For the record, Pete Yorn doesn’t quite agree that his new studio album is any darker than the previous two. “I think people assume that right off the bat, because it’s called Nightcrawler and opens with a song called ‘Vampyre,’ which reveals itself slowly and sounds very creepy,” the Jersey-born singer-songwriter says over the phone from Reno. “It’s not meant to be a sad record,” Yorn says.
Yorn’s literate, catchy pop-rock has earned him a spot as the opening act on the Dixie Chicks’ current American tour, which hits the Gaylord Friday night. Considering Yorn’s Yankee roots, his admitted Bruce Springsteen fixation and rock-club-fixture status, he’s not the safest choice to warm up the Chicks’ audience—but then again, Dixie fans have grown accustomed to risk by now.
Scene: In addition to touring with the Dixie Chicks, you wrote and played on their latest record, and they appear on “The Man,” a tune from Nightcrawler. When did your relationship begin?
Pete Yorn: I met Martie [Maguire] a few years ago down in San Diego. There was a Super Bowl there and we were introduced at some party. She said she liked my record and that Natalie [Maines] was a fan. Then I ran into them again at a post-Grammy party or something. They had just won, I think, and they were so excited. Maybe a year-and-a-half or two years later, they called me asking if I wanted to come down to Texas and write some songs with them for their new record, so I went down to Austin a few times and wrote songs with them and hung out, played poker, just became friends. Then when I was making my record, they were out in L.A. working with Rick Rubin, and I thought they would be perfect to sing on “The Man.” So I asked them if they were up for it and they totally were.
Scene: As a veteran of the rock scene as opposed to the country world, did the Dixie Chicks-vs.-Dubya controversy surprise you?
Yorn:The whole thing is context. You have other artists who could basically do the same thing whose fan base might not be as offended. I’m assuming by what happened that the girls’ core audience is a more conservative type of audience and didn’t respond to what Natalie said positively. Which is fine—people clash on politics all the time. What I think is funny is how blown out of proportion the whole thing got. I mean, people have been protesting for years. Look at the ’60s, Vietnam, every artist at Woodstock, marches on Washington—everybody was protesting everything. It’s not like musicians giving their opinions is some new thing. And it seemed like the reaction was the world kind of taking a step backwards. It created a fear; people are scared to say things because they think that their livelihoods will be in jeopardy.
Scene: Who do you think you’ll be playing to at the Chicks’ shows here?
Yorn: I have to believe that their fan base has probably shifted a little bit over the last four or five years. I mean, if you listen to Taking the Long Way as opposed to some of their earlier records, it’s a lot more of a rock ’n’ roll record. It’s not so mainstream country. And I also have to assume that the people who are coming to the shows are supportive and are coming to support them and hopefully whoever’s opening for them. From what I know from the dates we did last month in Australia—and I didn’t know what to expect—Dixie Chicks fans are wonderful.They were totally gracious when we played our set. If I wanted to, I could go out with my band and I could pander and play some of the twangier songs—we’re very versatile. But I come out and play what I feel. I play a number of songs that you might not expect to hear at a Dixie Chicks concert. But people seem to respond to those just as well. I think a good song goes over if it’s a good song, you know?
Scene: The Chicks aren’t the only guests on Nightcrawler, which, like your first two studio discs, features input from a big group of players and producers including Michael Beinhorn and Butch Walker. Is that collaborative process something you plan?
Yorn: I’m pretty solitary as a writer 99 percent of the time. But sometimes one of your friends who happens to be a producer, you go have dinner at their house and you end up in their back studio and you’re cutting songs. That’s the case with Tony Berg, who lives up the street from me. He has a great little home studio in his backyard and he’s just like, “Come on up, let’s mess around.” So we start messing around and we record like 25 songs. When I have time when I get home from touring, we have so much unfinished stuff that I wanna go flesh out. I can’t wait.
Scene: You obviously like working that way.
Yorn: I like bouncing ideas off a few different people. When I go into the studio, I’m not setting out like I’m making one record. I’m just going in and recording songs with people who I think are gonna help take a certain batch of songs to a nice place. And when I feel I have something that works together well, then that turns into a record.