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In slightly more than a year, Pete Yorn has released three new albums—and each of them is distinctive. Although they were not recorded in this order, the first one to surface was Back and Fourth, followed by a gorgeous album of duets with Scarlett Johansson called Break Up and, most recently, a stripped-down rocker titled Pete Yorn.
“They are very different,” he says by phone from his home in Santa Monica a couple of weeks ahead of his fall tour launch. Yorn admits that people thought he was crazy to release three records so close together, but he went ahead and did it anyway. “I don’t know. Maybe I am crazy. They all sound different to me, and they’re all things I wanted to express. I couldn’t sit on them anymore, so I had to get them out, you know?”
Of the trio, Pete Yorn stands apart for its lack of the usual textures and layers the musician brings to a mix. “This [record],” he says, “is kind of ‘fuck all that shit.’”
Producer Frank Black (of Pixies fame) put everybody in the same room, going for the keeper take as a band. “I’m standing, like, a foot in front of the drummer, right in front of the crash cymbal, playing guitar,” Yorn says.
It forced Yorn to push his singing way out past his comfort zone. In less than the week it took to make the record, Black had nailed down a solid foundation of garage-rock camaraderie. “I just needed, personally, to do something more off-the-cuff and capture music fast and not overthink it, not treat it with kid gloves,” Yorn says, “just kind of go for it.”
Yorn played drums with cover bands in his native New Jersey before moving to Los Angeles in 1996 and retooling himself as a singer/songwriter. He gigged at the usual places and eventually became a fixture at West Hollywood’s Café Largo. After landing a song in the film Me, Myself, and Irene (Yorn was later asked to complete the entire soundtrack), he got a record deal and released a killer debut, musicforthemorningafter, in 2001. His tousled, just-got-out-of-bed good looks and wrecked emotions, plus the soft grit of his voice, secured Yorn’s place in the pantheon of heartache-y front men. But the records that followed were full of less-than-accessible, almost private songs. “My earlier stuff,” he says, “was a lot more cryptic.”
If there is a common theme that runs through his songwriting, Yorn says, it has something to do with darkness. “It’s been a curse for me because it’s made aspects of my life harder. Like, I have to fight out of this stuff every day, kind of. At the same time, it’s the reason I write and the reason I’m able to be creative.” He admires the happy ending as a concept, he says, but it’s the roller-coaster ride of life that has always interested him. “I don’t tend to mess around with too much fantasy in my lyrics.”
This tour, Yorn says, he will be building the bulk of the set lists with music from what he calls the Black record, meaning Pete Yorn. Rather than the seven-piece he took on the road in 2009, this year’s band are a stripped-down quartet with Zak Schaffer on bass, Scott Seiver on drums and guitarist Mark Noseworthy. “What’s really cool about putting out three records so fast is that, all of a sudden, we have all this new material to play along with all of the old material,” he says.
Yorn claims to have enough material for at least 30 more songs. He packrats his ideas as they come to him by writing into journals, recording them onto his phone or a digital recorder, or typing them out and filing them. “There’s no real set way that I work,” he says. “I take it how it comes. The whole thing’s been mysterious for me. There’s no set rule for the way I write.”
Yorn says he wants to let the urge to get back to writing and recording take its course. “For the past couple of years, I’ve been writing all these songs, and that’s why we have three records. That’s kind of a big burst that came out,” he says, “and I’m actually not ready to get back into it.”
Pete Yorn performs at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-7935; www.thecoachhouse.com. Tues., 8 p.m $22.50. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Prolifically Yours: Pete Yorn harnesses his lovelorn, lyrical songwriting into three albums, is now ready to take them on the road."