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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


I'm Melissa Block. And You know what? There's no way I would ever talk over the first notes of this song.


BLOCK: "American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from their debut album released in 1976, kind of makes me feel like a teenager again. Well, nearly 40 years later the band is still going strong.

TOM PETTY: Everybody's still happy to be there. It's actually kind of embarrassing now.

BLOCK: (Laughing).

PETTY: It's such a love fest, you know, and I don't think any of us pictured doing it at this level - at this age.

BLOCK: You didn't?

PETTY: Well how could you?


PETTY: (Singing) Oh yeah, all right. Take it easy baby, make it last all night. She was, an American girl.

BLOCK: Tom Petty is 63 now. He and the Heartbreakers have just kicked off the tour for their new album "Hypnotic Eye."


PETTY: (Singing) You and I are left in the wind, in the wake of a rich man's sins. Now he's power drunk. Yeah, look out his eyes.

BLOCK: Tom Petty came by NPR West recently with his wide-brim hat and dry sense of humor. He told me the new songs reflect what he sees going on in America today. But he doesn't get preachy.

PETTY: I don't really take a side.


PETTY: I just, you know, I just try to kind of explore this gap between the poor and between people that get so wealthy, that making more money really wouldn't change an hour of the rest of their lives, you know, yet they're obsessed with making more money regardless of how that affects other people. Maybe it's a moral question of, do you want something so bad that you don't need even though it will hurt others, you know? 'Cause, you know, we're looking at a very different time in America right now, where we've rubbed out the middle class which was really kind of the whole point of the thing for a long time - meaning, American.

BLOCK: Well, it's interesting because I wonder if you see yourself as part of that group of people who are on top - who are securely in that one percent.

PETTY: Yeah, I am. But I don't do anything that hurts anyone, you know. And I come from, you know, very humble background. But that's another thing, you know, is I guess I did live the American dream getting into something I loved and working really hard at it and there were financial rewards. Even to this day I don't think that's ever been the guiding light of our band. Nice, really, but...




PETTY: (Singing) See those fault lines, made out like land lines. It's hard to relax.

BLOCK: You know, I keep coming back on the new album to the song "Fault Lines" which seems to me to be all the fragility of all different kinds, seismic or internal and - talk just a bit about how that song started out and what you were thinking about when you wrote it.

PETTY: I was looking at a map of fault lines through Los Angeles.

BLOCK: Which is where you live, we should say.

PETTY: Actually, outside Los Angeles in Malibu. And I thought, well I have some of those, and you know, emotionally you can have fault lines too - where anything might break open.


PETTY: (Singing) I've got a few of my own fault lines. Running under my life. Running under my life.

BLOCK: I'm talking with Tom Petty, his new album is called "Hypnotic Eye." I want to talk to you about the Heartbreakers.


BLOCK: When you listen to the Heartbreakers songs you can tell from the very first notes what song they are. Those chords - those opening chords are iconic and millions of people it takes one note for them to know exactly what they're going to hea, and I wonder what's that like for you - just knowing that there's this direct tie from the very beginning of a song to what people know and remember about that song.

PETTY: Well that's a lovely compliment. It's a tremendous thrill. I mean, if I think about it very long it frightens me.


BLOCK: Really? Why?

PETTY: You know, because it's kind of like, well, did I do that?


PETTY: (Singing) Listen, it don't really matter to me baby. You believe what you want to believe. You see you don't have to live like a refugee

BLOCK: How do you hear the Heartbreakers growing or evolving the longer you play with them? What's changed?

PETTY: Well, there's a lot of things, I mean like, like in "Hypnotic Eye" one of the things that I was most pleased with and that I really wanted to make happen was what we didn't play, like the amount of space in the arrangements. So, the more air in the arrangement, really the bigger the track sounds to me. And that's something that you learn over time, you know, we're not - we didn't try to create walls of sound on this one. It was more like sonic textures. You know, I like textures, I like to create lots of different guitar sounds, and I'm fascinated with how sounds go together.


PETTY: (Singing) Let me tell you the truth, I love you more, than the sins of my youth.

PETTY: When you get something that works, you know, in a particular way, it's kind of like mixing two colors together and getting a new one and it's - am I getting a little too esoteric?

BLOCK: In the best way. (Laughing).

PETTY: I probably sound like a pretentious ass here, but I'm - that's kind of the way I see it. I just look at it like, you know, between the speakers when you come in and there's a blank canvas and when you go out there's actually something on it. Simple as that sounds, it's a tremendous rush to this day to me to just make something happen.


PETTY: (Singing) Well, I feel like a forgotten man. I understand the dark.

BLOCK: How do you gear up and get ready to go out on tour?

PETTY: That's easy because just absolute fear takes over.

BLOCK: Really? No, come on.

PETTY: I'm in a state of shock.

BLOCK: Is it still thrilling or is it - does it feel so familiar that that thrill is gone?

PETTY: No, no. I mean, it's - yeah I get a thrill. My adrenaline gets so high from a concert that after it I usually pace until sunrise. I can't come down from it.

BLOCK: Seriously?

PETTY: Yeah, you kind of spend the whole day gearing up for it and the night getting over it. You just want to be as wonderful as everyone thinks you are and you know you're not (Laughing). So, something takes place where you reach down so deep and pulls from so far inside your soul that this music happens and you all reach the place you wanted to reach together - you and the audience. Then getting over that takes all night.

BLOCK: So, a lot of pacing?

PETTY: I pace. People deal with it in different ways but I tend to walk around a lot.

BLOCK: Well, Tom Petty it's been great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

PETTY: Thank you. Nice to be here on the NPR.

BLOCK: The new album from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is called "Hypnotic Eye," and you can hear more from our conversation at

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