Pete Yorn keeps it innovative

The singer-songwriter, in Baltimore Tuesday, reflects on the anniversary of his iconic debut

  • Pete Yorn performs in Baltimore on March 15.
Pete Yorn performs in Baltimore on March 15. (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles…)
March 10, 2011|By Allison Stewart, Special to Tribune Newspapers

It has been a busy 18 months for singer-songwriter Pete Yorn. Since June 2009, he has released three discs: the minimalist, Frank Black-produced "Pete Yorn"; the downbeat "Back & Fourth"; and "Break Up," a '60s retro-pop offering recorded with Scarlett Johansson.

It's also coming up on the 10th anniversary of the release of his Americana-meets-new-wave debut, "musicforthemorningafter," an album ultimately more iconic than commercially successful. "I love that record," says Yorn, who will oversee the release of a reissued version for its anniversary, packaged with bonus material. The album will be in stores March 29. "More people need to hear that record."

Yorn, who performs Tuesday at Rams Head Live, called in from Santa Monica, Calif., to talk about his new albums, and to reflect on his first 10 years.

Question: While you were working on the reissue, did you go back again and reconsider "musicforthemorningafter," 10 years out?

Answer: No. Once I record my stuff I don't really listen to it very much. It's funny because once I did listen to it, I'm so used to playing the stuff live that when I hear it now, I'm like, "Whoa, it's so slow!" Or "That's how I used to sing it?" It has a moment in time stamped on it. But I'm definitely proud of it. The songs are good, they still resonate with me.

Q: You self-titled your new one, which usually musicians do with their debut album when they want to make a big statement: "This is me." Did you (mean to do that)?

A: The record was supposed to be known as "The Black Album," as a nod to Frank Black, who produced it with me. ... That's why it has a very stark, black cover. It has my name on it just so people know where to file it.

Q: Your collaboration with Scarlett Johansson … sounded very fun to make.

A: It was simple. It was a record that didn't have any outside input, no labels were involved. I kind of kept it under my hat for a while. In fact ... the producer didn't even know who the girl singer was until a couple days before. ... Part of me didn't really believe she'd show up.

Q: When you work with someone like Frank Black, is there a period of awe, like, "Oh my God, it's the guy from the Pixies," or does he just feel like a peer to you at this point?

A: He's pretty down-to-earth. But there was that instant when I first got the e-mail from him, like, "Hey, man, want to make a record?" when I was just like, "What!" But he's a really cool guy, he had some great ideas. ... When you get a call from someone that you really respect in your field, you want to take that opportunity and see what comes of it.

Q: You seem more like a chameleon than the average singer-songwriter.

A: My whole life I've always been a chameleon. Even in high school, I never fit into one neat category, you know, like a jock or an intellectual. I was friends with everybody. The same thing with my musical taste. I just like experiencing different things.

Q: If anyone had told you that 10 years after "musicforthemorningafter" you'd still be successful, still be a working artist, would you be surprised?

A: You can't really get surprised by anything. The world is full of surprises. But when I made my first record it was something that was really personal to me. I didn't have high expectations for it. I'd had a bunch of friends who'd sign to a label, they sell nothing, then they get dropped. I knew my record was something I really loved and people around me were really excited about it. But I had no guarantees, and whatever I had, I worked really hard for.

If you go

Pete Yorn performs at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place. Tickets are $25. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.

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