Tom Petty on New Mudcrutch LP and Why He's Done With Solo Albums

"There's nobody I'm longing to play with," says Petty. "I'd rather play with the Heartbreakers"

Tom Petty says the Heartbreakers are "just my favorite band to play with." Credit: Paul R. Giunta/Getty

Earlier this week, we chatted with Tom Petty about the Confederate Flag and his regret over using it as a stage prop back in 1985. But politics weren't all we discussed. He gave us an update on the upcoming Mudcrutch album and the band's likely tour, future plans for the Heartbreakers, a forthcoming LP of songs cut from Wildflowers and why he's unlikely to ever play one of his classic albums in concert or make another solo record.

I spoke to Mike Campbell recently and he said the plan was for Mudcrutch to convene in August to begin work on a new album. Is that still the plan?
Yeah, yeah. It's coming up.

Are the songs all written?
I wish they were. I'm kind of frantically working on material for that right now, really over the past month. The good thing is that everybody brings in a song so I don't have to write 12 or something. But I'm working on it. Some of the most fun I have is those Mudcrutch sessions. It was just so much fun and I think that's one of the better albums I was ever involved in. I'm hoping it's something like that again. It'd kind of intimidating to have to follow it up.

Where are you going to record it?
We're gonna use the Heartbreakers studio. We have a big Heartbreakers club house out in the valley, which is where we made the last one. I imagine most of it will be done there. The wild thing about the last album is that the vocals and even the harmony vocals were done live on the floor of the studio at the same time we played it, so there weren't many overdubs. I'm hoping we can do that again. They play their solos on the fly, so every take is a little different, but in the end you just go for the best one. We made that record in ten days.

Do you think this one will also be that fast?
I don't know. I'm gonna see.

It's great to watch you playing with Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh again. It's clear how much everyone is enjoying themselves.
I know. Playing the bass is so much fun for me because I started out as a bassist. I did that until the Heartbreakers formed, so being back in that position and playing with Randall is just so much fun. I love playing with him. He's such a good drummer, and he's a drummer that plays to the vocal rather than being hung up on the bass and stuff. And Tommy's just out of sight on the guitar. We spent our teenager years singing together, so we have a good blend.

Are you going to tour when the album is done?
Sure. I want to get over to the East Coast with it too. Last time we were kinda under the gun because there was a big Heartbreakers tour coming up not long after that, so we didn't have a lot of time. We kind of just ran up and down the West Coast real fast and did a fairly long stand at the Troubadour. Those were really fun gigs. It's a totally different thing than the Heartbreakers. It's a different rhythm section. It's a different style of music. Just writing for this group is interesting because I have to change my mindset from where I'm at today with the Heartbreakers.

How many songs do you have so far?
I think I have four, but I'm working on a couple more of them.

Onto the Heartbreakers, those shows you did a couple years ago at the Beacon and the Fonda where pretty amazing. Do you want to do more theater gigs in the future?
It changed my whole way of thinking about playing live. Two days after playing the Fonda we were playing in front of about 100,000 people at Bonnaroo. It was like, "Oh yeah, there's this too." Right away we started to work some of the stuff from the little shows into the big shows. I love playing all kind of places, but I don't think we could carry on any more if we don't slip that kind of thing in from time to time. You grow as a band by doing that. I love the freedom of it.

The Allman Brothers broke up this year, ending their Beacon residency. You guys could just take over, come play every March or something.
Pick up the torch! I'd love to do that. It's complicated business-wise because, and I don't know this for sure, but I would bet that it costs us money to do those shows. But I could figure that out, you know? I loved it there, and the Fonda was good, too. At the Fonda, though, we had big electrical buzz onstage that we couldn't quite control, which kind of irritated me. Other than that, it was great. I love the whole idea of doing a different show every night.

It was great to watch you do a song like "Walls," "Billy the Kid" or that cover of Chuck Berry's "Carol" when you guys fumbled the intro.
The funny thing about that "Carol" is that we came in at two different keys. Part of the band thought it was in one key and another part thought it was another one. The exact same thing happened at a Mudcrutch show in 1970, with the same fucking song. We played it in rehearsal in one key, tried it in another and then decided to go back to the original key. I guess somebody missed a meeting. When we did that again, it was just killing us laughing that all those years later, the same song, we did the same thing.

I loved that. It showed this isn't some perfectly-rehearsed Broadway play or something.
It was fun. It was kind of like, "Well, what are you gonna do? Arrest me? I'll just start again and hope I can get it right."

What's happening with the Wildflowers box set? I've been hearing about that for years.
It's not really a box set. They have the second album of the double album that was originally made. We are going to release the second disc that hasn't been released before. I like it a lot. The original plan was to release it as as the complete Wildflowers album with the original album and this. And Warner Bros. came back to us and said, "Look, this is far too good a record to just send straight to the catalog racks. We're going to put it out as its own album." I was behind that decision too. It's done and we're eventually going to put it out. It's just sitting there finished, so I'm waiting to hear when they're going to put it out.

After the Mudcrutch album and tour, do you think you'll do a solo record or a Heartbreakers record?
I don't think I'm going to do any more solo records. I don't see that on the horizon. Well, the truth is that I would call these guys to play anyway. There's nobody I'm longing to play with, and I'd rather play with them. At this point in my life, it's such an honor to play with Benmont and Mike. It's just my favorite band to play with. I just don't want to make a solo record. I don't see the point.

So many of your peers have done tours in recent years when they play one of their classic albums straight through. Does that idea appeal to you?
That sounds really dull to me. I've heard about that and it sounds dull. Why would you want to do that? Records aren't made, at least mine, to be concerts. They aren't paced in that way. I don't know that doing one all the way through would make a great concert.

I guess they do it because it sells more tickets and the concert becomes this big event.
Well, that's fine it the big event is actually good. The Stones did one this year where they did Sticky Fingers, but I noticed they changed the running order. I see why you'd have to do that because otherwise you wouldn't have the pulse of a show.

Jagger told me they couldn't do it in stadiums because there's simply too many ballads.
Exactly. That's the thing with stadiums and arenas. The pacing of the show is really important. You're trying to keep a lot of people on the same page. There's an art to doing that.