In one of those interview sessions, Petty admitted to regularly "channeling" other people's songs.
After Zollo asked the singer if he was annoyed when the Grateful Dead wrote a song called "Built to Last," which was a title Petty had already used, the following exchange ensued:
[Petty:] Yeah. That happens sometimes. You look up, and you think you've come up with something, and you realize somebody else has done it first. You try not to let it bug you. What bugs you the most is when you write something and then realize it's somebody else's song. That'll happen to me two times a month. I'll be working with something and then realize I'm channeling this melody from somewhere else, and then I have to abandon the idea. But there's only so many words and so many notes, so sometimes you do cross somebody else's territory. [Laughs]
[Zollo:] Have you found that as the years have gone by, you're better at knowing when you're using somebody else's melody?
[Petty:] Yeah. And when that happens, I just have to throw it away.
[Zollo:] Throw it away or change it?
[Petty:] Well, I just usually pitch it. And start over. Because if I change a note or two, it's still going to be in my head that it's that other song. So I think every songwriter must have that problem from time to time. You play something and you realize it's Beethoven, or the Beatles.
Petty's approach of "just chuck it" once he notices a similarity between songs has served him well in his decades-long career as a pop rocker who trades in the same few chords, progressions and structures as everyone in the post-Beatles field (nobody will ever mistake a Petty tune for one of Robert Fripp's).
Blame it on Smith's youth, then?