By Eileen Tilson
I was 18 years old the first time I ever heard Pete Yorn in Woodruff Park.
Oct. 13, 2001 –ARTSCAPE — The second day of the downtown arts festival features a full day of live music, culminating with local trip-hoppers pH Balance (5.45 p.m.), rising singer/songwriter Pete Yorn (7 p.m.) and long-fallen rootsy modern-rockers Better Than Ezra (8.30 p.m.). Woodruff Park (Sarig).
After that very first day, I was hooked; as apparently was the rest of Atlanta. Musicforthemorningafter, released just months before his Woodruff Park performance, would go on to become one of the most critically acclaimed albums of that year. “Strange Condition” would garner public recognition through its debut in the hit movie, Me, Myself, & Irene. Ten years after its debut, Musicforthemorningafter has been re-released to celebrate the 10th anniversary, and I had the privilege of sitting down with Yorn to chat before his show last Friday at Center Stage.
[I hand Pete a pic that I had from Leslie Fram, of him, Leslie and Ed Roland]
How old were you in this pic?
Wow, hmm, I am not sure, that was probably about a year after musicforthemorningafter.
Speaking of, you had your PR album party in Leslie Fram’s living room!
Yeah, I remember that! Leslie’s the greatest. I was doing a whole bunch of stuff in Atlanta. My first show here was at Smith’s Olde Bar, and I played the 500 Songs for Kids. I remember I played John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Does Atlanta hold a special place in your heart still?
Of course. I have a lot of friends here that I met during that time, so it’s always great to come back.
How did you get hooked up with Frank Black [who produced Yorn’s latest self-titled release] and what was it like working with him?
A mutual friend of ours, Nancy Walker, mentioned one day that she thought Frank and I would work well with each other, and she would do an intro. I didn’t think much of it, until a few weeks later when I got a call from Frank. I literally flew myself up to his house in Oregon. He put together some session players, and had a friend that had a studio. I was actually really sick, and Frank loved my sick voice and wanted that sound on the album. With every album I try to better define myself as a musician, and Frank helped with that. Every one of records acts as a prequel to what I will do next.
Which is what exactly?
I love covering other people’s songs, so when I get back from being on tour, I think I am going to record a cover’s album.
Can you give us some of the songs?
Sure, “Theme from Mahogany,” Diana Ross, “Surfer Girl,” The Beach Boys, “Moon River,” “More than This,” Roxy Music, “They Don’t Know About Us,” Kirsty MacColl.
I am thinking of using the money I make off the the cover album to give to charity. Covering other’s songs gives me a new perspective on my own writing; it teaches me new tricks, and allows me to see new and different meanings in my own songs.
Do you ever collaborate when songwriting? Any other new collaborations in the works?
I have to be alone in my house to write. I can’t even write while I am on tour. I have written with others before, but mainly I write alone. The last time I can remember writing with anyone was the Dixie Chicks. I am actually talking to someone about doing a collaboration, but it is still too early to tell the details!
If you aren’t writing while on a tour bus, then what are you doing?
I actually watch a lot of TV. I love “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Earth,” “Blue Planet.” “Life in the Undergrowth” is amazing, it is a close up of insects; so beautiful and cool.
Since you are from New Jersey, do you ever watch the “Jersey Shore”?
YES! Actually I watch it all the time. My favorite person on the show is Vinny, he is a sweetheart and has a lot of good wisdom. The other day he was fighting with his girlfriend, and she was threatening to move out, and he said “Your ego isn’t God,” I thought that was brilliant. I actually grew up with a lot of those types of guys. I used to play a lot of gigs at the Jersey shore at places like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Cafe. I was never a guido, but a lot of my friends were.
So how did you get into music? Did you always want to be a musician?
No not at all, I never had the rock and roll dream. I was going to school to be a tax attorney! I mean I still can’t even read music. Actually the first concert I remember was seeing the Young Rascals open for Diana Ross with my parents.
My brothers are six and nine years older than me, and they played. I remember just sitting and watching them, and when they would leave I would jump on the drums and start making noise. I always had rhythm so I just sort of taught myself. I learned to play guitar from my mom’s beat up guitar with two strings. In 8th grade, I actually had to take a mandatory guitar class and got a “D,” but I picked it back up from some camp counselors at Kutcher’s Summer Sports Camp in New York. I started writing my first songs around the ages of 12-13, and actually have some recordings of them, but I sounded like a dying giraffe. It was only my senior year, when I decided not to play basketball, that I put together a band.
Do you have any rituals you do before you go on stage?
Not really, my energy comes right before I step on stage, and of course the crowd has a lot to do with the energy. I am definitely not a robotic artist; I always feel very human, both intensity or numb. Making a connection with my fans during a show is very important to me. I like to be able to make eye contact or give a high-five. Unless I have a really tight schedule, I always hang after a show; I really enjoy talking with the fans.
What are you looking forward to?
I have two weeks off before I start my European tour, so I am excited to get to see my family. I actually get to see them a lot, they all moved to Santa Monica and are within 15 minutes of me. My grandfather is 101 so it’s great to be walking around and see him strolling down the street.
101! Wow, what’s his secret?
I actually ask him that all the time. He was a baker and he tells me his secret is to keep things simple, laugh often, and [in the best New York accent] “don’t eat salami, that stuff will kill ya!”