Ah, where to begin? I have just spent a fantabulous two days saturated with all the Pete Yorn I can handle (although yes, I’d go for more). Two in-store appearances packed with acoustic rarities, two fantastic concerts with the full repertoire of songs, and a one fine interview for y’all – an insight into the mind of the man behind the music.
Pete Yorn is an authentic, quality singer-songwriter (slash drummer, slash guitarist, slash multi-instrumentalist) with heartfelt passion for his music. This 32-year-old from Jersey combines raw urgency with melodic beauty, and I think that he is currently making and performing some of the best music of his career. If you can catch some of the remaining tour dates or in-stores, I urge you to do so. Many of the shows are sold out, but beg borrow and steal, baby.
If you have not yet read my massive post on Pete Yorn from a few months ago (or are unfamiliar with him), you must do so immediately. Full stop. The coolest thing to happen to me in recent memory is discovering on Monday night that Pete Yorn himself has previously read that very post on my very own little blog (and apparently the version of “Knew Enough To Know Nothing At All” that I have on there is a remix with Velvet Underground loops, not the original). Huh. Sweet beard of Zeus.
After some shuffling of schedules Monday night out on the open-air patio of the Walnut Room in Denver with Pete, we finally found some time to sit down together on Tuesday afternoon up in Boulder on a couch backstage at the Fox Theatre and chat a bit about what he has been up to. What I saw revealed was a rather pensive (but funny) musician with a lot of interesting things to say while he rubbed his guitar-string calloused fingertips.
Pete Yorn Interview, July 25, 2006
Fox Theatre, Boulder, Colorado
It’s a completely different record than either of the other two records. The natural progression for me is just being older, living more, experiencing more. Right from the first song on Nightcrawler (“Vampyre”), it’s definitely a darker tone than what I’ve set with other records, but there’s a lot of bright spots on there too. But I mean, with any record if you just listen to the first song and think that’s what the whole record is going to sound like, you’d be missing a lot, it’s a pretty diverse. And I work on the order of the songs to make a flow that I like, so yeah, that’s something that’s important to me.
The vibe during the recording was everything from free-and-easy to real pain in the ass. We recorded something like fifty songs for Nightcrawler, so it was hard for me to pick. I have that problem with every record, its always hard for me to pick what’s gonna make it and what’s not gonna make it. I try to put together a group of songs that’s gonna fit well together, ones that kind of enhance each other. I started recording songs for Nightcrawler at the end of 2003, beginning of 2004, so it’s been a few years in the making, lots of songs recorded.
Were the Westerns EP songs recorded during the Nightcrawler sessions? Or do you look at that as a separate project?
A bunch of those songs were done & recorded in Jersey. Some of that stuff was like the first stuff I did when I got inspired to record again, and it always just stayed with me. Then I kinda went and started doin’ the other stuff, but then when it was time to put the record together I was like, “Man, I really want that [Westerns] stuff to get out there.” It just has an innocence to it, to my ear anyway, that I like. Westerns just feels a little more rootsy to me than Nightcrawler.
And the Dixie Chicks got involved because I was writing songs with them for their record, and we were friends through that. Then, they came out to L.A. to do their record with Rick Rubin, and that’s where I was recording at the time, so I asked them to come . . . I thought they would just be perfect for those songs.
Do you think there is more freedom in doing an EP than a full-length album because perhaps there aren’t the same commerical pressures with an EP?
Hmmmm. No. That’s never why I do it anyway, so I mean â€“ maybe other people are pressured to market it. But I just want to put forward music that I am into, music that I want to play, that captures a good vibe. So whether its Westerns or Nightcrawler, it’s the same approach.
And you’ve played hundreds of shows, both large and small. Is there one that stands out in your mind as being particularly memorable?
Yeah, uh . . . last night in Denver? I always remember my last show the most vividly. But they’re all different in their own way. It’s weird with me, like sometimes I’ll be havin’ a bad time during the show, and then I get offstage and everyone thinks it’s like the greatest show we’ve ever played. Then there’ll be times when we’ll be having the best time on stage and everyone’s like, “Eh, it was just alright â€¦” So my perception of a good time might be different than what’s going on in front, but I try to make every show stand out in its own way.
What excites you about music today?
I listen to mostly older stuff. I haven’t really been listening to much new stuff at all. It’s like I do so much music that it’s all I do, so I haven’t been listening to music that much. I kind of like to take a break from it on my downtime. So like, driving around I listen to talk radio.
Can you list any of your top desert island discs?
Oh man, it changes a lot.
London Calling I love, always have, still do. Sounds great.
The Stones — Sticky Fingers, Let it Bleed, Exile On Main Street. I like the Stones a lot.
Uh, Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
What was the first song you remember learning? Either on drums or guitar, since I know you do both.
On drums I remember learning “Dance The Night Away” by Van Halen when I was like nine. On guitar, like at 12 or 13, I learned maybe like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” or something. Those first chords. And I remember learning bass lines, like I could play “Smoke On The Water” or Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” (sings tune). But then I learned chords and I remember that Poison song was two chords, it was like G and C, so it was easy. And I told my mom that I wrote it (laughs).
You’ve performed a variety of interesting covers, from Mark James’ “Suspicious Minds” to Beach Boys to The Smiths. How do you pick covers? Are there just songs that you can see through to the core of it and know it conveys something for you?
Hmmm, well sometimes lyrically something will really hit home, like “Oh, I wish I said that” and then you’ll want to sing it. Like with [The Smiths'] “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” I’ve always loved that song so much. It’s kind of dark imagery in it, but the other night somewhere I did [Warren Zevon's] “Splendid Isolation” into “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and lyrically they are such strong statements, they’re like polar opposites. Like one’s this too-super-cynical guy who just wants to be alone and be a hermit, and then on the other side of someone who is so lonesome they just want to go out and don’t even care if they crash and die next to the person — they are so desperate for contact. And I never realized that until I sang them both back to back, I was like “holy shit.” Then I see the parallels in a lot of my own songs, when I’ll go into a song and then the next song for some reason will pop into my head as a polar opposites.
Are there any songs that you think would be cool to cover that you haven’t done yet?
“Unsatisfied” by Paul Westerberg â€“ The Replacements. Definitely.
I always appreciate the interesting layers of percussion that you use in all of your songs, and I know that your roots are as a drummer. When it comes to songwriting, what comes first in your mind? Do you ever think of the drum portion first and then go into the melody or the lyric?
Yeah, “Strange Condition” was a drumbeat, it was just like (“slap, pat, tap tap, pat” on his knees) and I was like, “I like that beat, I’m gonna write a song to that.” Um, “Committed” was a drumbeat. Committed was actually the drumbeat to “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, exactly. I mean, literally, it was The Drums from Surrender — we got the tracks of Bun E. Carlos playing it, just the drum track, and Surrender is a great song, great rhythm, great tempo, and I just threw it down and wrote Committed – just played into it. Someone emailed me saying that they heard Bun E. Carlos on XM Radio or something the other day — or maybe it was Sirius or something â€“ and he was saying, “Oh yeah, I played drums on ‘Committed’ with Pete Yorn,” even though it was just his drum disc. Well, it IS him, but it wasn’t like he was there. I was surprised he even knew about it. In the credits I did put Bun E. Carlos on it. But it is as it is.
So you do work from those different perspectives when you’re writing songs . . .
Yeah, like, “Black” I wrote on the bass, it’s just a bass line — you know, like (imitates bass line) — and immediately that drumbeat just came right in (slaps his knees in time). But yeah, a lot of stuff starts from that bass and rhythm.
Yeah, I wrote that when I heard the news. I didn’t know him, but it just popped out. I’m a fan of Grace. I remember the first time I heard it, I was in school still, college. I â€˜member this friend of mine was a film major and asked me to be in his student film and I was like, “Alright, sure.” And I remember we were filming at a gas station and I had to just sit in the car and throw a tennis ball at the dashboard and catch it, for like, hours. It took them forever to set up the shot, they were just learning how to use all the stuff and nothing would work. So I’m just sitting in the car for hours and I remember just playing “Last Goodbye” on repeat. Just over and over and over and over again, loving that song, and loving the whole record.
[Pauses] . . . But just having a night with that. It would end and I’d start it again.
The last song on Nightcrawler is a studio version of “Bandstand.” It’s kind of slow, mid-tempo. It’s a cool version.
You’ve had a lot of songs on movie soundtracks in the past few years. Do you have anything new coming up?
Yeah, I just did a, uh, Paul Westerberg song. He scored this new animated movie that’s coming out called Open Season, and they called me and asked me to sing one of the songs, so I recorded it and sang it. In the movie there’s an orchestrated version, then I recorded one for the soundtrack, like my own version. The song is called “I Belong,” and I think it comes out September 29th.
One last thing â€“ speaking of movies; How in the world did you end up playing bongo drums on the Anchorman video for “Afternoon Delight”?
(Laughs) Yeah, how did that come about?
Um, my friend recorded the song for them, for “Afternoon Delight,” my buddy Doc. And he called me one day and he was like, “Dude, they need people to be in this video they’re shooting!” and I was like, “What is it?’ and he’s like “It’s fuckin’ Will Ferrell in Anchorman!” and I was like “No shit, really? Hell yeah, let’s do it!” I had nothing to do, so I headed down and they slapped some big old moustache on me and a turtleneck. Actually if you notice, I’m not playing with my hands, I’m playing with mallets! I’m playing mallets on the bongo, it’s really . . . silly.
[Commence laughing, general thanking, and farewells as we realize the time and Pete heads off to his in-store; you know, poor form to be late to those]
Now I’ve amassed such a collection of songs & video from the last two days that it is hard to filter (hence the exercise in complete excess which follows shortly). The live shows were absolutely amazing; Pete is backed by an excellent band that knows their shiz — they are cohesive and tight, but they also are having a good time (the proof is right here).
I have picked out some of my favorites from the two shows here (caveat — I taped it again myself so don’t expect excellent audio, just a document of the occasion that is listenable, except maybe for the warbling girls next to me):
FOUR HIGHLIGHTS FROM DENVER
This song is absolutely anthemic in concert, an elevating experience. Listen to the crowd sing along. “Take my hand, come with me, I see the lights so brightly. And we fall as if we never really mattered.”
A rocker off the Westerns EP, full of lyrics about showin’ the world you can dance. Even if you can’t. Bassist Sid Jordan manages to thrum out the hip-shakin’ bass line, sing harmonies throughout the show, and all without taking the cigarette out of his mouth. It’s a gift, really.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (Smiths cover)
I had never really listened to these lyrics before Pete played it because I was not a goth kid in high school (you know the two camps, goth or rock?) but now I am glad to have it in my musical knowledge because it is so evocative & urgent.
Bandstand In The Sky
I can’t express how breathless I was when he announced this song, since it was written about Jeff Buckley and I had just been thinking as I drove up to the concert how much I would love to hear this live. Stunning.
THREE HIGHLIGHTS FROM BOULDER
A Girl Like You
One of the things I had said to Pete the night before was that I had missed the inclusion of “Girl Like You” (after which he asked if I had green eyes, but I didn’t get the lyrical reference until about an hour later when I was driving home and I had a smack-the-forehead moment). This is such a perfect little song.
For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)
This song rocks hard live, and watching drummer Mal Cross furiously cut loose at the end just exhausted me in one of the best ways possible.
The opening piano notes of this song just hang in the air with such a sense of anticipation, it almost knocked the wind out of me. Another absolute gem. Joe Kennedy rocks on the piano.
Then I will post the complete sets for both in-store performances, since the audio quality is better on these and the songs are generally pretty rare.
Denver, Twist ‘N’ Shout
July 24, 2006
1. Knew Enough To Know Nothing At All
2. James in Liverpool(very rare, not played in years)
3. Hunter Green
4. Golden Road (off the new Westerns EP, great video coming)
5. Search Your Heart (another new one, possible b-side)
Boulder, Bart’s Records
July 25, 2006
1. Splendid Isolation (Warren Zevon cover)
2. Baby I’m Gone (yeah!)
3. I Feel Good Again (Junior Kimbrough cover)
4. June (Pete refers to this as one of his favorite songs)
5. Alive (from the new album Nightcrawler)
Finally, I also uploaded and zipped the full shows:
And if by some absolute anomaly you are still not sated, videos will come once I can beat YouTube into some sort of submission.