Monday, 24 March 2008

Pete Yorn

I'm sitting on a leather sofa deep in the bowels of Columbia Records sipping a badly made cup of tea. A few feet away Pete Yorn is sitting on a crate reaching the end of another photo session. He gave me a friendly look of eyebrow-raised resignation when I first sat down. He looks shy and uncomfortable with the situation, a bit like he did the night before attempting between-song banter during a blazing live set at a packed to overflowing Water Rats in London's Kings Cross. But he will endure these things because when it comes to his beautifully crafted music he is supremely confident Yom doesn't want to be a star but he does want to be successful enough that he can carry on making his music on his own terms. That goal is everything to the man and he'll climb aboard the record label's promotional carousel without a complaint if it helps his cause become an ongoing reality. "Let's have one for the ladies!" says the photographer at one point, the shutter on his camera going ten to the dozen. I've deliberately not looked in his direction since sitting down, I have no wish to add to his discomfort, but I feel for him at that moment
A native of New Jersey, Yom's stunning debut album Musicforthemorningafter seemingly came out of nowhere last summer and immediately lodged itself high in many people's Albums of the-Year charts, mine included. Great melody drenched songs, brilliant in both execution and production, and a golden cracked voice to die for. This glorious platter has it all and shoves Yom right up there with the likes of Michael Penn, Jeremy Toback, Gus Black and Jason Falkner as a major new talent to be cherished.
Finally his small ordeal is over and he comes over and shakes my hand and perches on a chair ready for our little chat He looks a little tired, he's probably already done half a dozen such interviews with journalists who have heard the album a couple of times and boned up on the promo notes in the taxi getting here. But this will be different, because this is Bucketfull and we do this purely for the love of the music, nothing more, and since Yom does it for exactly the same reason, we're on solid ground.
Quickly realising that I'm well into his album and have been since its U.S. release last summer he relaxes and opens out, slumping back in his chair and going with the flow.
So let's go back to when you first got into music, what bands sparked you up?

First off, I was into bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but that was before I was playing guitar. I was into the drums then and all that I think the first time ever got super passionate about music was when I first heard The Smiths, RE.M. and The Cure, when I was about ten or eleven, and that's why I learnt the guitar I loved all that British new wave stuff and I think it comes through in my writing. I think it was all so different, being in America, it sounded so foreign.
Did it set you apart from your peers or was there a group of you listening to this stuff?
It set me apart, I think. At first it was just me and this one other girl. We were in fifth grade and we both had older brothers and sisters to pass the music down to us, so we were the only ones into that stuff. Everyone else wasn't even into music at all; they were into other things, whereas I was always attracted to music in general because of the way it made me feel. I didn't hear the stuff and think — "Oh I want to learn the guitar now' —I just naturally learnt how to play it as I was getting into the music. I was the drummer in bands for a while, doing Replacements and Jane's Addiction covers. So then I learnt the guitar and straight away I was writing songs that sounded like the bands I Ioved. The Cure especially, I remember hearing in-between Days and having a go at the acoustic strumming on it. I'd never heard an acoustic guitar strummed fast like that before. It inspired me and those early influences still come out a lot in my songs.
So when did you first seriously consider making a go of music over anything else?
Well, a little bit in High School I guess. I loved it and thought that I might, but I definitely wanted to go to college and graduate and do that whole thing and get some experience. There were quite a few bad bands at Syracuse University and I wasn't part of any of them. I played drums for about five months in a band that had Joe Kennedy, who now plays keyboards in my band, on lead guitar and vocals and that was fun, but we only played about three times. I just kinda spent more time in my room, writing and not getting involved. Not till junior- year at college, when I was about twenty, did I think about doing music seriously. A lot of my friends were really supportive saying; "You've got to play, you've got to play': So I started playing all the time, just in my house or whatever and it went from there. Then at some point it became; someone's got to do it, so why not it be me? I figured I'd rather go and pursue a dream for a little while than do something else I wasn't so passionate about.

After college I moved to LA. I had friends and family out there so it was a natural progression for me to move out there. Through my friend Adam Cohen (son of Leonard, not the Mommyheads singer of the same name) who was a fraternity brother at my college I got to play at Largo. He was playing there and he gave some of my demos to Flanigan, who runs the place, and he just right away just got it and totally embraced me and said I could play there whenever I want I played there a lot, sometimes solo acoustic, really quiet, sometimes with a band rolling in there and just blasting it out. I got to meet a lot of really cool songwriters there. Supported Grant Lee Phillips and Jon Brion. I thought I was different to what Jon was doing, he was more like a muso, and I was simpler, rawer. He was very into The Beatles and that really came out in the layering of the instruments he had going on. I played on the bill with Gus a few times; he used to do a Van Halen cover on acoustic. He'd get mad because all my friends used to come and be making noise the whole time and he'd be like, "Dude, think you should get your friends to shut the fuck up!" And I'd be like, "I can't control them, they talked through my set too" Michael Penn used to play there every Tuesday with Aimee Mann, kinda saw what they were doing. At first I thought it was really a kinda snobby scene but I fell into it and really loved it. It was a great place and all my friends would come and see me and be really supportive. It was a good meeting place and everyone would just have a good time. I was always trying to improve my writing and get it to a place where I thought it was really tight At some point I sort of abandoned Largo and just went home and recorded for about a year and then I put the record out.

You play the lion's share of the instruments on the album. Do you like recording by yourself?

Well I love recording, it's one of my favourite things in the whole world. It's on the level of playing a major show where everyone just goes nuts and you can tell it's really good. It's just like, when I have a new song that I've just recorded and whether it's just a rough track and a rough vocal or whatever but I have that CD of it driving home in my car and I'm figuring out what I want to do to it, how I'm gonna make it better, what I'm going to change, what parts I'm going to add. I just love that so much. We recorded everything in my friend R. Walt Vincent's garage in Culver City, just me and him for a while, and then we brought in this guy Brad Wood, who we respected a lot, to work with us. He was totally up for working the same way that we were. When we would run out of ideas, he'd always have a great idea for a part. There are producers who are like, "I want to come in and change everything, this song is sappy, blah blah blah." But Brad got it straight away just from listening to the demos; got it for what it was. He wanted to preserve what we were doing and just help take it to the next level. I'm not a control freak or anything, I just try to keep people I really trust and respect musically, around me in the studio. The other day I was recording a song with my buddy Walt and he was like, "Sing this harmony over this one part" And I was like, "No there's all these other harmonies at the end and it's going to be too sappy." He twisted my arm and I sang the part he wanted and now it's my favourite harmony part on the whole track So I'm always up for trying things, even if I'm totally against it, because you never know what might come out of it. I don't like too much of me on anything, because then it's too predictable for me, I like to listen to it myself when I'm making those songs, I enjoy that for a while. I can hear my voice and it doesn't even sound like me. When someone else adds ideas that I wouldn't have ever come up with it makes it even more alien to me, even more not me and I kinda enjoy that even more sometimes. I think it's good to get other people's ideas in there. I don't think I would like to work with a producer who wasn't a musician, I need to work with people who are fellow musicians everytime. The cool thing about working in the garage was there was no big over­heads. There was no pressure. If I didn't like the way a song was going, if I didn't like the feel of it, we could just scrap it and start again. Whereas, if I had been in a big expensive studio then I might have to compromise and think of ways to make it work. I liked working like that. There would be times when I wouldn't do anything for two weeks. I'd be driving around in my car listening to it, waiting for the right part to just hit me. I was never just laying down parts just to get a part in there; it always had to be the right part.

So how many songs did you have to choose from?
I have a catalogue of over four hundred songs, but for this record it was just all songs I was writing at the time. The oldest song was actually a recording from 1997, Simonize, but everything else was just what I was into at the time. I didn't have to use any of the old stuff, because I was coming up with new songs constantly and I've written a lot since the album. It just keeps pouring out. The songwriting process is still pretty mysterious to me, I don't fully understand how it happens but for me music has always been about gravitating towards music that makes me feel a certain way. I just try to get songs down on tape that make me feel like I wanted to feel. I become really inspired by people around me, people close to me, my family and friends. I couldn't get into, travelling around; "I'm going to get to some island, somewhere and sit in a boat and write all these songs." That really doesn't do it for me. I need to be like home, that's what really gets me going. Patterns in people's lives that I'm able to observe over and over again. Then there's the whole music side of it, I'm influenced a lot by other bands. It varies from song to song. I'm not going to rattle the band influences because I think they're really obvious.

But you have the talent and no matter the influences you come out sounding only like you.
I think that's one of the most important things there is, to somehow make your influences your own. Maybe, in my head, it took me years to figure out how to do that Some people close to me always thought I had my own sound, even though for me, I always knew where it carne from. I think it's real important, what you said about taking bits of other songs, vibes that other bands have, putting them together and making them your own. Other people, well they just love The Who, so they just end up in a band that sounds just like The Who. I love The Who and Joy Division and Karen Carpenter so somehow I'll pull my favourite elements from all three and put them together in one song and it'll come out being its own thing.

You did the soundtrack to Me Myself and Irene, the Farrelly Brothers film with Jim Carrey, how did that come about?
I got offered to do that right before I went into mix my record. I had twenty songs that I had recorded for the album and I had to whittle it down. So before I went in to mix it I sent it to a few friends here and there who I respected and who liked my music, wanted to see what tracks people responded to best. This guy Brad Thomas, who is the Farrelly Brothers producer and used to come down to Largo, he was always very enthusiastic about the music, so sent one to him. About a week later 1 get a call from him and Pete Farrelly, freaking out on the phone. They wanted to put three songs in the movie and I was like, "Great! You can take whatever you want" And about a week after that I get a call back to do the score. I was thinking that I had my album to mix and it was never a big aspirational thing with me to do a movie score. I was a huge fan of theirs but I was so focused on my record, it was all I cared about But after thinking it over I knew I had to do I, and it was a great experience. The guys were so cool to work with. The process of writing for my own reasons and having no rules but my own and writing for scenes in a weird comedy like that are very different for me. I like writing for my own reasons much more but it was a cool experience and I'd do it again I think

What's the reaction been like in America to your album?
Amazing; it was embraced right away. I remember when we were mixing the album, you get to hear it over and over again and I said to Watt, "This album's all over the place. Is there anyone besides me and you even like this kind of music anymore?' When I got signed being a singer/songwriter was really not fashion­able at all. Since it came out I feel that US radio and music in general is really starting to change and we've really got a wedge in there now. People are starting to go back to songs. There should be a lot more singer/songwriters emerging as a result, I feel. So I'm really happy with how things are going for me. Best of all has been the touring. The touring's been amazing. We went from playing venues at the bottom of the bill when no one knew who the hell we were, to selling out as headliner's at those same venues, in about four months. It's been so exciting to see it grow.

You must be pleased with the Live At The Roxy promo it's a superb performance and recording.
There was like this giant radio convention, all the pro­grammers from all over the country were in LA, for this thing. So it wasn't even like a normal crowd, it was all radio programmers. So I was nervous that night, thinking, "We better be good" But it turned out well and we got a live CD out of it, which was cool. We've got a new live one from Chicago which I believe will initially be bundled with Musicforthemorningofter when it comes out over here on March 27.The Roxy album was from when we were still doing shorter sets and the new one has all the songs from my album so it's a much longer set. We've also got an EP of covers, two Springsteen, an Iggy Pop and a Smiths song that we did.

You mentioned earlier that you had seven or eight tracks left over from the album, so what's going to happen to them?
One of them called New Enough To Know Nothing At All, I included it as a bonus track on the double vinyl that we put out. That's one of my favourite songs. I don't even know why it didn't make the record but we play it live and it goes over really well. There are a couple of extra tracks on the Japanese album and some might turn up as b-sides in Europe. There's a couple that might even make it on to the next album, who knows.
So it's been nearly eighteen months since you finished the album. In yourself you must feel ready to do the next album.
Whenever I have a few days home I'll try and get down to garage and lay down tracks. We've already recorded seven new tracks for the next album. Some of them I'll want to expand on more in the studio. The bug comes and you want to start a new record but I feel there's just so much life left in this record. There's songs from it I don't want to just leave on the table. So I'm into totally letting this record live for as long as it can before I get into the next one. But there should be a new record ready to go by the end of the year. My guy at the label, Will, he thought it was so important to set it up right over here. I was so anxious for it to come out last summer and he was like, "I think we should wait until the New Year." So I had to wait for awhile and at first I was like, "What the fuck's all that about?" Then I realised he was 100% right because from that time I was able to do the score for the movie and get my name out there a little bit, When you play everything yourself in the studio it takes time to get the right band together to capture the record live, it was really important to me that we got it right So I was really able to focus on that and get it really strong, which I now feel it is. I love my band, those guys's are my buddies, and I've known them all such a long time from way back in college. The guitar player, that was his first show last night, but I've known him forever. Before I did the album I was trying to get inspiration so I put this band together called Million and we were kinda like the Strokes. He was the guitarist in that. He's on the front cover of the album; he's the one behind me with the tattoo, where the guy in front of me is the guitarist who's just left. So it's kinda funny losing one guy from the cover and get another one back. It's cool to have friends in the band it makes it way better than having a load of just paid players. We've got a really rocking drummer back there and I'm really pleased with how it's all going.

Part Two
The Yornster returns for the not so difficult second album, because the seemingly effortless class on display here Is everything you could hope for. Eighteen grinding months on the road since his superb debut, Musicforthemorningafter, means he's turned up the guitars and rocked out a bit more. But all this unrelenting touring has fortunately failed to dim the man's obvious joy in creating music one jot. If anything the experience has brought a maturity and belief that shines from every pore of this living, breathing follow­up, Wisely R,WaltVincent is still in the production chair and his work is as exemplary as ever, nurturing the warmth and passion of Yorn's heartfelt songs within a blazing and dynamic setting that's like ambrosia ear-drops. But it's the sheer quality of the song writing on which the whole album hangs. Lyrically,Yorn is sadly optimistic in that way we so love; the Michael Penn, Gus Black, E, Victor Krummenacher end of majestic, uplifting, literate songwriting that is honest and emotive and real. If, like me, you took the debut to your heart then Day I Forgot is going to knock your socks off, If you haven't checked out Pete Yorn as yet then you really are missing out on something special. It don't get much better than this.The day after a passionate performance in front of a heaving and adoring Mean Fiddler audience I met up with Pete to play catch up.

Tell us about recording the new album.
It had been three years since I made the first record by the time I got off touring it. I was supposed to take a month off before I started making the next one and I was barely a week into that vacation and I was like, "I gotta get into that studio!" I just couldn't wait any longer, I was so excited about it. People say " oh, you've got the whole of your life to prepare for your first record, whereas the second..." But I wasn't scrambling at all, I was ready to roll, In fact I had too much material to work with. I didn't let the pressure get to me, just recorded the songs the best way that could and having a good time with it. I used the same team as on the first album but I wasn't thinking "the first record did well so I want to try and recapture that". It was more about "I miss those guys." I was just happy to be back with my friends and making new music, it was as simple as that. I had so many songs to choose from. I had written a lot on the road in the last year I had a load from the year between recording the first album and its eventual release and more from even before then. I pulled songs from all different periods of my life. Of those, I recorded about 25 songs in all and it was really hard to pare it down to just twelve. At one point I thought about a double album, but thought nobody's going to have the attention span for that. I might as well save it and design more of a classic two vinyl side, tight record. As much as I love that first record and I'm still proud of it, I feel this new album is more of a piece of work, The first one's all over the place where this one is more a moment in time and my own singing and playing on it is a direct result of playing live so much beforehand. We really had a good time on it, no dramas; we're all pretty laid back and those magical moments, when something special starts to happen, well, we all felt them. It was really enjoyable and I'm really happy with the results. It's great to finally have another record out and go out and play it live.

You've started up a Label,Trampoline Records, recently?
Yes, with two of my buddies. Our first release is a compilation,Trampoline Record's Greatest Hits Vol. I. It's a pretty wild mix of people, basically our friends who haven't got deals but are producing great music just the same. I've got a song on there, then there's The Minus Five, producer Ethan Johns who's a songwriter as well, Jeff Trott who wrote hits for Sheryl Crow, The Hang Ups, Gingersol who are just beautiful, Gary Jules and Pete Droge. Then there's Mark Sellger this photographer who did all the Rolling Stone covers for years. He's the singer in a band called Rusty Truck with Joey Peters, the drummer from Grant Lee Buffalo, and he's got the voice of an angel, he's fucking brilliant. In the fall we're putting out a second compilation and this great new album by Nadine, Strange Season. We put on some Trampoline Records Rolling Review Shows down at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip. We've done three so far and they all sold out really fast, We fly in all the bands and each do three numbers, but with others joining in, and then we all get together at the end for like a huge hall of fame type, jamboree jam. Everybody knows each other's songs, so I got Jeff- Trott playing with me and then I'm playing drums with the Hang Ups, For all those musicians to get together and share that, it sounds kinda corny, but it really warms the heart. It's so much fucking fun and everybody has a good time.
After the second one I had to run, right after the set had finished, over town to the Short List Awards and go backstage and pick up my drumsticks and play three numbers with Iggy Pop, which was a total blast. We had the guitarist from The Hives, and I had suggested this guy Mike Watt (that's the Mike Watt of Minutemen and flREHOSE fame) to play bass. I knew he was in town and he's a huge Iggy fan, played in loads of Iggy cover bands and such. So we e-mailed him and said: "Are you in?" and he was like: "Try and stop me!" And he turned up with all these old pictures and albums to get signed, which was kinda sweet. We played "TV Eye", " Wanna Be Your Dog" and "No Fun". Iggy's so mellow backstage, he's quiet and just chills, but then he gets out there and he fucking just unleashes. It's unbelievable, the sheer energy of the man on stage Is like, woah! It was a dream come true for me to be part of that, but even more so for Mike, since he's now joined the reformed Stooges as a result and that's so cool.

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