Four years after the Chicago blues-based sound of Mojo, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers return with a defiantly edgy and fiercely rocking vengeance on Hypnotic Eye, due out on July 29. Recorded over a three-year period at the band's Los Angeles rehearsal space/recording facility, The Clubhouse, and at Petty's Malibu home studio, Shoreline Recorders, the album sees Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, drummer Steve Ferrone and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston joyfully recalling the youthful rush of the band's early discs while reveling in fresh pockets of sonic textures.
Since 2005, Ryan Ulyate has served as engineer for Petty and the Heartbreakers – on Hypnotic Eye, as on Mojo, he also functioned as co-producer along with Petty and Campbell. Ulyate spoke to MusicRadar from his Topanga Canyon studio (inventively called Ryan's Place) about his relationship with the band, the tools they use and how one of this year's most essential listening experiences came together.
How has the way you work with the band evolved over the years?
“I started out as an engineer on the Highway Companion album, which was produced by Jeff Lynne with Tom and Mike. At that point, I was mixing as well as engineering, so it just kind of evolved. After that album, Tom asked me to do a few things, and then we got involved with the Mudcrutch project. At the end of that, I suddenly became a co-producer.
“Basically, you’re an engineer until you make a suggestion and somebody listens. [Laughs] Then, hopefully, you get to be a co-producer. It’s been great for me because they’re such great people. I have so much respect for Tom and everybody in the band. I get to make a comment and they listen to it. To me, that’s thrilling. But I think that just comes after you’ve hung out with people long enough and there’s a matter of trust. You just grow into it.”
Would any comments you make concern the songs themselves? Do you have input into the arrangements?
“Yeah, I get to do that stuff now. [Laughs] We talk about ‘How’s this drum part working? How’s this bass part – does it fit?’ They’ve been really generous and let me make comments about that. I’m really happy with my role and what I get to do.”
The album took three years from start to finish. What’s the overall process – recording, reviewing, re-recording, more songs written – until it’s decided that the album is done?
“The process is, Tom writes some songs, and then we go in and record them. He puts a lot of thought into his songs and takes a lot of care with his writing. He’s not the kind of guy to toss off 12 songs so we can just record them. When we started this record, he had three tracks that he’d just written, so we wanted to get those down. I’ll tell you, it’s such a joy to show up in the studio and at the end of the day have some music that didn’t exist before. It’s just the greatest thing in the world.
“Those first three songs were a little bit more in the bluesy vein of Mojo. We recorded them live off-the-floor, like Mojo, and then we took a break. I think they might have gone on the road for a time – they have touring and other stuff to do. When everybody came back, Tom had a different batch of songs and things look a left turn.
“We did that batch, took some more time off, and then we did another batch. So it wasn’t non-stop recording – we did stuff, took breaks, did more stuff, and like that. After a while, we started to realize what this album was, that it wasn’t an extension of Mojo; it was more of a rock album that we were making.
“It was interesting in that Tom would write songs, and we'd let the music kind of lead us in the direction that it wanted to go. Tom didn’t really sit down and say, ‘OK, today we’re making an album, and it’s gonna be like this.’ We were recording songs and seeing where they were headed.”