Interview: Tom Petty On The Live Anthology Box Set

To disregard the hi-fi end of what we do is wrong,” says Tom Petty of his decision to include a Blu-ray Disc with 62 live tracks mixed in 5.1 as part of the Deluxe Edition of his career-spanning boxed set with the Heartbreakers, The Live Anthology (Reprise). That edition, is impressive indeed. Besides the Blu-ray, it comprises five live CDs, two DVDs with two previously unreleased shows, one vinyl LP, a book, lithographs, and other goodies. We, of course, are most excited about the 96-kHz/24-bit material — and so is Tom: “I’m a big fan of listening to music, and I like to listen to it in as good quality as I can.” Here, Tom goes ahead and give us the Blu-ray 5.1 breakdown.

Why did you choose to include a Blu-ray Disc in The Live Anthology?

Clearly, right now, it’s the closest you can get to sitting in the control room. I don’t know how many people it will immediately appeal to, but more and more people are going to come this way.

After seeing the Anthology track listing online, somebody said to me, “This is going to get me to buy a Blu-ray player.”

Well, that’s fantastic to hear.

What was the first track you heard in 96/24 playback?

“Nightwatchman.” I thought that the bass response on that song was very close to what I feel when I’m standing onstage. The bass was very clear, and there was a nice crunch to the guitars when the chords come in. And the drumming is solid. I just thought it was a great track. It far exceeds the studio version.

One song that stood out for me right from the beginning was your cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” Steve Ferrone’s drumming on that one is so powerful. He gets some good, crisp hi-hat work in before Mike Campbell’s guitar solo starts.

Yeah, he’s pretty fierce on that one. If you’re not careful, hi-hats and cymbals can really run right over you during mixing. We were fortunate that we were able to keep a nice top end on things. Any time there’s a lot of highend guitar soloing or cymbal crashing, you can hear that we did a pretty good job of it.

How did 30-plus years of playing live influence how this material was mixed?

Onstage, we’re having a constant struggle to get the best sound possible. There’s an art to playing to the sound of the room. What I’m hearing on the stage is all factored into what’s coming off of the walls of the room and the ceiling. Outdoor shows are simpler because you don’t have the acoustics of a room to deal with. It’s an interesting spot to stand in, you know.

I have a great deal of respect for [bassist] Ron Blair, because the bass doesn’t necessarily come from behind you. A lot of bass comes from above, where the PA is hung. So your attack is really important, because you’re gonna hear that bass come from behind you and above you — and then it’ll whack off the back wall if you’re indoors. So it’s a little bit delicate figuring out how hard to play or how to set your tones. Over the years, we’ve developed a pretty good stage sound by figuring out where to put our equipment and where we get the best separation. It’s never simple, but we keep working at it.

And you have to use the space that you’re getting from the PA and the instruments. You might play a lot less, say, when you get to the gig than what you played in rehearsal because you have this huge reverberation, and sometimes a note can ride a lot longer on that reverberation than you would think. It’s a challenge.

What were your goals for what you wanted to hear in the surround channels?

I left it largely up to Ryan [Ulyate, the band’s engineer], but we did have a discussion about how far we should break away from the stereo sound. I said to him, “I want it to feel like you’re there. I don’t want an electric guitar solo to come from behind my head. I want it to feel like you’re in the audience.” I think he was successful in doing that.

What about doing a 5.1 mix of new Tom Petty studio material?

Yeah, I would do that. In fact, I’m thinking very strongly about doing a 5.1 mix for the studio album I’m working on now. Why not? We have the capability to do it. It’s one more interesting reason to pick up an album. It’s another dimension to the sound you might not have experienced before, and it opens up a lot of ways to be creative with our mix.

How about revisiting older studio material in 5.1, like, say, Damn the Torpedoes?

I think it’s possible. Damn the Torpedoes would be a great album to do it with. Obviously, my vision at the time we recorded it [in 1979] was just stereo. We recently did one of those Classic Albums documentaries for Torpedoes, where we got out the 2-inch tapes and explored them. It’s a very interesting album sonically, very well recorded. I think we’d all like to see a nice 5.1 happen for that album. I’d also like to have it available on Blu-ray. I don’t see why not.

The irony, of course, is that you, Tom, have never really “seen” or “heard” a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers show yourself. But you now know what the best possible sound is by listening to The Live Anthology on Blu-ray.

Sure, yeah. It’s a great feeling to finally have a seat in the audience! [laughs]