From a very young age, music was present in Mark Melloan’s life. The Kentucky native’s parents were both musicians and singers who passed their love of music to their son. By his teen years, Melloan was writing and playing guitar and eventually released his first album The Shadowlands in 2002. After an extended break, Melloan debuted his latest full-length, Hallelujah Love, which mixes Country, Bluegrass, Rock and Pop, in 2016. Recently, Melloan graciously took the time to speak about his roots, the album, and the busy year ahead.
Even though you may be a new artist to some, you have been pursuing music for quite some time.
I grew up in Kentucky with my Mom and Dad who toured in a gospel band [The Gospel Voices] and I guess when I was about eleven or twelve I got the notion to get involved with music. I took piano lessons, began writing and singing, and realized music was what I wanted to do with my life. It’s been a dream for as long as I can remember.
At Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Melloan made a name for himself as one of Kentucky's finest singer-songwriters. He collaborated with a number of great musicians like Curtis Burch and Bela Fleck of Newgrass Revival, Kentucky Headhunter Greg Martin, and jazz pianist Beegie Adair. Additionally, his songs have been used commercially by the NCAA athletics department of his alma mater as well as the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Your latest album, Hallelujah Love, has a real Americana feel. How has your musical style evolved over the years?
When I was younger, I listened to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and CCR. In college, I became interested in Bluegrass, Alison Krauss, and the music that is unique to our region. I’ve always enjoyed unconventional blends of music, so when I heard New Grass Revival it was a big deal to me because I saw that you could fuse musical influences and create something unique.
In college, I made a lifelong friend in Curtis Burch [founding member of New Grass Revival]. He took me under his wing and helped me produce The Shadowlands. He was always encouraging and supportive and a lot of the success I had with that record was because of him. It was very affirming to have a person of that caliber think so much of my material, want to work with me, and then connect me with musical legends, like Bela Fleck. It’s still hard to believe even now.
After The Shadowlands, you took quite a break before releasing Hallelujah Love.
My wife and I got married and started a life together when we were very young. One of my closest friends, who was also a talented musician, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ended up taking his own life. That was a terrible time in our lives and I think I didn’t want to tackle that in music and songwriting; in retrospect, I kind of ran away from it. We moved back to my hometown and I taught college English Literature and led worship at church - things that distanced myself from the dreams I had and the life trajectory I expected.
When we found out we were pregnant with our first child, we started making conscious decisions to have more joy in our lives and that’s when I rediscovered my love for songwriting. The Hallelujah Love record, which is I think is hopeful and very positive, is a reflection of that decision. In fact, the lead-off track, "Misfortune Far Behind" is about those exact things: making changes and accepting life as it comes.
And what about the title of the album? Why did you chose to call it Hallelujah Love?
That song emerged in the songwriting process and after having recorded it, I realized those two words encompassed the whole theme of the album. I don’t have any other defined answer, if I did, I probably wouldn’t have chosen it for the title.
CMT premiered the video for “Things I Feel” and you are currently working on another video for “Happy Then.” Can you talk about the stories behind the videos?
When we put together the video for “Things I Feel” the narrative came about based on themes in my own life. The Gibson acoustic featured in the video is priceless to the character, but it's also priceless to me. It was given to my dad by a crop duster who crash-landed his airplane on the Melloan family tobacco farm in Horse Cave, Kentucky. Dad was just a little kid. For several weeks, as the pilot worked on his airplane, he also got to know the family and discovered Dad's love for music. Before he left, he gave Dad that Gibson LG-2. Then he took off. Literally, he cranked up the engine, used the field as his runway, and flew away. Can you imagine my father standing in the middle of a tobacco field, holding his first guitar, and watching that single engine airplane disappear into the clouds? Incredible. But true. I could never really hawk it!
The new video we are working on now is for “Happy Then” and it has a similar personal tone. The concept is of a couple in marriage counseling, but instead of being an adult, the counselor is this eight-year-old little girl. She’s precocious and dimpled and is there talking with the couple giving them good, simple marriage advice. And even though what she’s saying is heavy, it’s received better coming from a spokesperson like her.
I’m looking forward to seeing it!
Besides the video, what are your other professional plans for the year?
I’m not living the typical rock star life (laughing). Our oldest is seven, then we have five-year-old twins and are expecting our fourth child in April. So, we decided that touring isn’t the best fit for me this year, but I will be doing other things. In addition to the “Happy Then” video, I will hopefully be working with an addiction treatment network about sponsoring a music video for “Greater Than Anything.” We have a heroin overdose epidemic in Kentucky, which has touched so many lives, and we’re hoping sharing that song with them could do some good. And of course, I’m still writing songs and have a Christmas album on my radar as well. There are a lot of irons in the fire right now.
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