Pete Yorn got his start, strangely enough, by writing the score to the 2000 Jim Carrey comedy Me, Myself & Irene, a movie about a man so unwilling to accept the reality of his own life that he develops a split personality to cope.
Now, 16 years later, Yorn seems to occupy the opposite headspace. The singer-songwriter, 42, has released six solo studio albums — the latest being this year’s ArrangingTime — one album with his side project the Olms, and one collaboration album (with actress Scarlett Johansson, naturally). His latest album, he says, is closely reflective of a new sense of focus on being present and living in the moment — a theme that’s been present throughout his career.
Weld: It was six years between your last solo album, Pete Yorn, and this year’s ArrangingTime — the longest gap for you so far. What were you up to during that hiatus?
Pete Yorn: Yeah… what was I doing? I was taking a little breather, in some regards, but I was pretty busy, too, in that time. A lot of people don’t know about it, but I do a side project called the Olms, [the debut album of] which came out in 2013. I was working on that for about six or seven months on-and-off. I think while I was working on that I was also hitting the studio and developing what would become ArrangingTime.
And in addition to that, I was just setting up my home side. I’d been traveling so much and touring so much for a long time. I felt this big hole in my personal life that I wanted to focus on and just set up some stakes and focus on my relationship with my wife and building my family. I was at that age where I was just feeling that pull.
I will say that I put out a lot of solo music over the years, too, so I had some stuff brewing. I was like, ‘Well, I don’t feel the need to put any new music out unless it’s something I’m really excited about, that’s really resonating with me. So it took a beat to get to that place as well.
Weld: During the gap in your solo career, you and your wife had a daughter. How has fatherhood affected your approach to music?
Yorn: She was born after I was always finished with the record, but I think it was a mindset [of] ‘Alright, we’re going to try and have a kid.’ It made me more disciplined and I took that approach to the studio. It was all [business] in there. Once I got into that headspace, the music came really fast and the final touches really came together and I had a focus on what I wanted to say and what the record as a whole meant to me.
A lot of times, I go in and start a project, and it’s not even really a project. It’s me just going into the studio for a day and messing around and seeing what I come up with. When I do that over a bunch of days, over a few months, it’s like, ‘Alright, now I’ve got all this music. Does any of it make sense together?’ Because I like to try different styles and different [expletive] while I’m in the studio.
So I think getting into this headspace, getting focused, somehow it all made me really focus on taking in each moment as it comes and being really present. I think that’s where the ArrangingTime thing came [from]. I’d look at the songs, and they all just reminded me not to miss this moment here and now and to appreciate that. That was a theme that bubbled up for me through all that.
Now that I do have a baby — she’s a year old already, which is [expletive] crazy. More than anything, that whole mindset of enjoying each moment because they grow so fast and there’s so much you’re not paying attention to. That whole cliché, it really still rings true. It feels very in line with the record that I released. The music, for the first time in a long time, lines up pretty closely with my life and my day-to-day existence.
Weld: That theme is really apparent in a lot of the songs on this record that focus on yearning for things that turn out not to be as satisfying as what you already have.
Yorn: Absolutely. And the way you put it there, you see over and over through the years. It’s just a human thing. Like, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is exactly that thing. I just watched the 1950s version of Alice in Wonderland the other night… And the opening scene of that, Alice singing of this place that would be her wonderland. It was this yearning for something else, and then you realize everything’s within, and you have it all.
I’ve touched on that in my songs, like “Social Development Dance” or “Paradise Cove” on Back and Fourth, this [feeling of], ‘I’ve got what I wanted and that’s enough’ and all that. You do that so many times, and it keeps coming up for you… you realize, like, ‘Wait a second, maybe I’m looking for [expletive] in the wrong places,’ and make a shift. And then it just serves as a reminder to keep you in line.
Weld: You talked about entering the studio with a new sense of focus. Did you set out with a goal for what you wanted this album to sound like?
One thing I remember is that early on I was focused on keyboards. I’m always reacting to what I do before. The record I made before, the Olms record, we did everything on tape and there weren’t a lot of electronic elements at all. In fact, there were no electronic elements. And I think I was excited to get back to the hallmarks of my earlier work: drum machines and synths that I loved, different kinds of looping and effects, playing with that. I remember hearing a story about Bowie working on a record where he wanted to approach everything from the piano and that place. I remember thinking, ‘It’s one thing if I lay something down on my guitar or drums first, but it takes on a different sort of blueprint to build upon if I start with the piano first or keyboards first and then build upon it that way. I think I was conscious of doing it that way with some of the earlier recordings with that project.
Weld: Your last solo album was produced by the Pixies’ Frank Black, and you released a collaboration album with Scarlett Johansson in 2009. Did working with those artists shape the music you’ve made since then?
Yorn: Yeah, for sure. I like to think that I learn something from every recording situation I go into. I can’t help but take something from it. I remember the little tricks I learned from working with Frank — just certain ways to get more from less. Definitely, that was one big thing I learned from him. Like, ‘You want to play this many notes? Alright, make yourself play half as many notes and see what you can do with that.’ Stuff like that I thought was really interesting.
And Scarlett, she was just so talented and great to work with. She taught me how to get out of the way. It was the first record that I wanted to make where it was like, ‘Enough of me. I want to be able to take a break and let someone else sing a song or have someone else pull some weight.’ She was able to step in with a big personality and let me hide off in the background for a little bit, which was nice because I’d never really gotten to do that before.
Weld: You’ll be performing at Land Aid, which is a fundraiser supporting the Freshwater Land Trust’s conservation efforts in Central Alabama. Is conservation an important issue for you?
Yorn: Absolutely. I have a lot of friends down in Birmingham, good people, and I’m very flattered that they picked me to play at this important event. I mean, if you’re not concerned about the environment or conservation efforts, then I don’t know where your head’s at, as far as I’m concerned. To be able to play, to make any impact, help support this cause, is just something I appreciate the opportunity to be able to do. Some days, I’m sitting at home on my couch, doing nothing or watching TV, and I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get out and do something good for the world.’ And this is a great opportunity to get out and do that.
Pete Yorn will perform at the eighth annual Land Aid fundraiser at Avondale Brewing Company on Friday, September 16. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Proceeds benefit the Freshwater Land Trust. For more information, visit freshwaterlandtrust.org.