Singer-songwriter Pete Yorn released his latest record, ArrangingTime, on March 11 and is currently on tour in support of this new material. The seasoned guitarist and drummer has two upcoming shows in Northern California at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz on April 15, at the Independent on April 16 and an DJ appearance at Amoeba SF for Record Store Day – followed by a triumphant return to play on the final day of Coachella on April 17.
ArrangingTime channels a diversity of sounds. From elegiac folk and wasteland blues to upbeat, synth-kissed rock, Yorn continues to act as an observer, morphing in and out of characters and personalities. His strength clearly lies in his songwriting, with lyrics that read like poems and depict magnificent visions. All the detail gushes from his weathered voice, reaffirming that this man has seen quite a few things in his time.
We spoke to Pete to hear about his admiration for San Francisco, learn about his musical influences and songwriting development, as well as ask what his expectations are for playing Coachella this year.
Nice to speak with you, Mr. Yorn.
Carlos…I have a song called ‘Carlos’. It’s a good jam. It’s all about the change. It’s really bluesy sounding in the verses, and super Brit pop in the choruses. It was a feeling I got one day and it just kind of came out. It’s off my second record. I don’t remember too much about what the hell was going on. It’s kind of a rarity. We did play it around 2003, and then I kind of stopped playing it. Ironically it came on my shuffle when I was driving home from band practice. I hadn’t heard it in years and I was really happy with the way it sounds.
That’s awesome! Why did you make the move from New Jersey to Los Angeles?
I grew up in Jersey then went to Syracuse University around 1992 to ’96. It was very cold. Lots of snow. Lots of Lake Eerie affected snow. I was like “Enough with this weather!”. I think as a kid I had a romantic notion of California in general, and going west. I know my dad did too. It seemed like a natural progression to want to move out to California after college. A lot of my friends were moving out from school actually. I had some brothers who were heading out there. We all went west. It was like manifest destiny.
Is there anything you admire about San Francisco when you visit?
San Francisco has a lot of fun memories. I’ve been there on tour a bunch of times. It’s just an interesting city. It feels so different than everything else in California. It’s so hilly. When I’m there, I’m always going up the hills and going down the hills. I feel like the neighborhoods change so fast. One block seems really nice. The next block feels so different. I feel like I don’t know my way around that town at all.
Good food. People are interesting. It’s close to beautiful stuff–like heading out toward Napa over the bridge, Petaluma, down south, not too far from Santa Cruz–all that stuff. I remember on my acoustic tour last year, we drove from Santa Cruz all the way up to the San Francisco. I just love that Northern California beauty up there.
Which artists have most influenced your songwriting development?
I don’t know. My stuff comes from all over the place. A lot of the early stuff is musical. The last, just pulling out of sounds, weird vibrations, I hate to use that word. Just taking in stuff that’s going on around me. Exposing myself to other cultures.
Musically, I know where I started. When I first got into music as a kid I was a metal head. I was definitely into Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, definitely my favorite bands as a seven or eight year old. I think my older brother was just cranking that stuff. Then around 1985-86, one of my middle brothers gave me two pieces of music–he gave me a Cure cassette (Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me), and then he gave me The Queen is Dead by the Smiths. That changed everything.
Up to that point, I was playing drums and messing around. I wanted to write songs. I just naturally started writing songs on guitar. I became obsessed with all this British pop music and it was heavily ingrained in my psyche in my early influences for sure. It still come out today. But then afterward I got into Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, kind of later on Bob Dylan, especially Blonde on Blonde. But then I like a lot of weird sixties stuff. I love the Carpenters, the Beach Boys, the Who and the Kinks– classic rock.
Is there a particular reason why some of your album titles have no space in between words?
I don’t remember why I did it the first time. It’s not like ‘arranging time,’ it’s ArrangingTime. It’s just a thing. That’s why. I don’t remember why [Musicforthemorningafter] was all one word. I think it just looked cool and it made me really have to pay attention to read what it said.
How many guitars will you be touring with this time around?
I usually keep it pretty simple. I’ll have my acoustic, electric, and another baritone electric guitar for myself. Maybe three or four guitars. I’m pretty simple. Sometimes if I get into a groove and don’t feel like a guitar switch, I’ll just keep my guitar that’s on that’s good and just let it roll. I have another guy in the band who plays a lot of electric, so that will be covered.
I noticed that you like to take requests from the crowd. Have there ever been a times you were stumped or incredibly surprised by someone’s request?
I guess sometimes people request a deep cut that I didn’t even remember I put out. Something from the old days that I had back on in the early days before I even put a record out. I’m surprised people would know something that obscure. If it’s just me, I would play anything that’s from my catalog. It’s kind of fun when people pull out something that I’ve struggled to remember, but I’m always game and try to wing it–with a band though, it’s more limited of course.
I always like those interactions anyway. The whole acoustic tour was with no set list or anything. A lot of the time, I didn’t know what the fuck to play next. I was always happy people would yell something out. It’d help make the set list as we went along. It was an organic, natural thing in the room. It was real.
What are your expectations for playing Coachella this year?
I played Coachella back in 2002. I was happy to be asked back all these years later and, you know, festivals…gotta go grip it, and rip it…just have some fun. Hopefully people come see us. Hopefully we aren’t going on against Beyoncé on the other side. That was a joke, I know Beyoncé is not playing Coachella.