Exclusive Interview: Tom Petty on Recording 'Mojo'

Here's the thing about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' stunning new album, Mojo: While you've never quite heard the band play this way before on record, the songs sound like you've known them all your life.

And just why is that, you ask? It's due in no small part to the way the band recorded the album, and to the frame of mind the six of them were in while doing so. "This album sounds like the band sounds to me when it's after hours, when we're just playing and no one's really listening or paying attention," explains Tom. "That's when we're just playing for ourselves. And that was the sound I wanted to get."

It's good to be in sync. Mojo (Reprise) captures Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the height of their intuitiveness, from the run-and-gun jump-kick of the leado. "Jefferson Jericho Blues" to the grit of "Running Man's Bible" to the delicate touch of "No Reason to Cry."

"I don't think we could have made this record, say, 15 years ago," muses Tom. "Oh, I think we were experienced enough musicians to have gone for it. . . ." Concurs keyboardist Benmont Tench, "If Tom thinks we couldn't have done this 15 years ago, then we couldn't have. It would have been different. Well, we could have made this kind of record, but it wouldn't have been this particular one. I'm happier with Mojo as a whole than I've been with a record in a long time. I usually like what we do, but I really feel like we cracked the code on this one."

Tom and I discussed the genesis of Mojo and the development of his critical ear in a room in his Malibu beach house facing the Pacific Ocean this past April. Turner Classic Movies played on a flat-screen Panasonic LCD with the sound lowered in the background. A vintage turntable, a Krell preamplifi er, and fl oor-standing speakers framed the scene. Oh, the stories they could tell. . . .

One of the most telling lines for me on Mojo is from "Takin' My Time": "When I was a young boy, my fuse was lit." That could be your signature statement.
[smiles] Yeah. It's very fortunate to know what you want to do at a young age. Very fortunate. One of the great blessings I've had. Because I've seen kids struggle with that. But my mind was made up: I wanted to be in the music. I wanted to have something to do with it. And once I started to play, that's just a fix you can't get anywhere else. I knew I was gonna do it. I don't know why, I just knew. I think I knew early on that's what I wanted to do because before I was really adept at the guitar, I started to write my own things with the few chords that I knew. I immediately started to write my own material because I didn't know that many songs, and I wanted more songs to play.