Tom Petty might be well into his 60s, and his latest release Hypnotic Eye might be his 16th record to date, but that doesn’t mean he’s showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, quite the opposite. During his SiriusXM Town Hall, the prolific singer-songwriter described in detail how he put painstaking thought into the creation of Hypnotic Eye, which he wrote over the course of a few years — and a few tours.
“When we started this record, which was, gosh, a few years ago, I said, ‘Well, I want to make a rock n’ roll record, and I want to take my time doing it,” said Petty. “Because often you’re making a record, and suddenly there’s a tour looming in the near future. You gotta wrap it up and you can put it out and all the things that go on there to be ready for the tour, so I think I did three tours during the recording of Hypnotic Eye because I didn’t want to wrap it up. I wrote a lot more songs than we needed — I think we did 17 or 18 songs and used 11, and that was because — I don’t know how many people make albums anymore, but our thing is making something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it takes you on a journey as you would a book or a movie or something like that. So every song had to have the same quality as the one before it.”
Earlier, Petty also commented on where the album title Hypnotic Eye comes from.
“I thought the album in general was observational,” said Petty. “There are so many eyes; we’re hypnotized by eyes. Like ones in the palm in your hand. Ones on the dollar bill, for Christ’s sake. You’re staring into one on your desk. There’s one in your living room. It was just a little kind of humorous play on the culture we’re living in. There’s a sort of hypnosis coming at us through lots of different eyes.”
Petty also delved into his fascination with collecting records from other artists — most notably, the late, great Elvis.
“I collect records from the old days. They used to have these records — they were called EPs. They were 45 RPM. They would have four to five tracks on the record, and they came in cardboard sleeves like an album, but they were small, like a seven-inch record. I now have every one Elvis Presley ever made. It became something of a challenge for me to own every one.”
Later, Petty took the audience through his work with the Traveling Wilburys, aka the late-’80s classic rock supergroup consisting of Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. Ever wanted to know how Handle With Care got made? Well, now’s your chance to find out.
“We did a track at Bob [Dylan’s] house — his home studio,” began Petty. “George [Harrison] had a deal for an extra track he had to put on some album he was making. And he said, ‘I don’t have anything to play. I gotta come up with a song.’ And the next day, he went out to dinner with Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. None of us had met Roy before — I’d met him the day before, and George met him that night. George used to keep his nice guitars that he used in L.A. at my house. When he would come to town, he’d come over and get his guitars or whatever he needed. So he pulled up and came in and said, ‘I want to get this guitar, I got this session tomorrow, I’m gonna try to do this song over at Bob’s house. You wanna go?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah??!‘ So we rode out there together, and he sat in the grass there and came up with the idea. Him and Jeff came up with most of the music to a song called Handle With Care. That lyric came off a road case that was sitting in the studio as we were gonna cut the rhythm track. Someone said, “What are we gonna call this,” and George said, ‘Handle With Care.’ It was as simple as that.”
Finally, Petty took a moment to expound on his romantic feelings toward radio. (Which would make perfect sense, seeing as he’s got his own SiriusXM channel, Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure.)
“I’ve always loved radio,” said Petty. “I’ve loved the mystery of hearing this music and getting to know the person playing it without any idea of what they look like. I’ve had to use my imagination when I heard these records to make the pictures in my head. I also like that it makes me listen to music the same way I did when I was younger. The biggest thrill of all of it is turning somebody on to some great music that they wouldn’t have discovered. We get tons of emails from listeners, and sometimes you get something like, ‘I’m 16. Thanks for playing that Chuck Berry song; I’d never heard of him.” You forget there are people who don’t know some of the great stuff that came before.”
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