Welcome Back: Pete Yorn – Scarlett Johansson's duet buddy returns

Pete Yorn, singer/songwriter
(Image credit: Beth Kaltman)

It’s been fifteen years since indie rock singer/songwriter Pete Yorn’s acclaimed Musicforthemorningafter debut.

For a few years you couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing (on such shows as Dawson’s Creek, Smallville and Veronica Mars) Yorn’s plaintive yet beautifully lyrical tales of longing, wrapped in rich melodies and regret. For a while he was the poster boy for unrequited love. He got by, though, dating a string of high-profile actresses, recording an album of duets with Scarlett Johansson (2009’s Break Up) and releasing a slew of records that were as browbeaten as they were profound. His latest, ArrangingTime, recorded with the same production team as his debut, is no exception.

This feature is called Welcome Back, and you really did go off grid for five years.

I put out a lot of work in a very short period of time between Break Up [2009], Back And Fourth [2009] and the black album [Pete Yorn, 2010]. I formed The Olms band in 2011 too. I had spent so much of my adult life focused on music that I think there were things missing in my life. I needed an anchor. I’ve since married my best friend, and became a dad in August.

Musicforthemorningafter, ArrangingTime even the album titles seem to have come full circle.

There is definitely significance there. ArrangingTime is how you choose to spend those basic everyday, seemingly mundane moments between the idealised ‘big’ moments of our lives. So the title is a reminder to get the most out of those everyday experiences that most people take for granted.

Is ArrangingTime your midlife crisis record?

Ha! I would say quite the opposite. Back And Fourth and the black album were my midlife crisis records! This is the record after surviving the growing pains and fire of my mid-thirties and coming through refreshed, reborn and galvanized.

There’s real aching in some of the newer material that seems to hark back to Musicforthemorningafter.

Walt [R Walt Vincent, producer] and I always joke that we’re suckers for a song that has a certain emotional tug… We try to capture that emotion in music. I can see how it would have turned up in different ways on Music and ArrangingTime, because it’s something we gravitate towards naturally.

You recorded Break Up with Scarlett Johansson. When did you first realise she could sing?

I realised she could sing the day she came to the studio for the first time, which was in 2006. Before that it was more just an instinct that she had a certain energy that was right for the record. I wanted that Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot energy. She is so talented, there was no doubt she could pull it off. I had known her for a few years by the time we got to work on Break Up. If memory serves, the first time I met her she came up to me as an underage kid in a club in NYC, right around the time my first record had come out, and in her scratchy voice said something like: “Hey, you’re Petie! I know your brothers!” We’ve been friends ever since.

What would the Pete Yorn that made this album tell the Pete Yorn that made that one?

Well done, you little shit!

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.