Pete Yorn, for example, doesn't have much else to complain about. The singer-songwriter's debut LP, Musicforthemorningafter, earned both gold record certification and critical hosannas for its polished, Bruce Springsteen-meets-Jeff Buckley guitar rock. Yorn even looks the part, what with that mop of dark hair falling over chiseled cheekbones, and a manner combining Buckley's brooding and Springsteen's swagger. So far, so good.
It gets better. Marquee names number among Yorn's fans, including not only the superstar clients of his extra-spicy, crazy-hot talent manager-brother Rick Yorn, but also Liz Phair, who sought his help on her new album, and Lisa Marie Presley, who convinced her dad's old backing band to chip in on recording sessions for Yorn's recently released sophomore effort, Day I Forgot. And just in case you suspect that Phair and Presley were merely nursing a little lust when they had their people call Yorn's people, other notable guests to his studio sessions include R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and producer Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple), neither of whom are notorious man-chasers. Pete Yorn: The ladies love him, and even guys who might want to hate him are on board. It's a charmed life.
But Mother Nature waits for no man.
"God! This is unbelievable!" Yorn spits pure venom across the phone line, interrupting himself in the middle of a practiced, take-the-fifth reply to a question about one of the tracks on Day I Forgot. "We played in Chicago--the whole time, rain, rain, rain. Finally, we get up this morning, it's beautiful--warm, sunny--so we all figure, hey, the next gig is only in Indianapolis, it's not that far, we're in the clear. But no. The fucking storm followed us the whole way here."
He takes a deep breath.
"Boy, that's fascinating, huh? What's the weather like in Dallas? Anyway, like I was saying--I don't really like to talk about the songs."
"What they mean," he adds, enunciating the word "mean" very emphatically. "Like--OK, I realize this probably goes completely against what I just said, but the whole album is about perception. Subjectivity. The way something felt at that moment and the way it makes you feel when you remember it." He pauses, possibly considering whether to go on record with a soliloquy about the nature of time and the fluidity of perception--or, who knows, maybe taking another long, angry look out the rain-spattered window.
"So I just think it makes sense for people who listen to the album to get their own meanings out of the songs," Yorn picks up again, "as opposed to reading some article and feeling obliged to think about them the same way I do. Or did, when I was doing the interview."
Having thus completed his statement of purpose, any side-winding attempts to get Yorn to talk in any detail about the songs' tone, mood, lyrics, themes or inspiration result in deadpan dead ends. For example:
So, Pete Yorn--you spent 18 months on the road in support of Musicforthemorningafter; Lord knows, touring for that amount of time, being away from home for so long--it can really influence the way you think about things...did any of the songs on Day I Forgot come out of--
And so on. So go on, draw your own conclusions of hard-rocking tunes "Come Back Home" or "Burrito," either of which might, maybe, be referencing the complications of life on the road. And you'll have to find your way inside the stormy, yearning melodies of "Crystal Village" and "All at Once" by yourself. Ditto the orchestral folk-waltz of "Turn of the Century," on which Yorn sounds very acutely sorry about something, perhaps a relationship that fizzled out before its time. The lyrics are printed on the CD liner sheet, if that helps.
Yorn isn't being difficult, of course; he simply has a clear sense of what should and shouldn't be discussed about Day I Forgot--and his clarity is very much rooted in his own passion for music, plain and simple. He loves--loves, loves, loves--talking about albums other than his own. A self-confessed nostalgic, Yorn explains, further, that if someone had ever told him what some of his favorite, formative records were "about," it would have put a serious damper on his own experience of the music and its ability to mean something personal and unique to him.
The sound of Day I Forgot, however, is fair game.
"The last album, there was a lot of studio gimmickry on it," he offers, "which was fine, you know, it worked, but this time around I wanted to go for something more...bigger, but more vintage-y." He snickers. "OK--you want to know what came out of touring? That came out of touring. I wrote songs I wanted to play live, so there's a different energy and a different attack. Not that the album's totally straight-up; I mean, 'When You See the Light' was recorded three different ways--we messed with stuff; we didn't just go live to tape. But I wanted the end result to feel a little rawer than the first one did."
Another topic that turns the verbal taps on is Yorn's avowed hero, The Boss.
"Everyone thinks since I'm from New Jersey that it's a natural obsession," he asserts. "But when I was a kid I totally resisted the cult of Bruce thing you get there; I didn't get into him until I was in college. Someone told me to listen to The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle lying on the floor, after a big bong hit. Fuck! You should do that. No, seriously.
"Nebraska, too," he continues. "Ya know, now, I hear that album and I realize why he needed to make it. It's a palate cleanser. I think I've got a couple more albums ahead of me before I've earned one of those," he muses. "The next one's going to be kind of raunchy acoustic. Like Sticky Fingers."
Yorn audibly perks up, ready to offer some additional advice about what to listen to, and how.
"Have you listened to that record recently? I mean, all the way through, doing nothing but hearing it? It's perfect. You should listen to that album on a daily basis. I wanted to make an album that tight, you know, nothing extraneous. Or Marquee Moon [by] Television--you listen to any really great album, the thing is that every song, it strikes some different emotion.
"I had a whole bunch of songs written when we went into the studio," Yorn continues, "and a lot of the time I spent, towards the end of the sessions, was in figuring out how to pare everything down so that there wasn't any kind of...duplication. Every track had to feel different."
So, Pete Yorn, what do some of those tracks feel like, to you?
"Nice try. They feel good. Let's leave it at that."