Pete Yorn is a California man, make no mistake about it. The sound of his laid-back speaking voice can be described as surfer-esque. But the singer-songwriter with Jersey roots is in New York City, as we speak via phone, during a chilly week in which Yorn has come out to take part in a Neil Young tribute show being held at Carnegie Hall. “I went to the Knicks game last night, and after I had a long walk—maybe 40 blocks—and it was nice. I miss the cold a little bit. I’m sure if I was here I’d be like, ‘Alright, enough.’”
It has been a long time since Yorn left the shores of New Jersey in favor of the sun of Santa Monica. But today he seems most intrigued by the fact that 10 years have passed since the release of his landmark debut album, musicforthemorningafter. This month, the album is being reissued in a remastered form by Sony Legacy Recordings, in a package featuring an additional disc of music that is highlighted by a live performance by Yorn on Nic Harcourt’s Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show, as well as b-sides and demo recordings from the sessions.
“[Sony] approached me, and I was like, “Whoa, it’s been 10 years? That came up pretty quick!” says Yorn. “We have an interesting extension of the record that we put together. I dug back into the archives and found some lost tracks that I hadn’t heard in years that I always loved, and I wondered, ‘Why didn’t this make the record?’”
Pete Yorn was 25 years old when he started writing musicforthemorningafter, working with his friend R. Walt Vincent as producer in Vincent’s garage studio. “At the time, we were just doing versions of the songs, and it was, you know… that’s the version or it’s not the version, just seeing if we could nail it.” One of the album’s standout tracks is the song “Closet,” a perfect power-pop rocker, one of many that Yorn would write. A demo version of the song is included as part of the new reissue, and about it Yorn comments, “I remember when I was playing it, it just seemed a little slow, or something. But then we just mixed the tempo, mixed the feel, and re-attacked and then we got the version that made it to the record.”
Describing the process as an attack seems appropriate. Then making his first album for a major-label, Yorn says that “There were all these expectations… like, alright, now you’re on the big label, you gotta go work with a real producer, someone who’s known. And I was like, ‘I don’t know… I really like this music we’re making. I don’t give a fuck, we’re making it.’”
He continues, “Looking back on it… as you get older you’re less likely to take risks, you don’t have that youthful ignorance that some people have that gives them some balls. It’s like, ‘Fuck this, man! I’m fucking doing it!’ It’s fair to say that approach paid off big in a multitude of ways with musicforthemorningafter. I mean, it’s an interesting lesson to reflect upon. And all it is, is that you gotta fucking follow your instincts, you gotta do what you love.”
The process of recording the album found Yorn and producer Vincent collaborating in a very methodical way.
“We’d tackle it a song at a time… it was basically me playing everything, and Walt playing some things, and helping with the programming. I would go in the morning—down to his garage—and I would have somewhat of an idea in my mind, somewhat fleshed out. And maybe I’d lay down a drumbeat that I thought would be cool for it, or maybe just a simple acoustic guitar track, and see what we could lay down on top of it. But we just built everything ourselves in the studio, and we would work on it ‘till it was pretty much finished. And sometimes that would take days, sometimes it would take a few weeks, sometimes we’d go away from it for a week, then come back and finish it. And then we’d go on to another song. Pretty soon we had 16 or 17 songs.”
When it was released, musicforthemorningafter established Pete Yorn as an artist with exceptional talent and great promise. Yorn’s music was different from that of his peers, but still had an essence that covered familiar pop territory. His influences: the Smiths, Replacements, Springsteen—were clearly stated in songs such as the jangly “Life On A Chain,” or elsewhere in the lush layers of “Black.”
But what gave the album even further distinction was the craftsmanship in the production, and the varied elements, such as electronica, that were added to the mix to keep the sound fresh and distinct.
“I had a very high standard of what I wanted to create, and Walt was a great partner in helping me realize that,” says Yorn. “If I really look back on it with clear eyes, I won’t say anything was easy. We had to work hard to wrestle these things down, but sometimes, the song would be there, but the production and the presentation of it would be elusive. It’s like, you’d get a version, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s passable. It’s fine. It’s probably better than a lot of shit out there,’ but it wouldn’t be as bright as we knew it could be. We were able to say, ‘Fuck it, we’re gonna work on it.’ And that was the cool thing about working in a garage. It wasn’t like we just wasted thousands of dollars in some big studio, and realized we didn’t have the right version. We had the freedom in that way. It was a low-pressure scene, and I like that.”
He continues, saying, “We loved the work, we loved the challenge because we were really into the process, and we were really into working with each other, and we were inspired and we definitely thought we were doing something interesting.”
I ask Yorn if he can reflect on his headspace during this time. Not so much as a performer, but simply as a person. “I knew that I liked what we were doing. I didn’t have any grand expectations because I had friends that made records, that got signed by major labels. I mean, back then that was the dream: you move out from Jersey, you get a fucking record deal, it’s like, ‘Holy shit.’ Now you think that’s it. But I knew better than that. I knew I believed in the stuff, but I didn’t have any illusions that like, it would, you know, sell. Like, all my favorite bands were more these obscure bands; I never heard the Smiths on the radio at the time. So, I didn’t expect to be blowing up or anything like that. And, like I was saying, a lot of my friends put out records on major labels… and nothing happens, and they got dropped. So I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, you know, if I sell 16,000 records, that would be a good start.’”
But ultimately, the album went gold, and it launched Yorn as an artist, and enabled him to have a substantial career, highlighted by several excellent albums. “I remember just thinking, ‘Frankly, I don’t care what anybody else thinks of this music,’” says Yorn. “I knew I liked the stuff, and I just wanted to make something that I would be proud of in 10 years. That was my number. If it holds up to me 10 years down the road, I’ll be proud, I’ll be happy.”
Pete Yorn will be playing at the Trocadero in Philadelphia on March 10 and Terminal 5 in NYC on March 11. Musicforthemorningafter 10th Anniversary Edition two-CD set will be available on March 29. More info at peteyorn.com.