Pete Yorn on Relating and Recording With Scarlett Johansson For ‘Apart’ EP
The singer-songwriter — that scruffy, disheveled troubadour equipped with nothing but his acoustic guitar, is a thing of legends, passed on from one era to the next. In an incomprehensible turn of events only, the early aughts found a second coming of the archetype, in the form of Pete Yorn, and the phenomenon caught on. It was just some simple rock ‘n’ roll, well-versed in legacy, catchy enough to make for divisive lifestyle music, and with enough thoughtful sincerity to take on at large.
2009 found Yorn teaming up with none other than illustrious actress Scarlett Johansson, for an album titled “Break Up,” to overly positive critical reception. The two were recognized as having a natural chemistry, and a likely promising collaborative future. Now, nine years later, the two have spontaneously reunited. Their new release is an EP titled “Apart,” As you might expect from the successive titles, it’s a record fraught with themes of attachment, estrangement, longing, perspectives, and plenty more.
York spoke with Entertainment Voice about the new record, the duo’s musical chemistry, and and the ideas behind the songs.
How did you and Scarlett Johansson initially end up linking up and deciding to create music together? Were you fans of one another? Was it a chance encounter?
Scarlett and I, there’s no secret. Read it all over the internet, we’re old friends. I first Met Scarlett when she was probably maybe sixteen of seventeen. I have two older brothers that she knew then, and she was pretty young, and I remember after I put my first record, we met probably at a club in New York, and I think probably she was too young to even be there, and she said “What’s up, I know your brothers, and we just straight away started popping, and hit it off, and became friends.
And then, years later, I had this crazy dream. I was having insomnia. It was about 2005 0r 2006, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks. I was really textbook bugging out, as they say. And I remember I kind of fell asleep during the day for maybe five minutes, and I woke up, and my heart was racing fast, so I woke up with a start, and I had this idea in my brain that I need to text or call Scarlett, and I need to make a record with her. It was an idea that came out of nowhere, and I don’t even know what it was. It was just this weird inspiration that came to me. I didn’t even know she could sing back in the day. But I just like his persona and the ways she carries herself, and thought she would be a cool person to make music with it. And so I remember it was simple as this. I texted her, and I said,”was like, “You wanna come sing?” and she was like, “Yeah, let’s do it,” and of course a lot more work when into it after that, bec the original thing was just this fever dream inspirational moment.
If you had to take a stab at pinpointing what it is that gives you two a special musical chemistry, how would you explain it?
I would say we’ve always been, ever since we meant, on the same page in our minds, and just had a connection in the way we view the world. We’re always able to communicate with each other pretty easily. It always feels right. Even though that’s not a necessary ingredient in making music with someone, but it certainly helps in our situation. Also, I just like hearing her perspective on songs. I hear my voice, and I’ve done that for so long, and then when I hear her voice, I feel like it’s almost her point of view, her way of looking at the word, singing the lyrics, and I think it adds another layer of perspective into the song presentation.
What is the meaning of the EP’s title “Apart.” Is it the next step in the narrative following from your last album with Johansson, 2009’s “Break Up?” And if so, what might we expect the next stage in this sequence to be?
Well, it is. Scarlett also joked around, like “When are we going to ‘make up?’ I look at “Break Up” as just the unraveling of a relationship, and “Apart” is just that aftermath of the relationship, when you’re just not quite over each other yet, and you’re kind of wondering what’s going on with the other person, so you’re looming in your psyche. You wake up in the morning, and the first thing you think is like, “Agghhh.” If you look at the album cover too, she’s front and center, looking wonderful in her sparkly sequin dress — and some people don’t even notice, if you look, me, I’m looming like a ghostly demon in the background. And the back cover is the opposite, it’s me with her looming. And I’m just really interested in that place after the dissolution of a relationship, where the people are living separate lives, but they’re still very much stuck thinking about that other person, so it becomes an obsessive thing, and you focus on all the best things about them, and you forget about all the shittty things that made you break up in the first place.
“Iguana Bird” has the lyrics, “Time overwhelms you, let it get away / The life you had imagined just slipped away.” Tell us the story that inspired these lyrics?
Yeah, well, obviously, whatever people want to take it to mean, but I just find even outside of relationships, just life in general, people make plans, and they think everything is supposed to work out a certain way, and then when you least expect it, everything just changes. Something unanticipated, or someone just comes home one day, and you think everything is cool, and they just say, “I’m moving out.” You’re like, “Wait, what?!”
The song “Bad Dreams” seems to deal with the stressful uncertainty of being in a deeply invested romantic relationship, suggesting the intensity of attachment basically makes worrying inevitable. Do you mean to question the practicality of absolutely mutual faith, or more literally, to just guarantee the existence of bad dreams?
Let me be clear, A guy named Jake wrote that song for the most part. A wrote a couple lyrics, but it’s a song I heard in, I think 2012. And it’s by a band called Echo Friendly. They’re a great band, I think they’re out of Brooklyn. and it’s a great duet. Their version is called “Worries,” and I always wanted to sing it with Scarlett. But I’m sure people take it so many different ways. For me, I want I heard it, I’m all about reversal of desires, and making verses, for me, are all these petty things that people can worry about, like “I lost my car keys,” or “My bangs are too long,” “I’m worried I’m getting older.” And then the chorus is like pessimistic as it seems, we will always have bad dreams, and I find that inspiring, kind of just knowing that life is really hard. I think it George Clooney said once, “Getting older is just a pussy.” Knowing that you’re going to lose ever. If you don’t die early or something like that, you’re going to pretty much love everyone you love, and if you focus on that it could freak you out. But I kind of go through life thinking, like “Ok I get that, and who knows what’s going to happen”, but somehow just kind of expecting that and wearing it on my sleeve an on my shoulder kind of makes little things less important. It makes those little worries in the verses like that book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” It reminds me to kind of say “fuck it,” and just have a good time, and not worry about petty, stupid stuff.
Will you expand on the idea behind “Movies.” What does the song mean to you?
Yeah, first of all, I love the way that song feels. When ever that song comes on, I feel like I’m stepping into a movie, it goes very cinematically. They’re open to interpretation. For me, there’s a lot of longing in it, a lot of insecurity. I think a lot of it is about a couple that’s broken up and living separate lives but just longing for, maybe, the so simple, intimate things you’d do with your partner, like go out to dinner, go see a movie, little things that you just miss. And I think the lyrics, for me anyway, explore moments when you’re kind of insecure in a relationship, and you’re having doubts about whether the other person is as into you as you are into them.
The new EP has a rework of the song “Tomorrow” from your previous album “Arranging Time.” How would you describe the difference in aesthetic and sentiment between this version and the last?
I think introducing Scarlett’s vocal perspective takes a song to a whole new place. I think the remix is a lot more bouncy. I think it hits a litter hardier, a little dancier in a way. Hearing her perspective when she comes in on the second verse, and being able to harmonize with her was really fun. It was a fun one to sing just in the room together. There’s something satisfying about how the harmonies go together.
It’s been nine years since your last collaborate release with Johansson. Why so long, and why now?
There was never any set plan. The stars were aligned. It just manifested.
How would you describe the predominant attitude, mentality, spirit, or vibe of your new EP, in contrast to your last?
This is me, and again, everyone’s going to hear it their own way, but I know that the last record was produced by Sunny Levine who’s a great producer, and we’ve done some work together since then, but he brings a certain style to the production that is very evident on the “Break Album.” This was produced by my friend R. Walt Vincent, and he produced my first two solo records, and my last one, so I feel the music and production is, kind of, more like if you followed my stuff since the early days, it kind of more like that feel, naturally, I think, and it’s a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll. I feel, than the “Break Up,” which was a little quirkier in the production.
“Apart” is available June 1 on Apple Music.