Tom Petty & The
Heartbreakers by Sam Jones
"We did [Mojo] at the Heartbreakers' clubhouse/rehearsal space and studio
where all the gear is
Literally every piece of gear we've ever bought is there, and it's really handy and
accessible," explains Petty. "Over the
years it's morphed into more of a studio. We've built a nice control room there, but
it's very casual. We'd just roll in
start to play. There's no headphones, and that changes things quite a bit to not be
separated and playing in different
rooms. So, we're playing with just floor monitors. We can't have them up very loud but
that's what we're using. It's
pretty much like a rehearsal in some ways. By the time we learn a song we've got a
couple of takes."
"And [engineer] Ryan Ulyate (ELO, George Harrison) has really changed my
life since he came into
He's very good at understanding what I want without a lot of discussion, and I can stay
on the studio floor and worry
about the arrangements while he worries about the control room. It's a real good tag-
team we've got between he,
and myself. And I didn't feel the need to bring a producer in. I felt I had a clear
idea of what I wanted to do."
Over the years, Petty has built up his production skills, learning better and
better how to capture the sound
inside his head on tape.
"The great thing is when it surpasses what you had in mind! I often didn't know
exactly what I had
in mind; I
just had it with a guitar and could sort of picture what they'd bring to it. But they
always surprised me and did
something better than what was in my mind. I sometimes didn't know if I had that strong
a song and they'd turn
and give me something incredible, like with 'Don't Pull Me Over' [on Mojo]. I
didn't even intend to show them
that song. It's got a slight reggae groove to it and I thought that might rule it out.
But we ran out of songs
[laughs]. So, I said, 'Well, I've got this thing, but I don't know…' They came
out with this fantastic groove on
We weren't going to put it on the record but anybody who came by the studio said we
should put it on the record. So,
got us all thinking it was something."
"We all didn't want to quit. I felt so in the pocket – I was coming up with songs
and the band was cutting
them so easily
and having such a good time doing it. I think we'd still be there but we had to quit
because of the [summer] tour
coming up on us. It could have very easily been a double album. We still have a few
tracks that didn't end up on the
record because of time constraints. I just never felt so comfortable recording. I
could have just kept going."
The Trip To Pirate's Cove
The lyrics on Mojo have the density and intensity only a life deeply lived
could produce. But, it's
sing-along Petty fare, instead delving into gray areas and culling memorable but not
necessarily bright moments from
Petty's long road. One number that slithers with a grimy, realistic underbelly is slow
burn "The Trip To Pirate's Cove."
"I think it's probably got some reality base [laughs]. That was a really
particular one where I really liked the
story so much and Ryan and I talked about it a lot. We really liked the story but when we
started to do the song I had a
whole different set of music to it. It was much quicker, a faster tempo, and it just
wouldn't play," recalls Petty. "It was
one of the only difficult ones, and I rewrote it three times and came in with different
ideas that we'd try. We got a little
discouraged and thought we might have to throw it away. But it was too good a story, so
we felt we had to find the
right groove for it. We finally found the music that we used, and I was really relieved.
Now I can't imagine it any other
The track has the quality of Santa Cruz, California on a stormy day after the tourists
and college students have left
only the locals move through quiet, windblown streets. Petty says, "That's what I kept
thinking – that we had to find
something that captured the feel of the story. It just took a while to find the feel
and the groove and the melody."
One of the first shows on the brief 2008 West Coast Mudcrutch tour was in Santa
Cruz, and it drew in a
of bikers, aging hippies, curious roots rockers and Gainesville expatriates [see the
original JamBase review here]. It
was a marvelous
affirmation of rock's power over some folk's lives, not the least of which the five guys
up on stage.
"That was the second show we played, and we were just elated by it. That was such
a fun little tour. I wish
it could have
gone on & on. We were just so happy to be back together. They were all staying at my
house, and we were all just
having such a great time," says Petty, who confirms the impression that what one heard
inside the Santa Cruz Civic
the sound of guys rediscovering why they'd picked up instruments in the first place.
"Yes, very much so. There was
other agenda other than to enjoy ourselves and play that music. It really did feel like
the old days having those guys
together. Everything we played, all the covers, were things we used to play. It was
really nostalgic for us. And Tom
Leadon and Mike have such a cool guitar thing going together."
Bringing The New Into The Old
The tunes on Mojo seem readymade for the road and likely to thrive once
they've had some time to
front of a fired up crowd.
"I didn't ever use more than six pieces. The idea was to keep it down to combo
size, and I didn't really go
for any major
production. I just wanted to get a nice sound on the band and let them play," says
Petty. "When we've been
the new stuff has been very strong, very powerful, maybe more powerful than the record."
Tom Petty and The Hearbreakers began their new tour last week. The challenge with any
band that's been around this
long and had as many hits as these guys is how to integrate the new material into the
existing body of work in a live
context, where, face it, many fans pony up the bucks to hear "American Girl" and "Free
Fallin'" rather than what's
happening today. It's part of the American tendency towards major brand loyalty and fear
of the non-familiar that
creates a challenge to Petty in balancing audience expectations with artistic needs.
Petty & The Heartbreakers by Steve Wilson
"It's something we've really been talking about a lot lately. You really do walk a
thin line when you've got this big
catalog. We can do shows where people sing the entire show, and when we interrupt their
sing-along they tend to
testy. But I think it's time we really focus on the new stuff, and we'll give them
enough of the old stuff.
I'll give you what you came to hear, but I think it's important that we keep this a
contemporary trip or we're gonna
to feel like this is some kind of oldie-goldie thing, which it isn't," states Petty. "I
love the old stuff but I think this tour
you're gonna hear a lot of the new stuff. And if you don't like that then don't come."
"I really believe we're gonna be able to play a great deal of this new stuff and
no one is gonna go for a beer.
strong in the rehearsals. And I'm just really taken with how strong it is in general,"
says Petty, who knocked it out
the band recently on Saturday Night Live, shaking maracas and looking hell bent
for leather [see the
performance below]. "I did the run-through with the guitar and I just didn't feel good
with it. And I thought, 'I'm not
really doing anything here,' and I wasn't even playing it till the end of the song. So,
I decided to put it down and try it
One can see Petty egg Campbell on in this performance, literally motioning him
into the spotlight and firing
This is what a great bandleader does – aids and abets his players, draws out the best in
them – and Petty is surely one
rock's finest bandleaders at this stage in his career.
"That's my job – to get the most out of them I can get and to keep them focused.
It isn't really that hard."
For more on Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, check out JamBase's extensive 2009
interview with Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.
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