The Making of “Mojo”
By Janine Schaults
Chicago Tribune — June 2, 2010
“Mojo is power. You’ve got your mojo working. Things are happening for you.” – Tom Petty
“Mojo means the magic, the thing that gets girls excited.” – Scott Thurston
The first studio offering from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in eight years, “MOJO,” finds the legendary band firing away on all cylinders. Instead of hunkering down in a sterile recording studio going over every drum track, guitar solo and vocal nuance with a fine-tooth comb, the group set up shop in its cozy practice space (dubbed “The Clubhouse”) to cut the record live, thus resulting in a complete overhaul of its creative process.
Flanked by tiers of guitars and photographs of influences and old friends such as George Harrison, Petty and his longtime compadres (Mike Campbell on guitar, Benmont Trench on keyboards, Ron Blair on bass, Scott Thurston on harmonica and guitar and Steve Ferrone on drums) played face-to-face with the tape rolling to capture the raw energy so familiar to anyone who’s ever seen the band in concert. “We haven’t done a live record – like a proper live record where the whole band plays together at the same time and we really wanted to do that,” Campbell reveals. In between the real work, the band filled time by slinging back beers and riffing on old blues standards like a regular neighborhood garage band – albeit a multi-platinum-selling garage band.
The space the Heartbreakers inhabit on “MOJO” lies somewhere between the British blues of John Mayall and the Southern sensibility of Jimmy Reed with Petty’s keen knack for tapping into universal themes of love – both disillusioned and hard won – and desire rounding out the album’s 12 tracks. “I wanted to show other people what I hear with the band. This is really where the band kind of lives when it’s playing for itself,” Petty explains.
As the natural ringleader, Petty challenged the band by refraining from completing demos of the songs prior to pushing the record button in an effort to let things happen organically. By entering the recording process with just lyrics and sketches of chords, Petty allowed the Heartbreakers to explore the boundaries of the songs and transform the seedlings of his original ideas into full-fledged show stoppers.
“Just getting a good song is pretty exciting, because to me the song isn’t verifiable until I get into the studio and play it with them and make a good record,” Petty claims. “Then it’s verified to me. Until then, I’m not sure. It might just be me who likes it.”
The rollicking snarl of “I Should Have Known It” and the rough-and-tumble swagger of “Jefferson Jericho Blues” both bear the familiar Heartbreakers stamp, but manage to defy the old, tired warhorse status of so many other artists who share Petty and co.’s longevity.
“You used to have a situation where you’d had a big hit and you had to come up with another one all the time. I don’t feel that anymore. I feel more pressure to have something that feels pure to me,” Petty says.
With “MOJO” Petty succeeds at following his own principle of presenting the public with a collection of songs that pleases the group as a whole. “I feel like, you know, 10 years from now I can play this and not grimace,” Petty states without hesitation.