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POP MUSIC

This time, Pete Yorn goes the gritty route

May 29, 2003|Lina Lecaro | Special To The Times

It's significant that Pete Yorn's latest record, "Day I Forgot," opens with the raw-powered rocker "Come Back Home," a tune about reflecting before and after the chaos that comes with touring, not to mention critical success.

The restless nights, endless bus rides and hazy sunrises that come with life on the road may fit his scruffy, romantic image like a pair of well-worn jeans, but the singer-songwriter seems even more inspired by familiar surroundings, both past and present.

"I think it might be the first song that I ever really wrote to myself," says Yorn, 28. "I wrote it in Paris, while touring for the first record. I was foreshadowing what it would be like, thinking ahead to when things died down and I found myself just sitting on my bed in my room, looking around with nothing to do."

With the success of his debut album, "musicforthemorningafter," which has sold more than 500,000 copies since it came out two years ago, and its recent follow-up -- "Day I Forgot" entered the sales chart at No. 18 last month -- the slacker days are long gone for the New Jersey-bred, L.A.-based musician.

Yorn will, in fact, be coming back home, if only for a few days near the end of his headlining tour (tonight and Friday at the Wiltern) before jumping back on the road with the Foo Fighters this summer. The hometown gigs should offer an especially jovial atmosphere.

After all, it was here that Yorn first built a following for his heartfelt lyrics and deceptively simple melodies. Moving to L.A. after graduating from Syracuse University in 1996, Yorn left the Jersey town of Montville on the heels of his two brothers, one a drummer who played in his band early on and who is now a successful manager for the high-paid actor set, the other an entertainment lawyer.

He immediately started playing shows at clubs such as the Dragonfly and Highland Grounds and became a regular at the intimate songwriter haven Largo, watching and studying the likes of Elliott Smith and Grant Lee Buffalo. In less than a year, he was holding his own on the same stage.

"He had an intensity and a [no-nonsense] style that made people drawn to him," recalls Largo owner Mark Flanagan. "He took over Tuesday nights when Aimee Mann went into the studio, and I knew he really had something when he was able to win over her crowd."

Although his Largo gigs were getting increasingly popular and his garage-made demos were well-received, it took a while for record labels to show serious interest. He gave up playing [in public] for a while so he could focus on songwriting.

"I was a little frustrated," says Yorn, "but I felt like I was learning." Columbia Records eventually gave him an offer he couldn't refuse, and in the spring of 2001, he released the critically lauded "musicforthemorningafter."

He also composed the score for the Jim Carrey movie "Me, Myself & Irene." Suddenly, Yorn was an alt-folk-rock poster boy, compared to the shaggy-tressed sensitive likes of Smith and Ryan Adams and romantically linked to Hollywood starlets. Which wasn't all that surprising, what with the tender troubadour's grungy good looks and his album's blend of rugged crooning, dreamy atmosphere and swoon-worthy sentiments.

But on "Day I Forgot," Yorn has taken a decidedly grittier, though no less expressive, approach.

"I actually think there's more emotion in the vocals on this record than the first," says Yorn. "Sonically, 'Day I Forgot' is a bigger-sounding record, but production-wise, it's a lot more stripped-down. I experimented a lot with loops and electronic elements on the first one, but on this one, I just wasn't into that anymore. I wanted to make a more straight-up, good, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll record."

Indeed, "Day I Forgot" owes as much to Bruce Springsteen as to James Taylor. Although there are mellow moments ("Turn of the Century") and even silly, nostalgic ones ("Burrito"), most of Yorn's latest material consists of catchy, mid-tempo classic rock grinds, timeless tunes that seem open to interpretation both thematically and instrumentally.

On both his records, Yorn played nearly everything himself, a practice he says is less about being a control freak than about his pure pleasure in playing, especially the drums, his first instrument.

On stage, he has a full band adding new layers, and often more muscle, to his wistful yet hopeful sound.His ability to shift gears and textures gives him a universal appeal that should transcend the limited parameters of the current singer-songwriter mold.

"It feels very natural. I think because I toured for so long with my band and we were rocking out every night, I wanted to make more of a dirty rock record," he says. "But the new songs really complement the old ones. The new ones are really fun to play live, and sometimes I relate to the lyrics from the old ones more than I ever did. I like that balance."

*

Pete Yorn

Where: The Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Tonight and Friday, 8 p.m.

Cost: $29

Info: (213) 380-5005

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