The Petty Archives

Old-school recording gives new album its mojo
By Rob Williams
Winnipeg Free Press - June 19, 2010

A trip down memory lane and a new guitar helped Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers find their mojo.

After listening to 30 years worth of live recordings to assemble last year's Live Anthology box set, Petty and the group decided their new album, Mojo, should be an off-the-floor affair.

"It was a lot of work going through 30 years of live recordings and trying to find the definitive live version of each song. It got us tuned into the live band as opposed to the studio band, so we chose not to do a quote-unquote produced album. We played without headphones. We had little monitors on the floor that we kept quiet to prevent bleed. Tom had a little earpiece, but the rest of us just stood in the room side by side -- that's why it sounds the way it does," guitarist Mike Campbell says over the phone from Seattle.

"There are very few overdubs -- 95 per cent or more of the guitar solos are live during the take, and quite a few of the vocals were live vocals. Typically what you hear on Mojo is the band playing live."

The overall vibe of the blues-based album was also inspired by a 1959 Les Paul Campbell purchased prior to the recording.

When Petty heard his longtime guitarist playing the "holy grail" of six strings, he said he wanted it to be the voice of the album, Campbell says.

"That guitar is very inspiring. The songs were written in a way for the freedom of the guitar to weave in and out of the vocals," he says.

The guitar is too valuable to bring on the road; instead, Gibson built Campbell a replica that sounds almost identical to the one he used in the studio. The first time he played the guitar was on the band's recent Saturday Night Live appearance. Winnipeggers will get to see and hear it tonight when the band plays the MTS Centre.

The group's set features a mix of classic material along with some new songs, which many fans in the audience could already be familiar with since the album was given away as a digital download to everyone who bought concert tickets.

Giving away a new album with tickets is becoming more and more common as CD sales continue to decrease. Other acts to give away albums with tickets in 2010 include Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne and the Dave Matthews Band.

"I think it's a reaction to the industry morphing in a way we can't control. Nowadays with the Internet and downloading it's a different way to get the album out, and people can hear it before the show," Campbell says, adding the practice has stopped some fans from going for drinks when Petty and the Heartbreakers start to play the new songs.

"Now people are buying beer, sitting and listening," he says with a laugh.