Q&A: Pete Yorn On Getting Lucky With Scarlett Johansson, Producers and Gram Parsons
Lanky and perhaps too good-looking for his own good, singer-songwriter Pete Yorn was both blessed and cursed by having a successful debut album. Back in 2001, when he released Musicforthemorningafter, Yorn became an instant success story. Here was this charismatic and handsome guy, who wrote music that sounded as if he was down and out.
And he's continued to do so: By combining the clever wordplay of Paul Westerberg and the pathos of Warren Zevon, Yorn has worked out a decent decade of work.
Problem is, each and every new effort he releases, including last year's self-titled album, is always compared to the debut. Speaking from a tour stop in anticipation for his show at the Granada Theater this Friday, Yorn was kind enough to speak with DC9 about the recent reissue of that classic debut, as well as a few other music-related topics.
Read our Q&A with him in full after the jump.
How did you end up having the Pixies' Frank Black produce your latest, self-titled album?
A mutual friend connected us, and I thought it would be a fun experience. We didn't go into it thinking we would make a whole record. We got together, worked out some songs and somehow we came out with a record.
Was a pleasant experience?
Well, I was sick the entire time. I had the flu. That was the only thing that sucked. We powered through. I learned a lot of stuff from him and he was just a really great guy to hang out with. It was definitely a positive experience. It got me another record, so it all worked out.
Have you had bad experiences with producers in the past?
I would never say bad, really. You have varying results and, for me, it's always about results. We came in, we got in, and we worked on something, and sometimes we got what I was looking for. It's not good or bad; it's about getting results. Some people you have chemistry with, and some people you do not. Sometimes capturing things in the studio is elusive. That's why bands do take after take after take after take. You play live and you really nail something, and then you get in the studio and you can't recapture it. With any producer, you hope you're well prepared and you hope you get real lucky.
The new album features a nice take on Gram Parsons' "Wheels." Any other Parsons' songs you want to cover?
There's a song that he covered called "Dark End of the Street" that I like a lot. I've done that one with a friend of mine. "Wheels" was cool. Frank played me the song, and I thought that, lyrically, it really tied in with the record. It took everything that I explored on the record and reminded me that Parsons went at things fearlessly. I thought it was a great way to end the record.
For years now, there have been rumors of a biopic about Parsons being in the works. Would you be interested in playing the lead role?
I don't rule anything out. That would be an interesting challenge. I am not much of an actor, but it could be interesting. I know there was a movie a few years ago about how his body was kidnapped and burned in the dessert. I saw a cool documentary about Parsons as well.
On most of your records, you play the majority of the instruments. Do you prefer that to playing with a full band?
It depends. Sometimes it's a reaction to the album that came before. Sometimes, I just go in and record everything myself and then I will bring a group of guys in and capture a song in that way. I started playing things all myself because it was inexpensive. It was convenient. It's cool to have other people around as well, to see what comes out of that.
Your debut album, Musicforthemorningafter, was recently reissued. With that album being such a success story, does it bother you that nearly every album you've done since then is compared to it?
The record was a blessing, straight up. It was a great way to launch my musical career. That is just the nature of anything you do. Everything is going to be compared to something successful. All my individual albums are part of a bigger fabric. They are all working towards this bigger picture that I am putting together.
Were you surprised that the album was being reissued so quickly, just 10 years after it was originally issued?
The time caught up to me pretty quick. It was like, "Whoa, it's been 10 years already!" That was a surprise. It was cool that Sony Legacy wanted to put that out. We've going to do some shows where we do the entire album.
Does that include your stop in Dallas?
No, I think we will do that the first week of April.
Has your writing process changed since that first album?
Not too much, really. It's kind of mysterious. I usually write when I am home alone. I've experimented with different styles. Sometimes, I just write down all the thoughts in my head in a journal. I like that unconscious writing -- stuff that just comes out of nowhere. I see colors and all of a sudden a song appears.
How big of an influence is Paul Westerberg on your music?
I don't think he's ever been a conscious influence. I am certainly a fan of The Replacements and some of his solo work. One of my favorite songs ever is "Unsatisfied" by The Replacements. I don't think about any particular person when I am writing songs. Sometimes, in the production stages, I might tap into something that reminds me of a particular artist.
Were you upset by the negative criticism that was leveled at the Break Up album you did with Scarlett Johansson?
I believe that it was a classic record, and time will be the jury on that record. People discover that record every day. I get so many comments like, "I didn't think I would like this record and I thought it would suck, but I really like it." I believe with all my heart that it is a classic album. In 20 years, people will look back at it and people will say it was a cool record. It captured a moment in time.
Do you think your album 2006 album, Nightcrawler, is also underappreciated?
I happen to think that all my records are underappreciated. I'm out on tour, and I interact with people all of the time, and I am always surprised by which records people like the most. Some people like the first album, and some people like Nightcrawler. Some people have never even heard the first record. Like I said before, all these records, to me, are part of a bigger picture. I can't have one without the other. They are all moments in time and they are a tribute to the next one.