Pete Yorn is coming back to Birmingham on November 15. He has played there several times since he first came to town in 2001 to promote his debut album, ‘Musicforthemorningafter”. That record won him countless accolades and fans the world over. In fact, it should have made him a superstar. For some reason, maybe a record label more concentrated on John Mayer’s first release, that level of success seemed to elude Pete Yorn. He turned that initial momentum into much anticipation for his second offering, “ Day I Forgot”. That album opened strong, but seemed to peter out before it really had a chance to find its legs.
By the time his next batch came out, Pete was in a weird place. “Nightcrawler”, was decidedly more experimentally, and many fans were confused. But he wrote a song for the Dixie Chicks, and continued to tour year round. It was on the road where he found his true voice, playing both solo shows and opening for more established bands.
This year sees Pete with two albums, his solo record, “Back and Fourth”, and his duet records with actress Scarlett Johansson, “The Breakup Record”. “Back and Fourth” was recorded with Mike Mogis of Saddle Creek Records fame in the producer’s chair, and was a different experience in that Pete recorded with a band instead of playing all the instruments himself. The duets record is clearly Yorn’s baby, with him writing all the songs and music and asking Johansson to add flourishes here and there. Her contributions color the album with her smoky vocals, and seem to have added a perspective for the female half of relationships enduring hardship.
When I spoke with Pete on the phone, it was obvious that he was severely under the weather. He was raspy and coughing. He also had weeks of scheduled shows before he could slow down to take care of himself.
II. Do you shop in indie record stores? If so, which ones?
PY. I shop in many indie stores. I did a tour two years ago that included an instore in every city that I played in. I loved playing at Magic Platter in Birmingham? Is that store still open?
II. No, I think Don closed it down. It seems as if you know quite a bit about Birmingham. What do you look forward to doing when you come to town?
PY. I made some good friends in Birmingham. I really like Don (Van Cleave) and Reg (Scott Register, of Reg’s Coffeehouse fame). I remember I did City Stages a few years ago, and am good friends with the people who put it on. I still keep in touch with them. I’ve played a lot of dates there, so it really sticks out. I got my first radio add there. It was at WRAX. It was my first promotional tour, and I went in rocking my first single, “Life On A Chain”. I talked with Dave (Rossi), and he asked me a bunch of questions. Somehow, we started talking about Iron Maiden. Then he added my song on the spot.
II. I saw you on that tour. You opened for Train.
PY. And Matchbox 20.
II. You’re out promoting two albums. When you play the Breakup stuff, do you handle Scarlett’s parts?
PY. I sing all the parts. There are some songs that she doesn’t sing on very much. I always play at least two or three songs from that record. Those are great songs that have so much energy that I enjoy singing them.
II. Back and Fourth is such a different record from the previous one, Nightcrawler. It seems like a purging, or cleaning out an emotional closet.
PY. Definitely. I took the lyrics out of journals. I was going through some growing pains, actually quite intensely. I took those journal songs and played them on an acoustic guitar for my label head, Rick Rubin. He really gravitated toward those super personal songs, the purging songs.
II. If he picked those songs, that means that you have songs left over.
PY. There are always tons left over. I’ll revisit them in the studio, and see if they still resonate with me. It they still affect me after some time, it usually means there is something to it. A couple of them ended up working for a project I’m doing with Frank Black. But I’ve also written some new things. So who knows?
II. Have you given any thought to releasing some of those songs on a 7” single, independent of an album?
PY. I love that stuff. It keeps the flow going. We did a single before the Breakup album came out and got positive response. A lot of people told me not to put the Breakup album out so close to the solo record. But I told them that it has been three years, fans want to hear what I’m doing.
II. These new records are shorter than other albums these days. Why is that?
PY. I had already fleshed out the Breakup song and knew how we were going to attack them before we hit the studio. It was always a nine song piece that would come in at 29 or 30 minutes. There were no extra songs recorded as b-sides, I didn’t want to confuse the process. I did it on my own dime, and wasn’t even thinking about releasing it. It was an experiment. But when I did decide to release it, the label asked for bonus material. So I found an old demo to release as a b-side on the 7”.
II. When is the record with Frank Black coming out?
PY. Not before Christmas, but definitely in 2010. I don’t know what label is going to handle it, but I’ve already started playing some of it live. It’s a really fun record.
II. You did a song and toured with the Dixie Chicks. Do you have any plans to do a deep collaborative process similar to that again?
PY. I don’t have plans to write with anyone right now, but I do have some songs written with artists in mind. I have a couple of artists that I want to give songs to.
II. Do you have plans to write for other forms of media? Field manuals, dirty limericks?
PY. My bass player is great with dirty limericks, so he handles that end of it. Seriously, I’m open to anything, and try to keep an open mind. I’ve been writing some pieces for a big non-com in Philadelphia called WXPM. I’m launching some editorial pieces for their web site, some glorified blogs.
II. Do you still live in New York?
PY. I live in Santa Monica.
II. Do you follow any of the sports teams from New York?
PY. I’ve got my Yankees hat on right now.
II. I think that’s all I have for you, thanks for talking with me. I know you don’t feel well, so I really do appreciate it.
PY. Thanks for telling my story. Come see me in Birmingham.