Pete Yorn On Musicforthemorningafter: ‘It’s Too Clean’

Night owls can expect to see Pete Yorn performing on Jimmy Fallon’s show tonight in support of the self-titled album he squeezed out last week. Seems like an opportune time to roll out this vintage, never-before-online interview I conducted with him on March 9, 2003.

The conversation mostly revolves his second record, Day I Forgot – why he didn’t make it a double-album, how it compares with his musicforthemorningafter debut, etc. – but the singer/songwriter (who would go on to collaborate with Scarlett Johansson) also professes his love for Bruce Springsteen and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos.

[Scroll down for two Bad Penny downloads from Pete Yorn’s new record.]

Classic-rock may well be in vogue again thanks in large part to the so-called “new garage” movement, but few newcomers are as well-versed in its history as singer/songwriter Pete Yorn.

The New Jersey native often gives the Boss due praise during regular concert renditions of “Dancing in the Dark,” “New York City Serenade” and “Atlantic City.” A deluge of other covers figure prominently into his repertoire, as well: “Rain” (the Beatles), “China Girl” (Iggy Pop), “Panic” (the Smiths), “New Age” (the Velvet Underground) and, most recently, “Suspicious Minds” (written by Mark James, made famous by Elvis Presley).

Likewise, Yorn’s deep excavation of Americana through his own rootsy originals have seduced music lovers of all ages, not just ones the 28-year-old might draw from his own age bracket (or, through past tours with Weezer and Sunny Day Real Estate, even younger).

Yorn’s full-length CDs, thus far, only contain self-written material. His first, 2001’s gold musicforthemorningafter, was produced by R. Walt Vincent, ex-Failure member Ken Andrews and Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair) and sported the single “Life on a Chain.”

On April 15, Yorn follows up his bow with Day I Forgot, his second disc for Columbia that again features those producers, plus another guest spot by R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who paid a visit on the first release.

The full track list: “Intro,” “Come Back Home” (first single), “Crystal Village,” “Carlos (Don’t Let It Go to Your Head),” “Pass Me By,” “Committed,” “Long Way Down,” “When You See the Light,” “Turn of the Century,” “Burrito,” “Man in Uniform,” “All at Once” and “So Much Work.”

“I’m so happy to have a new record to pull from, finally,” Yorn tells ICE. “We were milking the last one … now we’ll have more flexibility.” He adds, “I was less concerned with trying to sound cool or mysterious on this record. You can hear that I’m singing with a lot more emotion than I was on the first record – I’m belting it out more.”

After supporting musicforthemorningafter with 18 months of touring and a short vacation afterward, Yorn entered Vincent’s garage studio in Culver City, California, in August 2001. Roping in producer Scott Litt (R.E.M., Nirvana) along the way, the team sealed Day I Forgot in December and shipped it off to mixer Andy Wallace in New York, who Yorn picked largely due to his work on Jeff Buckley’s Grace.

Gossip swirled in late 2001 that a new set of material by the now-Los Angeles resident was in the works; more rumors arose late last year that the album would be ready for a Christmas release.

“There was a glimmer of hope that it was going to be done before Christmas, but I kept wanting to work,” Yorn says. “I already had a good record, but I didn’t feel like I was getting a rush. I wanted to take my time and let it happen naturally, not blow through it. I definitely come from the punk-rock school, but I like to take my time in the studio.”

Actually, Yorn recorded 25 tracks for the release, all of which he considers fully realized. He divulges, “At first I was thinking, ‘Should I go double-record?’ Then I decided that there’s nobility in restraint. I wanted to make a short, tight rock record, and that’s what this is.”

Yorn regards the keepers so highly that one of the songs he trimmed features Buck (“Fit In,” a frequent concert selection) and another has studio wizard Jon Brion (“I Got Yer Money”). Other parings include “On Top of the World,” “Seventeen,” “Bandstand in the Sky,” “Sit Down” and “Hunter Green,” all of which may be released eventually.

Yorn based his decision-making on two main criteria: how the songs would translate in a live setting and what emotions they evoke. “I don’t need to feel the same way twice on a record, so I’ll ditch a song that has a similar emotion to another,” he says.

Equally important to the release was textural quality, which makes Day I Forgot markedly different from musicforthemorningafter.

“When I listen to the first one, it’s too clean,” he admits. “We used more vintage gear to make this one sound rough. We used a lot of old mics and nice pre-amps. With the last record, I used a lot of loops, which are very sparse on this record. I always felt that was a crutch, to use technology to make it more interesting. I wanted to focus on the melodies and keep it minimal.”

One exception is a brief loop that appears at the beginning of “Committed.” When asked about its original source, Yorn exclaims, “Bun E. Carlos! It’s actually the drums from ‘Surrender’! ” He relied on the Cheap Trick skinster’s Bun E. in a Box Midi sample collection – recorded by Steve Albini – for the segment.

Said Carlos is not to be confused with the one referenced in the third track on the new CD. That guy, according to Yorn, is “a desperate character, like the one on ‘Meeting Across the River’ on Born to Run. I like old Springsteen so much.”

Originally raised as a drummer, like Bun E. Carlos, Yorn plays the instrument throughout Day I Forgot. He also dabbled with the baritone guitar on “Crystal Village,” which he unsheathed on musicforthemorningafter‘s “On Your Side.”

“Crystal Village” is one of the many tunes Yorn has yet to perform live, even though he has dipped into a trove of yet-unreleased songs lately. ( features a comprehensive account of virtually every Yorn set list.) Fans actually petitioned Yorn to include one of the only songs they are familiar with, “Turn of the Century.”

Yorn cites “All at Once” as the oldest cut in the lineup. “I have hundreds of songs I wrote years ago, but that one I’m relating to still.” Another early cut, “Man in Uniform,” features Peter Buck on mandolin.

“Come Back Home,” which he has only performed once live, acoustically, also got the early shoe-in: “I’m very proud of the structure of that song, and the chorus. I write poppier songs, but sometimes you get the over-the-top big, loud, cliché chorus, and I think that was one I was able to get. It has a weird time signature, too: It’s only three measures instead of four.”

When Yorn had a vague sense of what he wanted the album to consist of, he actually aired it in a public setting … amid unwitting souls, mostly.

He reminisces: “I’d put all the songs together on a disc and go out to dive bars where I knew some people at. I’d put it in and crank it up on the stereo and be rockin’ out by myself. I’d start drinking and having a night out. Then, whenever a song came on that took me out of the record, I’d cut it. I was trying to make a good-time record, in my own definition of what good time is.”

Not too long ago, Yorn also made significant contributions (songwriting, guitar, drums) on the new Liz Phair album, currently without a title but scheduled for a late-June release on Capitol. The two recorded a second, quasi-duet version of “Suspicious Minds,” which could appear on a soundtrack down the line.

In fact, Lisa Marie Presley was so enthused about Yorn recording his first version that she coerced the Sweet Inspirations – who backed the King on the 1969 original – to record with him. It is one of the many heretofore unreleased tracks in Yorn’s swelling oeuvre.

He’s also fine-tuning a few other covers, potentially for his upcoming late April/ early June tour: “I Wanna Be Adored” (the Stone Roses), “The Killing Moon” (Echo & the Bunnymen) and “It Never Rains in Southern California” (Albert Hammond).

Last but not least, Yorn has Trampoline Records, a joint venture with bandmate Marc Dauer and Wallflower Rami Jaffee, which just enjoyed a sold-out revue at the House of Blues in Hollywood.

While limited-edition versions or other Day I Forgot additives were not scheduled as of press time, Yorn does mention a making-of-the-album documentary and mentions, “I want to shoot videos for every song on the record – multiple ones, cheap ones, and put together a DVD of those. I’m always thinking of shit like that.”

Originally published as the cover story of ICE magazine #193, April 2003.

• Bad Penny download: “Velcro Shoes
• Bad Penny download: “Precious Stone

Related interviews:

• Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos On Recording With Steve Albini, Why Band Re-Cut In Color
• Liz Phair Was ‘Heartbroken’ Over Missing Exile In Guyville Master Tapes
• Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo In 2002: ‘I Think I Had A Falling Out With The Fans’
• Weezer’s Brian Bell Was ‘Overwhelmed’ By Maladroit Material
• Iggy Pop: ‘I Didn’t Want To Sell Out’ The Stooges
• Iggy Pop Transcript, 7.18.03: ‘I Was Shooting Dope At The RIAA Awards When It Wasn’t Chic’
• David Bowie Transcript, 7.9.03: ‘I Am The Man Who Found Velvet Underground!’

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