Exclusive Interview: Tom Petty on Recording 'Mojo' Page 3
There's been a sound-quality standard with just about everything you've done. Is that a conscious thing, or did you come to realize it after recording for a while?
Well, we started out trying to make sounds that were fun. Mike, Ben, and I really are record people. We lived with records - a lot. We wanted to learn, from the outset, how to use the studio to do things that perhaps we couldn't do live.
When we started out, we had 16 tracks. I've seen it go through so many stages, and I've seen it go back. There was a stretch in the '80s when people were making slaves and syncing 24-track machines together, so you had one reel that's a slave reel to the 24-track. But most consoles couldn't handle 48 tracks, so you couldn't hear the whole record half the time.
If you look at the first record we did, as funky as it is, we were trying to do "stuff" We just persevered, and we got really ambitious with Damn the Torpedoes. It's funny, because that record changed the way drums were recorded, and it's odd because we didn't like it. [laughs] We went too far. I liked the record, but that drum sound really only worked when that record came out. Not anymore.
My thing is, I want to hear the whole record at all times. I want to hear the record in its balance in the mix and everything that's added to it. I want to add into a pre-existing thing. Ryan [Ulyate, Mojo's co-producer] is really good about keeping the record in front of me. So if I'm adding something, I know what I'm adding and I know how to EQ it and where it's gonna sit in the picture. When I met Je. Lynne and we were going to do Full Moon Fever, he said, "No slaves." He was gonna do 24 tracks. And I said, "Not 48?" And he said, "No, none of that." We learned a lot of tricks from him about how to do that kind of record. Je. likes doing a lot of overdubs. Like a background "ooh" or "ahh" - we'd keep the time in our head and sing it a cappella, using 5 or 6 tracks of voice on a 16-track. We'd mix that down to 2 tracks, and fly it back to 1 track on the 24-track. We'd record all that after the end of the song. So we gave ourselves all kinds of space. Jeff was really good at making a chalk mark on the tape.
How is Mojo different from that style of recording?
I'll give you an example. "The Trip to Pirate's Cove" turned into one of my favorite things we did. It started as an entirely different song with a different key and different tempo. And I couldn't hear it work. It just didn't sound right to me. I rewrote that song three or four times - keeping the lyrics but completely throwing out the song. [chuckles]
Ryan and I got on this trip: "This is too good a story to lose the song. We gotta make it work." So a little bit of music got kept from each re-creation. Those two chords are really good. In the end, at the session, I came up with that progression, married it to some other chords I had, and found an entirely new groove. But the melody I had over the chords I got.
So when we cut the track, I just recited the words - kinda like Lorne Greene, I think. [laughs] And we left it there. And then I thought, "That's not gonna work. I gotta find a way to sing it." The melody that showed up was the one that had to show up to go across these chords, but in the end, voila, there it is - and it's perfect. I was determined to make it work.