A 26-year-old New Jersey native turned L.A. singer-songwriter, Pete Yorn has emerged as one of the most talked about (and written about) new artists of the year. Signed to Columbia after playing his future debut single "Life On a Chain" on acoustic guitar for a label A&R rep, Yorn's rise has been relatively meteoric. But Yorn's seemingly easy success has also met with a good share of skepticism. It turns out that Yorn's older brother is one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood -- not a bad connection to generate a little buzz in the entertainment industry.
Yorn's familial connection may or may not have had anything to do with his discovery and embrace by the mainstream entertainment structure, but a couple of listens to his debut, Musicforthemorningafter, make it clear that Yorn's worthy of the attention.
A drummer before he ever grabbed a guitar and began writing his own songs, Yorn is virtually a one-man band on this impressively assured debut album. Yorn plays guitar and drums on nearly every track and also pitches in on bass, piano, and synthesizer. The only other musicians to appear on the album are touring bassist Walt Vincent and A-list producer Brad Wood (who oversaw Liz Phair's classic Exile in Guyville, among countless others).
Before releasing his debut album earlier this year, Yorn's career got a boost when the Farrelly brothers tapped him to score their film Me, Myself, & Irene and used two songs that would later appear on Musicforthemorningafter for the film's soundtrack -- "Strange Condition" and "Just Another," the latter also used on the television series Dawson's Creek.
Musicforthemorningafter was an instant critical hit, landing Yorn on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "10 Artists To Watch" for 2001 (another act from that list, Detroit's White Stripes, will hit town next month). And Yorn's commercial status has swiftly followed his critical reception: heavy rotation on MTV-2 for the "Life On a Chain" video leading to Yorn landing the headlining spot on the network's first "handpicked" tour.
Musicforthemorningafter places Yorn within the current rebirth of singer-songwriters, a group of troubadours who might include Elliott Smith, David Gray, and Ron Sexsmith. But what separates Yorn from most other current singer-songwriters is the rock kick that his music carries. Most of the songs on Musicforthemorningafter have acoustic guitars at the foundation, but the music is more driven by Yorn's strong, eclectic drumming -- and Yorn isn't afraid of guitar noise. "For Nancy ('Cos It Already Is)" is a rockin' number that erupts into a geyser of guitar spray near the end.
Though Musicforthemorningafter is clearly the product of a musician weaned on a wide array of prime influences, there's a limit to Yorn's rock-and-roll fixation which not enough articles on him have acknowledged. Yorn makes it clear in interviews that he's a major Springsteen fan, but too many writers have followed that hint and incorporated references to Springsteen in their own takes on Yorn's music -- references that aren't at all warranted. Yorn's a fine, accomplished artist already, but Musicforthemorningafter displays none of the verbal swagger or easy, openhearted spirit that early Springsteen embodied.
Actually, the artist that Yorn reminds me of the most is Evan Dando. The former frontman for early-'90s alt-rockers the Lemonheads, Dando is pretty much a footnote now (though he's apparently making a comeback), but for a couple of years in the mid-'90s he was supposed to be the Next Big Thing -- a hunky, roots-oriented singer-songwriter on the verge of trading in his indie cred for mainstream stardom.
Like Dando (and Elliott Smith) before him, Yorn threatens to bring an indie-flavored sound to a more generally middle-of-the-road adult pop scene. Yorn's "Black" may be the closest fans of Semisonic and Fastball ever come to hearing Pavement. On the song, Yorn combines the sweetly distorted, droning guitars and big, clattering drums that marked the Pavement sound while also pursuing that band's common lyrical strategy, mixing evocative but seemingly nonsensical lyrics ("Black is a cast/And two is a crowd/And gold rim is an answer") with disarmingly blunt statements ("I'm just a lonely guy in my youth/Waiting for you is all I wanna do"). Though, to his commercial benefit, Yorn's vocals are much smoother and more "professional" than Pavement's Steve Malkmus' have ever been.
With this set of cryptic, regretful love songs and strong, varied sonic settings, Yorn has crafted one of the more impressive mainstream rock records of the year. Let the guy have his hype.
by CHRIS HERRINGTON
Submissions are currently being accepted for the local NARAS chapter's annual Urban Music Forum. Scheduled for September 26th, this year's forum will feature performances from four local R&B or hip-hop artists. A screening committee of local music-industry professionals will select the four performers as well as two alternates. Any act not currently signed to a major label is eligible to enter. The submissions deadline is August 24th.
Submissions must include a CD or cassette with at least two original songs, a photo of the group/artist, and a bio. Submissions should be addressed to:
Urban Music Forum Showcase
Memphis Chapter of the Recording Academy
168 Beale Street, 2nd Floor
Memphis, TN 38103
To get a submission form or for information, call (901) 525-1340 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year's Urban Music Forum featured blunt and helpful music biz advice from panelists such as Destiny's Child manager (and Beyoncé's dad) Matthew Knowles and producer Tony Mercedes, both of whom are scheduled to return this year to moderate panels on "Putting Your Business Team Together" and "Putting Your Creative Team Together," respectively.
It looks like a rather rough August in terms of compelling concerts could be yielding to a much more active September. In addition to previously mentioned shows such as heavyweights Aerosmith (The Pyramid, September 5th) and Robert Cray (Memphis Botanic Garden, September 3rd), indie faves The White Stripes (Earnestine and Hazel's, September 10th), and techno band The Crystal Method (International Shell Complex, September 17th), the sublime roots-pop ensemble Clem Snide will be at the Map Room on Monday, September 10th. One of mainstream Nashville's brightest lights, Brad Paisley, will be at the Mid-South Fair on Friday, September 21st, and the great Lucinda Williams will return to town with much-heralded singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith in tow for a show at the New Daisy Theatre on Saturday, September 29th. And no, what you just read wasn't a typo: Clem Snide and the White Stripes, two of the most buzzed-about rock bands of the year, will both be in town on the same night. In a city that can seem to go weeks without an A-list club show, music fans will have to choose between two on a Monday night.
A few music-related book signings to put on your calendar: Former Talking Head and current world-music champion David Byrne will be at Square Books in Oxford at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 21st, to sign copies of The New Sins, Byrne's longest prose work to date. University of Memphis English professor Barbara Ching will be signing copies of her new book, Wrong's What I Do Best: Hard Country Music and Contemporary Culture, at Davis-Kidd Booksellers at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22nd. Then, in a don't-miss treat for local music fans, longtime Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, who will be in town with his band, The Rhythm Kings, to perform at The Great Southern Beer Festival, will have three booksignings for his engaging new coffee-table tome Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey: A Journey To Music's Heart & Soul. Wyman will be at Davis-Kidd at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, August 28th, at Tower Records in Peabody Place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 30th, and at Square Books at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 31st.