There’s something weird about being from New Jersey. Actually, that’s the understatement of the year, there’s a lot that’s weird about being from New Jersey. We describe location in terms of parkway exits, we’ve all been to a diner at 3 A.M. and had to decide between dinner or breakfast, and we have an unhealthy affinity towards Bruce Springsteen.
Pete Yorn, a Montville, NJ (Exit 45) native, is no exception. The second we get to talking on the phone a few days before Thanksgiving and I mention that I too am a Jersey boy, he wants to know from where. I tell him the Long Branch area (Exit 105) and he immediately brings up the haunted mansion of Long Branch. We talk for the next few minutes about other Weird NJ stuff, and I feel like I’m reconnecting with a high school buddy.
The truth of the matter is, however, you don’t have to be from New Jersey to feel this connection with Yorn. He simply resonates friendliness and cool. As he chats with me from his Santa Monica home, the California-accent—he’s been there for nearly 20 years now—is now easily recognizable. Yorn is like an Owen Wilson character if they all grew up in the Garden State and then moved out to the Golden State.
But while Yorn’s chillness and likability are through the roof, it’s obvious if you look back through his discography that he’s done anything but take it easy over the last twenty years. After graduating from Syracuse University in the late 1990s, Yorn packed up his car and headed west for Los Angeles. After a few years spent settling into life with the Pacific Ocean, rather than the Atlantic, looming nearby, Yorn had his first big break when he was signed to Columbia Records and hired to score the soundtrack for the Jim Carrey film Me, Myself, and Irene. The result was an album that is basically a greatest hits of 90s indie rock. (Truly, it’s a fantastic playlist.)
Around the same time, Yorn was working on his debut album, which would be titled musicforthemorningafter. Released in 2001, critics and listeners alike lauded the album as one of the strongest of the year. Yorn’s blend of genres and introspective lyrics resonated with folks, particularly twenty-somethings who—like Yorn at the time—were finding out what their adult paths in life should be.
And while musicforthemorningafter means so much to so many, the record, from writing to recording and production, was not overthought in the least. Reflecting on his time recording it, Yorn says that he “kept it very homespun and simple. After I got signed to Columbia, everyone said you have to go to a big studio and get a big producer, but I said ‘I don’t know, I kind of like what we’re doing in the garage…in that way, the record was kind of like a fairy tale.”
Not overthinking has been something that Yorn has consistently thought about throughout his career. Since musicforthemorningafter, Yorn has released six LP’s, including 2016’s Arranging Time, his first album since becoming a father. (Yorn and his wife have a 16-month-old baby girl.) Instead of overanalyzing what needs to be said or how something needs to sound, Yorn tends to reference his influences—The Cure, The Smiths and, of course, Bruce Springsteen—and how he liked their music simply because they made him feel a certain way. “The first thing that gets me with music, typically, is the type of feeling I get,” says Yorn. “Think back to classical music—there were no lyrics; it was just this feeling they were trying to evoke.”
A takeaway I loved from my call with Yorn was his penchant for wanting to discuss little, insignificant observations rather than his musical accomplishments. He had no reaction when I told him that many of my friends consider musicforthemorningafter to be one of the better modern-day rock albums, but he was super psyched to tell me how he waited the maximum amount of time before he got a California I.D. and Cali plates on his car. He was also excited to mention that it’s always easy to spot Jersey plates, no matter where you are in the country.
Yorn attributes this to the nature of the New Jerseyan—they’re “born to run;” everyone wants to get out of the Garden State. The music video for Yorn’s latest single, “Lost Weekend,” is a video tribute to all these born-to-run, gotta-get-outta-here kids of New Jersey-suburbia. After all, New York City is right on the other side of the river, and it’s easy to feel that, whilst growing up in New Jersey, you’re just out of arms reach from something amazing. But, as Yorn notes, “you always realize after you leave how great it was, growing up there, feeling trapped.” After all, ambition is energy, and energy cannot exist with resistance.
-Joe Rapolla Jr. can be reached on Twitter @JoeJrWrites