Ian Mellencamp arrives to the Bushwick set of our Gucci photoshoot unhurried but punctual, with a coffee in hand, his guitar on his back, and a warmth so genuine it has to be attributed to his Midwestern roots. The bona fide musician (who also happens to descend from rock royalty), DJ, and model has been living in New York for the last seven years, but a mellow attitude and Ohio upbringing mean he’s far more grounded than jaded, despite possessing both beauty and talent in epic proportions.
As the hair stylist removes his Scrunchie and begins undoing his disheveled braid, noticeable amounts of glitter catch the light. “I was DJing until 2AM last night,” he apologizes, but the stylist is too busy gushing over his long locks to care. This glitter-meets-grunge is indicative of Mellencamp’s overall vibe, and he’s the first to admit there’s a bit of flamboyance beneath the surface. “I love people like Bjork—I’ve always been drawn to people who go to extremes. I appreciate glam mixed with dirt.”
Even though Mellencamp stumbled into modeling—Calvin Klein was his first big gig when he moved to New York—his appreciation of style and expression has allowed him to enjoy it. “I’ve been into and aware of fashion for as long as I can remember, without even realizing it. It was more about style and knowing I wanted to embrace a look,” he explains, adding that, overall, he’s much happier generating his own self-expression rather than having it put on him. For that reason, music will always be his preferred creative outlet. “I’ve always had a strong point of view, but it’s just been about how and when it comes out. Growing up, I was always writing notes and poems in school—it was always inside me needing to come out. It was when I started playing music with friends that it really started pouring out of me.”
Mellencamp’s move to New York coincided with the breakup of his band, and the freedom of a solo career and a new city allowed him to evolve and experiment on his own terms. Coming of age in the ‘90s with a dad who loved soul and a rocker mom, his taste in music has always been wide-ranging—everything from Queen to Marilyn Manson and from hip hop to jazz. “It’s fun to experience the changes that I go through musically. When you’re in a band, you get pigeonholed a bit with the sound, and I feel like it can be slower to evolve.” As a solo artist, he enjoys letting his vision guide him as he pivots freely.
Lately, he’s been more into deep house and going in a direction he calls “dark dance,” and he spent last winter teaching himself the different programs needed to produce the sound he desired. “My last EP has more kick drum and moments of house blended in with the psych rock and rock ‘n roll background that I have. There’s a lot more electronic elements,” he says. After spending the earlier part of the year writing, brainstorming, and “getting the muscle going,” he’s currently spending a lot of time recording and plans to release a dance single called Modern Man, which he describes as, “Bob Dylan doing a new wave of disco.”
Embracing various genres and is something that comes easily Mellencamp, and there’s no doubt that his open nature allows him to absorb inspiration easily. He infuses everything he does with his distinct sense of self—including today’s shoot. The exclusive Gucci collection strikes just the right chord of flashy and grungy, and he makes each look feel like his own. “I really like what Gucci is doing these days. It’s especially important that the already established big boys of fashion and art help encourage and support the new generation of artists,” he says. “I love seeing them pair up and collaborate with, not just commercial, but edgy and truly creative independent artists.”
As the shoot wraps, Mellencamp slips back into his own bleached-out denim and lived-in sweater and gives goodbye hugs to each member of the crew. The glitter may be out of his hair and the Gucci packed up, but it’s clear that whatever he’s wearing or doing, his unique blend of charm and flair will always shine through.