By Dew Ailes
By Chad Garrison
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Forget Metropolis, "metrosexuals" and the creative class: Can Pete Yorn save our city? He's an entrepreneurial musician (not to mention quite handsome), and he's looking forward to coming here and playing for fans again. And why not? "I had a great time the last time I was in St. Louis," Yorn recalls. "We played Mississippi Nights, and it was [piano player] Joe Kennedy's birthday. We took him to the Old Spaghetti Factory, and I don't know, we just had a great time. It was really fun. And there was a casino! I think I won like 700 bucks right before we went on. I was happy about that."
We need more people around here who are happy about the old Gateway to the West. And not only does Yorn like our sad little riverfront, he signed local sweetie-pies Nadine to his Trampoline Records, which he started with Rami Jaffee (pianist and organist on The Wallflowers' debut) and Marc Dauer (guitarist and vocalist for the Jukebox Junkies). "I found out about Nadine through my buddy Doc [Dauer]," Yorn says, then clarifies, "We get a hundred CDs sent to us a week, and he was going through them when I was on tour, and he plucked a winner out of there. Most of it's horrible, but [Nadine's] was great."
So Nadine's fortune is improving, and Yorn's luck has taken a turn for the better in the past few years as well (both inside and outside of the casino). When he first moved to LA from his native New Jersey, he was a college grad with romantic West Coast dreams. With a job as a mere production assistant, Yorn delivered packages and fetched coffee. But to him, it was worth it. "I met some cool people doing that. I got paid like nothing, but I was really focused on music at that point."
And Yorn's dedication to music shows. He's kept busy not only with the new label, but also with touring in Europe (he hints that a "Live in Berlin" disc may be released) and the States, working with the saucy chameleon Liz Phair and releasing two albums with more on the way. Yorn's most recent release, Day I Forgot, explores the same reflective and romantic themes as his debut musicforthemorningafter, yet is decidedly more mature. "Sometimes I feel more mature, sometimes I don't," Yorn says of his grown-up self. "I definitely packed a lot of life experience into the past two years I hadn't really had before. Sometimes it takes a while to soak all that in and figure out what the hell it all means, so I'm still actually doing that sometimes." He elaborates, "It's good to be mature, but you have to retain some sort of recklessness otherwise you become too comfortable. Maturity in my eyes I think comes with having perspective on things and thinking you understand your place in the world."
It may be hard for people to gain wisdom while staying youthful; it may be even more difficult to achieve artistic success as a singer-songwriter. Yet between alt-country emotions and real classic rock, Yorn continually finds the sweet spot. Maybe it's because this renaissance musician plays nearly every instrument on his records (drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, vibes, you name it). "It makes it convenient sometimes, I can just belt out stuff in the studio really fast when I'm there and I can get it done. At the same time, you got to be careful doing that, otherwise things can become too linear when you put it down. I like to have a balance playing off certain people at times."
Yorn achieves at least some of the balance he craves by having some guest stars appear on and contribute to Day I Forgot: R.E.M.'s Peter Buck plays mandolin on a track, Scott Litt (R.E.M.'s producer) appears and mixes a couple tunes and Andy Wallace (Jeff Buckley's producer) mixes several songs too. And Yorn slips a little of his Brit-pop influences like the Smiths, the Cure and Joy Division into his sound as well. "I guess, at the time that I was learning how to play the guitar, when I was like twelve, those were my favorite bands at the time," he remembers fondly. "I was trying to write songs that sounded like that since that was my first experience with playing the guitar and the basis of why I've even learned it. And I think that it just kind of comes out in my writing all the time, and I'm always kind of attracted to stuff I listened to at that age."
(Straight men who love the Smiths are so sexy.)
Amid all the instruments and guests, Yorn's intimate lyrics stand out like melancholy Morrissey's. Yorn admits that writing about himself and about relationships is not without its challenges. "Sometimes it's hard; you have to do it, though, otherwise it's just words on the paper." He confesses, "Sometimes if I'm not super-comfortable being completely autobiographical, I create characters that are going through the same themes that I've experienced. I'll pull from my emotional self and put that into the characters. I guess sometimes I'm more comfortable with that. It's about saying 'he' and 'she' and 'they' when it's really probably coming from a super-personal place."