In the latest Billboard cover story, Tom Petty discusses the passion, outrage and drive — he’s not wasting any energy on partying these days — that birthed the latest entry in his classic catalog. Check out five things we learned about the legendary rocker.
“HYPNOTIC EYE” IS A POLITICAL ALBUM, BUT IT’S NOT LEFT OR RIGHT. Petty takes aim at the unchecked greed of the One Percent on his latest. “Very few people know how to handle power and once they just become completely immoral, they’re dangerous people,” Petty tells Billboard. “That attitude is what, to me, wipes out the middle class.” Tellingly, there’s a hand-written warning that reads “Beware Cranky Hippie” outside the studio where he recorded this album.
PETTY WROTE A DAMNING SONG ABOUT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH SEX SCANDAL. Although it didn’t fit into the album, he wrote a song about the victims of the Catholic clergy called “Playing Dumb,” which is included as a bonus cut on the vinyl release of “Hypnotic Eye.” Petty tells Billboard he doesn’t mean to attack Catholics – “I’m fine with whatever religion you want to have” – but explains his reaction to the scandal. “If I was in a club, and I found out that there had been generations of people abusing children, and then that club was covering that up, I would quit the club. And I wouldn’t give them any more money.”
HE’S PAST HIS PARTY PERIOD. Speaking to Billboard while smoking an electronic cigarette, Petty says he’s left his wilder days behind. “When you’re young, you’ve got that party period you’ve got to get through. If you’re a rock ‘n’ roller, that might last till you’re 58 — cause there’s nobody encouraging you to grow up or anything. You want to get through the party period, and live, and wise up, without anything tragic happening to you.”
“HYPNOTIC EYE” RECALLS HIS EARLY, AGGRESSIVE ALBUMS. Heartbreakers guitarist and album co-producer Mike Campbell says Petty has returned to the vigor of “American Girl” on this record. “That was my first comment — how really urgent and committed he sounds on a song like ‘Fault Lines.’ He sounds like he did on the first and second albums.”
THE ROCKER HAS LIVED IN TWO HOUSES THAT CAUGHT FIRE. The album track “All You Can Carry” is about grabbing a Hohner bass from his house right before it burned down. “I grabbed that and went, ‘Hell, is this going to happen to me twice in my life where everything I own is just wiped out?’ And then I thought, ‘Well, I’m OK with that.’ Because things come back, but people don’t.”
Editor’s Note: The article originally stated the two of Petty’s houses burned to the ground, his Malibu house was fine after a fire scare.