Anybody expecting Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers to back down from the album format can forget it. On Hypnotic Eye, the band's 13th studio effort, they reaffirm their commitment to the long-player in the best possible way: by turning in a wall-to-wall set of feisty, scrappy and impassioned rockers that feels like a watershed, easily recalling the youthful zeal of their early releases while still delivering fresh sonic surprises and lyrical revelations.
“It's just the way that we make music, by making albums," says lead guitarist Mike Campbell. "The album format is what we grew up on. It’s what we aspired to when we were first discovering music – it’s what's what we know. We actually talked about this because nowadays, with iTunes and everything, there's a lot of pressure to get this track and that track, whatever. We really made an effort to fight that as much as possible and present this as an entire piece. Also, we kept the number of songs down to a good album length, not the mega-anthologies people put out now."
Coming after the Chicago blues-based sound of 2010's Mojo, Hypnotic Eye may be viewed by some as an about-face by the band, a decided return to straight-up rocking. But Campbell explains that the only agenda the Heartbreakers follow is to have no agenda at all.
“The songs inform what we do, typically," he says. "We've never come in and said, ‘This is the type of album we want to make,’ as far as I can remember. Sometimes, halfway through, we might have a discussion – ‘This is taking this sort of shape. Let's think about this in these terms now.' The only plan we had is that we wanted it to be as live as possible, with the band all playing at once. Aside from that, we had no preconceptions.”
The Heartbreakers – which, in addition to Campbell and, of course, Petty, includes keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, drummer Steve Ferrone and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston – spent the better part of three years tracking Hypnotic Eye, most of it at at the band's LA rehearsal space/recording facility, The Clubhouse (additional work was done at Petty's Malibu home studio, Shoreline Recorders; engineer Ryan Ulyate, who co-produced with Petty and Campbell, mixed the record at his home studio, Ryan's Place).
"It's totally organic at The Clubhouse," Campbell says. "We play as a band, with no headphones. If you're really careful to keep the monitors not too loud, if you're lucky, you get a little bit of nice bleed between the instruments. The guitars might spill a little bit into the drums, or the drums might spill a little bit onto the piano. Just a little bit of that makes a glue for the whole thing to sound more real."
Campbell started the Hypnotic Eye sessions with the same 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard that he used for "probably 100 percent of the Mojo record." As time went on, however, he began to experiment with other makes and models. "New songs would come in, and I would sneak in a different guitar without Tom looking," he says with a laugh. "And then we opened up and let some of the other instruments in to add different colors."
Campbell's amp setup in The Clubhouse is one that he stumbled upon while playing gigs with his side band, The Dirty Knobs – a 1954 Fender Tweed Deluxe and a 1964 Fender Blackface Princeton. “I hit on that combination and started to really like it, so I started using it with the Heartbreakers." he says. "Those two amps complement each other beautifully. If I need more brown, darker sounds, I’ve got the Deluxe, and if I want clarity, I can get it out of the Princeton. Occasionally, there might be a Leslie guitar or something else kind of special, and for some overdubs we might pull in a different amp. But basically, it's just those two amps. That's the sound."
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' Hypnotic Eye will be released on July 29. You can pre-order the album here. On the following pages, Mike Campbell runs through the new set track-by-track.