Casey Kasem’s Top 10.’ I was impressed and realized my world wasn’t so small. It made me realize I could do whatever I wanted to. If somebody from Indiana can be on Casey Kasem, then why can’t I?”
Old Pike’s debut 550 Music album, “Ten Thousand Nights” (released April 13), builds a solid, grassroots rock foundation around Jones’ searing, soulful voice and bittersweet songwriting style, best evidenced in the first single, “The Rest of You.” “Watch me walk out this door,” Jones sighs, “it’s easy when you let me. You know it ain’t hard to be mean, how many times can I explain, I just ain’t that good of a man/ I don’t need to see your face and I don’t want to see your eyes, but I could use the rest of you tonight, to escape the abandoned love that’s in my life.”
“We were real particular, we wanted to make a record,” Jones said, “an album that flowed together well and had a theme or a sense to it, like ‘Darkness On the Edge of Town’ or ‘The Joshua Tree’ or ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ These were songs that had come through my life in the previous two years that were waiting for an audience. They’re songs about my life and people around me, hopefully put forth in a way everyone can relate to.”
Old Pike’s big-label indoctrination happened in a roundabout way, Jones said.
“I sent out a tape to the manager of Superdrag,” he said. “I had seen them on the road and they gave me his number because I wanted to get them to come and play a show with us. I sent him a tape and he blew me off at first, but after I sent him the tape and he listened to it, he called and said the music was awesome. We came out and played in New York; he worked for Dedicated Records as well and they ended up offering us a recording contract. Our lawyer advised us to turn it down, which then created more of a buzz that we had turned down this label.
“Then going out with (550 Music label mate) Ben Folds (Five) was a big break. It was a big risk for him to take an unsigned band out just because he liked them.”
A good part of Old Pike’s appeal is its authenticity, much of which can be traced to the group members’ longstanding friendships and comfort zones with each other as musicians. Jones has known bassist Jason Brammer since they were 9 and went to the same high school – Pike (hence the group name) – with Brammer and guitarist Carl Broemel; they formed the group with fellow Indiana University student Eric Hopper (drums) and later added pianist/organist Mike Flynn.
Four of the five share a rickety house in Bloomington.
“We’re getting ready to move into another house, which is on like 70 acres and we’ll have more privacy,” Jones said, “but living together can be a little bit tedious. Some of the guys have girlfriends, but we don’t even have TV in our house, so we’re constantly together. The cool thing is, we’re all good buddies, even at night we go out and do stuff together. We are our own best friends.
“Most of the things that we argue and fight about are stupid things. We don’t try to carry over any band discussions into the other parts of our life. We’re all pretty levelheaded about it. If somebody doesn’t pay the phone bill, it’s like, ‘Look, man, you have to pay the phone bill. This is really pissing me off,’ and you don’t take it with you to practice and say, ‘Asshole, you don’t get to play your song today because you didn’t pay the phone bill.’ “
Jones hopes the best for “Ten Thousand Nights.”
“I have total faith and total belief in that we didn’t come this far for nothing,” he said. “I believe I was put on this planet for a reason, and playing music and writing songs is that reason. With the way the music biz is, I can’t put my faith in record companies and public opinion. We’ll definitely be able to make a second record, and it’s going to be a beautiful second record.”