Pete Yorn

Pete Yorn more than wears his influences on his sleeve. Live, he often includes covers of both the Smiths and Bruce Springsteen songs, even if it’s just an opening set.

“When people see [me] for the first time, it gives them a glimpse of where my heart is,” explained the New Jersey-born, L.A.-based singer/songwriter.

In the course of a conversation, whether dissecting the songs on his Columbia debut, musicforthemorningafter, or simply calling up influences, he namedropped a mixed bag of other artists, Uncle Tupelo, Joy Division, Gram Parsons, Moe Tucker, The Cure, Wilco, and Fastball.

“At the end of the day, it’s my own thing. I don’t think it’s too derivative. I definitely rip off everyone I love, but I’m not that good at it,” he laughed.

Indeed, Yorn has created his own sound on musicforthemorningafter and sometimes, all at once, it’s gritty, rich, cool, weary, melancholy and thoughtful. Being hard to peg has enabled him to fit on a bill with just about anyone.

“We’re one of few bands who one night opens for matchbox twenty and then we open up for the Strokes. Or we’ll play with Sunny Day Real Estate and then with Blues Traveler,” Yorn said. “It’s weird, but it’s a fun challenge to go out and try and win over all these different kinds of crowds.”

Yorn will be heading to Europe in March to headline his own tour. His new agents, John Marx and Keith Sarkisian at William Morris Agency, are currently routing an April tour back in the U.S. He will likely co-headline with an act to be determined, according to Artist Management Group’s Dan Field, who co-manages Yorn with the artist’s brother Rick Yorn.

The son of a dentist dad and concert-pianist-turned-schoolteacher mom, he taught himself to play drums using Rick’s kit at age 9. At 12, he turned to guitar and started writing songs immediately. As a Smiths and Cure fan, he even tried to sing them in a British accent.

“I thought I was a mini Morrissey,” he laughed. “Then I realized, ‘You should have your own voice, Pete,’ but that took time.”

At Montville High School in 1990, he made his public singing debut, impressing his peers with the Replacements’ “Talent Show” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World.” At college in Syracuse, the snowy weather forced him to stay in his room and write songs, “sometimes two a day.” He racked up “crazy” bills playing them to his brother over the phone.

During college, Yorn spent his summers in Los Angeles working as an intern for Kevin Huvane at Creative Artists Agency where, among other things, he did ticket counts. While at CAA, Yorn wasn’t vying for any gigs.

“Not ’til the middle of my senior year did I think, ‘Maybe I’ll do music.'”

Pete Yorn

He moved out to L.A. and, in the summer of 1996, put together a band comprising his college friend Waz on bass and Rick on drums. He sang and played guitar.

“We didn’t gig for a while. I remember we thought we were going to get a record deal right away.”

The band’s first show, under Yorn’s name, was at the Dragonfly and attended by friends. While pursuing a solo deal, Yorn also got his yayas out with a punk band called Million, which had lyrics like “you’re so dull you make me so hot” and a stage show with stacks of Marshall amps.

“That was more an escape, to go out and bash some heavy rock out and not have it be my name,” he said.

The tune “For Nancy (Cos’ It Already Is)” on musicforthemorningafter was a Million song.

Meanwhile, Yorn raised some funds to make an album independently. He sent four-track demos to some noted producers, and Don Fleming (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.) rang back, agreeing to do it for little money and points. “Simonize” from those winter 1998 sessions appears on musicforthemorningafter.

Los Angeles radio station KCRW started spinning “Model American,” “Simonize” and “Hunter Green” (the latter Yorn still plays live, although it’s not on the new album). Labels also started showing interest, particularly Virgin, which met with the singer/songwriter but wanted him to make some artistic changes.

“I drank a whole bottle of wine before I went to the meeting and I was like, ‘If you don’t get the second half of the record, then there’s no point in talking anymore because you’re not going to get me as an artist.’ Afterwards, I was like, ‘What did I just say?’ But it was the right thing, of course.”

The Fleming album, described as “more of a straight-ahead rock record but a lot darker as well” sits in the can, never released, but Yorn started working on musicforthemorningafter in R. Walt Vincent’s garage.

Columbia’s Will Botwin heard “Life On A Chain,” “Lose You,” and “Black” and signed Yorn, who then met with various producers including some in the U.K. He decided to go with Brad Wood, who didn’t want to interfere with what Yorn and Vincent had cut to date.

“So we stayed in the garage,” Yorn said.

Since the release of the album, Yorn has been touring constantly and will continue throughout the summer.