Exclusive Interview: Tom Petty on Recording 'Mojo' Page 4
How do you prepare to record an album like Mojo? You've said before that you consider yourself and Mike [Campbell] "The Craftsmen."
It's about preparing the session to get in there and go to work. We've gotten to where we know how to take an amplifi er, get the sound we want on that amplifier, and then make that same sound appear in the studio, and in the control room. And we use tiny amps - a Fender Princeton for Mike, and I use a Fender Super Reverb. And we didn't bafle them off so that there was no bleed on anything. I let things bleed a bit.
And no one wanted to play in headphones. That tends to cut you off So I put floor monitors down like we would for a gig, those floor wedges. Not up very loud, because I didn't want them to bleed a lot. But I'll tell ya, Ryan [Ulyate] has just been a gift from God for us. He's not afraid to take chances. He'll roll with us, with whatever we want to do, and he's good at capturing what's going on. He's also got a sense of imagination - a good imagination. He just reads us really well, so I don't really worry about what's going on at the desk that much. I don't have to get in there and worry about the EQ on the bass drum. Once we start and the drums are tuned and they sound good, we're not really gonna mess with them that much. I don't have to sweat the control room much anymore. I may go in and make a comment or two, but I'm more in the arrangement when I'm on the studio floor. I'm just trying to hear the arrangement and the groove, and make the groove work. I look at the arrangements as sort of orchestral - what the bottom is going to do, where the melody instruments are appearing. Dynamics are so important. I mean, if you don't get quiet, you can't get loud. [both laugh]
How crucial was doing the Mudcrutch record [released in 2008] in relation to what you've done on Mojo?
I don't think I'd be here with the Heartbreakers if I hadn't done that. Because it really opened my eyes up as how to really record! [laughs] Mudcrutch was a thing where the album had to be done in 2 weeks because that's all the time we had. We didn't have even that much material when we started out. I had a couple of songs, maybe three, and we just had to whip them up and make it happen. The studio work went so well that I just thought, "I can't possibly go back to any other way of working. It's too gratifying." That was a real valuable musical lesson for me. Yeah, I would love to do that again.
One thing I like about the LP version of Mudcrutch is that you included the "proper" CD mix in the vinyl package. Was that in response to the loudness wars?
That loudness thing is a problem. We try to avoid it at all costs. I didn't want the record to be quiet, but I didn't want it to be so loud that you couldn't enjoy it. I think what a lot of people don't realize is that they're stepping on all the tone in the record with volume. You're really wiping the tone, and a lot of nice frequencies go away. We used to strive for that when we were young and only making vinyl records; we were always striving to make the record as loud as we could. But once we got into the digital world, it got hard. You can't listen to that. I mean, the midrange is hard.
Early on, when you first started recording, did you have a sense of what you wanted to come across on tape?
I learned that. That was part of the initial thing with [Shelter Records owner] Denny Cordell teaching us how to get what we heard in our heads onto tape. And there was a lot to that. It's not in line with the way you do a concert or a show; they are two different worlds sonically. But Denny taught us important things like how important time is, and how important song structure is.
When you're at the mixing and mastering stages, have you ever felt something got "lost" in the mix and you had to go back and fi nd it, or you got something back in the master that you felt you hadn't heard when you turned in your final mix?
Oh sure. Over my career, I've been there. Lately, I've had this theory about mastering, which is: When the record is mixed, it's mastered. I don't want anything added or changed, or hear any more compression. I want to cut it as straight from this to that as we can. I don't want to re-create the record in the mastering lab.
We learned something else on the Mudcrutch project. When they took the fi nal mix to mastering, nothing made it sound any better. Everything made it sound worse. So I said, "Well, then, let's just not master it. Let's put it on disc as is." We all - Ryan, Mike, and I - agreed that the mix was going to be the master.
You know, I don't want to work that hard at something and have somebody add compression to it. [chuckles] Ryan understands this. He made it sound the same. My comment on the mastering - after I played it in my office where I didn't have a subwoofer set up - was, "Wow, there's so much bass on it!" And Ryan said, "Well, I didn't do anything to it, so that's how much bass we've got." And I said, "Terrific!" [both laugh]