Independent's Day

Pete Yorn may have signed a big record contract, but he didn't stop doing it himself

Every so often a record comes along that, no matter how much you want to hate it, you can't help loving it. This year's best example of that is Is This It, the maddeningly addictive debut album by the ludicrously hyped New York City band the Strokes. A close second, though, is musicforthemorningafter, an extraordinary collection of scrappy, tuneful love songs by New Jersey-via-Los Angeles singer-songwriter Pete Yorn.

Though the work itself is an amiably modest album, the buzz around Yorn--whose brother Rick is a Hollywood player with lots of friends in showbiz's high places--has been all but inescapable since the March release of music. Magazine features, fashion shoots, TV and movie soundtrack slots, fat opening gigs on big-name tours. Still, Yorn's record remains an endlessly appealing hunk of postmodern pop smarts--straightforward songcraft dressed up in twisty-turny sonic surroundings. At home in L.A. a few days before leaving on tour for the second time in several months, Yorn recently explained why.


Dallas Observer: Your album takes its time revealing itself. The more you listen, the more detailing you notice. Did you plan that making the record?

Pete Yorn: I had all these songs I'd written on acoustic guitar, and I'd been experimenting in the studio for years, as far as textures and stuff like that. A lot of the songs kind of just sounded all country if I played them just on acoustic guitar, and I had such a love for so many other kinds of music that I thought that just presenting them in that way wouldn't be... I'd get bored of that quick, and it wouldn't be showing exactly what I'm all about. Like, I love synth strings; I love Joy Division and New Order and the Cure and stuff like that. I love Pulp, and I love those kind of textures, so I wanted to take that and lay them into some of the songs--over, like, rootsy-sounding songs.

DO: Was that kind of stuff in your head all along, or did it emerge in the studio?

PY: That kind of stuff was pretty much in my head. We were working in my friend's garage, and I knew pretty much everything that we had at our fingertips. So I'd be like, "Well, let me run over there and play this part and do that," and just kind of run from instrument to instrument, just throw stuff down.

DO: So there was some improvising during the actual recording?

PY: Yeah. Some songs, you know, I knew all the parts I wanted to have, and I was really focused on that. And other songs, I purposely almost didn't even finish the whole way--like, I finished them 75 percent with the studio in mind, knowing that I would go in and... I get very inspired when I'm in the studio, especially this particular garage studio I'm talking about, the way it's set up and the guy who I work with, Walt [Vincent]. We just really feed off each other and inspire each other.

DO: When Columbia signed you, working in a professional studio obviously became a choice that you didn't have prior to that. Yet you chose to stay in the garage, right?

PY: This is the first record I ever made for a label. I remember before I got the deal, I was recording in the garage with my buddy Walt, doing stuff that was cool. And I got signed and Columbia threw some money at us, and it's like, "Well, we could go to some fancy studio and blow all the money in a couple weeks, or we could just stay in here." I just wanted to keep things simple and keep things the same, so we stayed there. There was no rush. Sometimes we would take two weeks off and just wait; we would just let things simmer.

DO: Do you feel now like you didn't take advantage of an opportunity you could have?

PY: Not really. It opened doors, just being on Columbia Records, early on. Also, it gave a little more clout or whatever. But, I don't know, I wanted to keep it simple, and we knew what we were working with. We didn't even have ProTools; we just had this thing called Digital Performer. But you could go into a big studio and you could make a record, and it could sound like crap. I gotta say, I'm really proud of how this record sounds; I think it sounds amazing. To know that it came out of a G3 computer, with not even good inputs or anything like that, is a testament I think to the way that... Walt Vincent is just a wonderful engineer; he's like the guy that I've been looking for for years. I think it's not so much the car, but it's the driver.

DO: What I especially like about the record is that for all its left-field elements--the keyboards and recording things you guys did--it still coheres really well.

PY: I describe the record as elements of all my favorite bands that I've just kind of taken from and put into songs within one another--a Peter Hook bass line, a Lou Reed vocal, Hal Blaine drums. Just random stuff like that, and then just throwing it all together--that's what I kind of picture my music to be. But I remember right when we were done mixing, I was looking over at Walt, like, "Dude, this record's all over the place. They're gonna fucking bag on this." And he just started laughing. And it is--it's all over the place, but that's what I think people like about it, that it has that and at the same time, there is some sort of cohesiveness to it. I think it's my voice, and I think it's my sensibilities. If you know those kinds of music, if you know those genres and bands I'm ripping off, we're just kind of putting it into a big melting pot, and you can see how it is cohesive, you know?

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