In an industry torn between artistic credibility and commercial viability, Pete Yorn's Columbia Records debut, musicforthemorningafter, is that rare record that satisfies the demands of both criteria. On the one hand, the album is steeped in the kind of thick, lush pop-rock melodies and indelible hooks that send the chills down the back of your neck; on the other, one finds a sardonic, self-deprecating, keenly-observant lyrical sensibility that wears its heart on the sleeve of a comfy college sweatshirt, yet still chills to the bone. "I wanted to make a record I would be proud of and believe in. I didn't want to make it for the wrong reasons, just to get on the radio," Pete states firmly, before adding, "but I also want people to hear it."
2) "I was waiting over here for life to begin/I was looking for the new thing" ("Life On A Chain")
The album's first track, "Life On A Chain," opens with a scratchy 78rpm-on-an-old-Victrola feel before bursting out with a yearning openness that pulls you into its vortex with a siren-like seduction. Pete Yorn was born in New Jersey, his father a dentist, his mother a former concert pianist turned schoolteacher. He taught himself to play his older brother's drum kit at the age of nine and was learning the guitar by the time he was 12. Around the time of that first blush of adolescence, while on vacation with his family in the Bahamas, Pete was turned on to Morrissey and the Smiths by a girl from Pensacola, Florida.
Pete insists the origins of every song on the new album began with a beat. "A lot of the songs were written off the drums," he says. "I would kinda just get a natural rhythm going in my head…the way it should feel. Then I'd write around that." The dark, insistent thump of "Black," which began with a drum track and a bass line, was initially an homage to Joy Division.
3) "Days and weeks/Let's start from the beginning of a life" ("Sense")
Pete started singing, and writing his own material, following a particularly memorable talent show at Montville (New Jersey) High School in 1990. Though he'd never sung in public before, he was recruited by his bandmates to croon the Replacements' "Talent Show" from behind his drum-kit. The performance caused such a stir that the members of a different band in the competition cajoled Pete back to the stage to join them in belting out a raucous rendition of Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World." Since that night, he's never looked back. "When I first started writing," he admits, "I didn't know how to do anything other than sing with a fake English accent. It evolved from there."
4) "You said I should get away from it all/And bury my head in the sand if I want to" ("Just Another")
After graduating from Syracuse, Pete migrated to Los Angeles, where he began to attract a following with his performances at Cafe Largo. Bradley Thomas (producer of the Farrelly Brothers' "Kingpin" and "There's Something About Mary") caught Yorn's act and asked him to send along some rough demos for inclusion in the Farrelly's new Jim Carrey movie, "Me, Myself and Irene." The Farrellys used "Strange Condition" and "Just Another" in the film. "Strange Condition" was recorded with Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair) and R. Walt Vincent while "Just Another" was recorded in the basement of Pete's home with the young tunesmith playing all the drums, bass, and guitars and singing all the vocals on the track. "Just Another" was featured on "Felicity" and the Songs From Dawson's Creek Volume 2 album. Both songs are included on musicforthemorningafter. In addition to picking two of Pete's songs from the demo, the Farrellys asked Yorn to compose the film's score. "They wanted someone who'd never done it before," he remarks. "We did the whole score in R. Walt Vincent's garage in about three weeks--in between mixing my album."
5) "Time alone is good/I spend my days in the city, dirty neighborhood" ("Life On A Chain")
After signing with Columbia Records, Pete began recording his album in the garage of R. Walt Vincent's Culver City, California, home and a guest house in the oppressively hot San Fernando Valley, playing most of the instruments himself. By the time he'd completed musicforthemorningafter, Pete had worked with a series of producers--including Brad Wood, Don Fleming (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.) and R. Walt Vincent ("Prayer Cycle"). "We were able to just do our thing and not put pressure on ourselves. We were able to save the money for the mix," Pete explains. "Tom Lord-Alge really did it up. I was trying to make a record that captured everything I liked about Americana roots rock and meld it with everything I love about Britpop."
6) "You and I/We're two of a kind/I hate to say it/But you'll never relate/What makes you tick?" ("Just Another")
Inspired by an actress who was living in his house at the time, "Just Another" exhibits Yorn's ability to capture how physical proximity can first encourage, then repress intimacy. He weighs the tug-and-pull of human emotion, often counter-posing dark, painful lyrics with deceptively hopeful choruses. Scratch the surface of this romantic and you'll find a cynic underneath. And vice versa. "Every four-year relationship is the same," he observes with a laugh. "The first two years are about getting into it and the last two years are trying to figure out a way to get out of it. It's a hard thing to end a relationship because you get comfortable. Some of these songs are inspired by just getting out when you think it's alright instead of misleading people."
7) "He won't follow the lines he's drawn for him/And he don't want to try/Seeing is believing" ("Murray")
Yorn wrote "Murray" in Auckland, New Zealand, after reading "Heroes & Villains," a biography of the Beach Boys and their father, Murray Wilson. Pete's not worried about cutting through the clutter of modern-day pop to make his mark nor is he thinking about his image. "I like an element of mystery. I don't want to explain myself. I couldn't really if I tried. I don't think it would make much sense to anybody anyway," Pete states reflectively. "Sometimes I think lyrics are channeled through me. The words just fly out after I finish reading something. I should definitely read more."
8) "Is something wrong with me?/I show you things you've never seen" ("Sense")
"Sense" was inspired by "Cole Sear," the character portrayed by Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense" and has the spiritual quality of R.E.M. at its most sacred. "I related to the weight he apparently feels due to his perception of the world around him," Pete acknowledges.
9) "Hey, don't take your life away/I think you'd rather stay/Then follow me into the alleyway" ("Simonize")
Yorn based "Simonize" on the Jack the Ripper legend. "It was just meant as a romance piece, more about the vibe than anything I'm saying," Pete confesses. "It was inspired by this whole image of Jack the Ripper luring these women and trying to take them to a greater place. Because all the murders started off on a sexual level. Just romance, ya know? At the end of the day, I just try to make it hopeful." With "Simonize," Pete explores the complexity of psycho-sexual dynamics, using the same serrated razor's edge that cuts the line between sex and violence in rock classics like Neil Young's "Down By The River" or folk standards like "Lily Of The West" or "Down By The Ohio."
10) "It was easy when you were younger/You can put it back together/It was there if you ever wanted it/But you closed the door and said goodbye for good" ("EZ")
Pete, who has already toured with Sunny Day Real Estate and Blues Traveler, is ready to hit the road and come to a town near you. His live band consists of Waz and Joe Kennedy, two of his fellow Syracuse University classmates, on guitars, co-producer R. Walt Vincent on bass, and, of course, a great drummer. "I wanted a band that was honest and could represent the music well. Not just a bunch of studio pros." His goals? "Twofold. I want to be able to keep doing this and consider it a career. And I don't want to be obscure. This is music a lot of people of all generations can relate to. The more people who can hear my music, take something from it and feel good about themselves, the better."