Los Angeles is the national capital of the music business and, not coincidentally, the adopted home of even hard-core rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty. But like Texas boogie kings ZZ Top and confirmed San Francisco psychedelic hippie/folk-rock perennials the Grateful Dead, John Mellencamp finds his musical authenticity at home. He spent four formative years making dubiously received records in Hollywood, New York and London, but for the past six years has recorded solely at his own Belmont Mall Studio, near his home in Bloomington, Ind.
Indeed, Los Angeles may finally be losing some of its rock & roll allure. For one thing, it’s usually cheaper for a band on a budget to record elsewhere. Countless underground artists have made resonant and evocative albums in outlying locations ranging from an echo-laden Toronto church (the Cowboy Junkies’ haunting The Trinity Session) to a customized abandoned farm in Kentucky (Eleventh Dream Day’s Lived to Tell).
But L.A.’s supremacy is most strongly challenged by the success of non-Angelenos like R.E.M., whose members still live and work in their hometown of Athens, Ga. ”We’ve never felt a need to mythologize ourselves,” says bassist Mike Mills. All eight R.E.M. albums were recorded in places other than L.A., among them Nashville; Memphis; Woodstock; Charlotte, N.C.; London; and, in the case of Lifes Rich Pageant, at Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall.