In Advance of His Solo Acoustic Show at the Grog Shop Next Week, Pete Yorn Talks About the Joys of Playing Unplugged

Singer-songwriter Pete Yorn routinely played indie record stores when he was touring in the 2000s and performing indie record stores was a thing that up-and-coming musicians did. But at a White Plains, New York stop, he upped the ante and played a lengthy intimate radio show for contest winners. He loved the experience, one of the first times he remembers playing an all-acoustic solo show.

“I had done in-stores, but those shows were like five songs,” he says in a recent phone interview. He performs a solo acoustic show at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Grog Shop. “This was a way longer set. I remember thinking it was fun to present the songs any way I felt like presenting them but also presenting them in a way that was true to their original conception. Most of the songs come to me and my guitar when I’m sitting in the den or hiding in the bathroom or whenever I can get a minute. [The White Plains show] went really well, and the biggest hurdle to overcome was the nerves of it. I had to overcome being up there by myself. Once I got past that, it got pretty great. I still love playing with the band, and I’ll do a lot of down the road, but this is a great way to connect with everybody.”

He says he likes the way the acoustic show “creates itself each night on stage” because he operates without a net.

“There’s no setlist, and that’s by design,” he says. “It’s what I’m feeling and what people yell out from the crowd. For some reason, when I do a show like that and finish it, it’s a really freeing feeling. It’s one of the main reasons I started playing music in the first place. I’m always kind of baffled and can’t believe I did it. Sure, I could sit down and make a set list, but this is like making a two-hour show out of thin air.”

Yorn recently released a cover of the Pixies “Here Comes Your Man,” and since his voice isn’t nearly as harsh as that of the Pixies’ Frank Black, the remarkably melodic song has a real tenderness to it. Singer-songwriter Liz Phair provides the cooing backing vocals on the track.

“That song stopped me in my tracks back in the day,” says Yorn. “I loved the melody. That was one of my introductions to the Pixies in the early ’90s. I know with my guitar playing and my sense of melody that there are certain songs that would work out well if I covered them. I just loved that song. I got the great opportunity to work with Frank Black a few years ago. He said that nobody wanted to record [‘Here Comes Your Man’]. [The other members of the band] thought it was a Tom Petty song, and they all hated it. I don’t understand what’s wrong with it sounding like a Tom Petty song, but they didn’t think it sounded like a Pixies song. He wrote that song when he was pretty young, and he had it kicking around and had to convince the band to get behind it.”

Earlier this year, Yorn also released Apart, an EP he cut with actress/singer/model Scarlett Johansson. The album effectively shows off Yorn's songwriting chops. Beautiful harmony vocals characterize the album opener, "Iguana Bird," and the rollicking "Bad Dreams" finds Yorn and Johansson alternating lead vocal duties. The mid-tempo tunes have an ethereal, Luna-like quality to them.

“We made our first record so long ago now — I think we recorded it in 2006,” says Yorn. “I’m proud of that record, and we’ve been friends since and even before that. The biggest thing was timing. We found each other again a year and a half ago when we were hanging out in the same circle. I told her I had some songs for her to sing on, and she had some time to hit the studio. Sometimes, the stars align like that.”

Yorn says Johansson could only commit to a single day in the studio, so she drove up to the place in downtown L.A., and they got a slice of pizza. They then went to work.

“I showed her the music, and she started singing, and that was it,” he says.

For a bonus track, Yorn revisited his track “Tomorrow” and added Johansson’s vocals to the mix.

“That song is originally on my ArrangingTime record,” he says. “Sometimes, you put out a record, and attention spans are short, and the single gets the attention, but I thought there were other good songs on the record. I really like that song. When [Johansson] came to the studio, we tried to sing it live. It just clicked right away. I think it was good for her range.”

Yorn says he still continues to have a strong desire to tour and record after 20 years because he still feels so connected to the songs.

“I know it sounds cliché, but some songs still really resonate with me,” he says. “Singing for people and with people at these shows isn’t something that I take for granted. There’s always the possibility for new songs too. They’ve been coming down the pike. I like the ability to continue to be creative, and that keeps me inspired.”

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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