Pete Yorn Does His Own Stunts

Pete Yorn Does His Own Stunts

By Erica CampbellMar 11, 2024

There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon where singer-songwriter Pete Yorn does his own stunts. The film (which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture) was Yorn’s acting debut.

“Marty and everyone were interested in casting some musicians to play outlaws in the film,” Yorn tells PAPER. He auditioned over Zoom during the pandemic and assumed he wouldn’t get the part. “I [thought] this is never gonna happen,” he says. “I remember not letting myself get excited about it at all.” It wasn’t until he found himself road-tripping from California to the film's set in Oklahoma with his wife and daughter that the reality started to sink in. “Marty was great, I did my scenes,” he says. “I remember when I was shooting with Robert De Niro. I was like, what thehell is going on? It was ridiculous.”

In one scene, Yorn’s character blows up a bank vault. “This wasn't a CGI explosion,” he says. “The explosion was so loud on set that I almost thought they were hazing me. I remember that bolt door blew off and it hit this desk. It went really hard — I went flying forward. It felt way worse than it looked on camera. My heart jumped like it never has.”

Speaking of debuts, it’s been more than two decades since Yorn released his critically acclaimed first album musicforthemorningafter. Earlier this year, he played a sold-out, intimate show at New York City’s McKittrick Hotel, featuring renditions of songs from that album like “Life on a Chain,” “Strange Condition” and “Lose You.” The crowd sang along to every word, as if the tracks had just come out yesterday, enjoying the nostalgia as well as the addition of new songs, like his latest, “Someday, Someday.”

Below, Yorn talks to PAPER about the lasting impact of his debut album, his acting debut and how his approach to music and creativity has changed over time.

I wanted to ask about your sold-out New York City show. I had the pleasure of attending, and it was such a special night for us fans. How was it for you to play in the city again after a four-year break?

Thanks for coming. It doesn’t feel like four years; it’s crazy how fast four years can go by. It was great to get on stage, see some old friends and play some music. I haven't done too much of that in a bit.

You have so many songs at this point. I’m curious: How do you make a setlist for a performance like that, where it’s a small, intimate venue and people in the front are requesting you play their wedding songs?

I love when people request songs, and if I could play it or I'm in the mood to play, I'm happy to do it, always. I don't really do a setlist, I go anti-setlist. I had a piano player that night, so we had learned a few songs, but he didn't know all my stuff. I have one piano player that I play with sometimes and he knows everything because we’ve been playing together since college, since 1993. When I do play acoustic shows typically, my one one rule is not to make a setlist because there’s something freeing about that. It reminds me of why I started to play music in the first place as a kid. It’s just this free expression. When I have to make a setlist and adhere to a script, it takes the fun out of it for me.

You mentioned playing music since 1993. Three decades of making music is astounding. How has your relationship with creating and performing evolved over those years?

I started as a drummer. So, the [piano player] I was talking about from college, I was the drummer in his band up in Syracuse, and so I would hide behind there. Eventually, I came up and started singing and playing guitar. I used to be really and still am very shy and nervous up there. It used to show a lot more I was a real shoe gazer. I would mask my nerves with booze and stuff, nothing too crazy, but just be able to get up there and be able to do it. I think the acoustic tours that I started doing in 2017 2018, I wanted to force myself to get out there by myself and play songs with no net and see how I could handle that as a personal challenge. I realized it’s more fun if I just start talking. I'm a bit of a chatty Cathy. It feels like there's this connection, almost like I'm hanging out in my living room with people. Then whether it’s 100 people, or 1000 people or whatever it still feels really intimate. I remember loving those shows so much. I felt a real connection to something that I had lost the feeling of with my band at the time, where I felt it was just loud. There was a wall up between me and everyone. But just playing in that way that you saw me, it reminded me of being a kid and picking up a guitar and why I did it in the first place.

Your debut album musicforthemorningafter definitely has staying power. Everyone was singing along to it at the New York show as if the songs were brand new. Why do you think that album has had that type of longevity?

I remember saying this at the time, and maybe I was wise for a 25-year-old when I put that together... but I remember saying, "I don't know who else is gonna [resonate] with this, I just want to make this for me." Because I didn’t know what other people liked, and that’s a gamble. I remember saying "I just hope the music holds up in 10 years." 10 years, that was a long time. I hope it did that. It was a moment in time and I had great partners helping to create this sound. They were bringing out emotions. They would add to it, make it technical. It was a magical moment in time. That’s cliche, but it was.

You recently released your latest song, “Someday, Someday.” Was it melody first, lyrics first? How did that song come to you?

This one was interesting. It was different than most songs I would come up with. Normally I'm a very solitary writer, I grab my guitar, I have an idea. This one, I had a bunch of lyrics and an old buddy of mine who is known more for mixing records than songwriting, Josh Gudwin, the was the one who joined me on stage and sang “Someday, Someday” at the New York show. He mixed three songs this EP called Apart that I did with Scarlett Johansson, it was the follow up to Break Up. I met him through that but we hadn’t really kept in touch. He texted me out of nowhere, saying he’d been getting really into playing guitar and writing songs and wanted to send over some ideas. Then maybe a few weeks later, he texted me asking to send some lyrics. One of the strangest parts of the song is the part in the chorus, “Someday I’ll try to forget the look in your eyes.” That came to me in a dream. I don’t think it’s ever happened before or since. I woke up and it's in my head at like three in the morning. I was sneaking to the bathroom with my voice memo on my iPhone, and I have the recording and it was on the early hours of Valentine's Day. And I just, I go in, I sing it and it started off as Sunday, Sunday, I'll try to forgive the love in your Sunday, I'll try to forget, forgive the love and then it morphed into, forget the look in your eye. It started off as “Someday I’ll try to forgive the look in your eyes.” I sent [Josh] a bunch of lyrics and those were part of it. He hit me back, and he had some great song ideas like fully formed. He has a small room at Henson Studios, and we recorded it. We have a bunch of songs now we’re working on.

Let’s talk about Killers of the Flower Moon. It was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, very strategic to have your first film be an Academy Award-nominated one. Did you have any aspirations to act before this?

No. I always respected people who over the years have said ‘You should act’ I haven't been cavalier like, I'm a singer, I should act, you know? I read something that Jack Nicholson said, that while you're reading your lines, there's a part of your brain that shuts off, just count in your head, don't even think just count to 10 as you're saying your lines. I was like, messing around with stuff like that. Full disclosure, I’ve known Marty for many years through my brother who works with him. I was in his universe. I don’t know too much of the story but I assume I wasn’t pulled out of total complete randomness. I was just kind of like ‘I'm gonna end up on the cutting room floor. I'm never gonna tell anybody about this because I don’t even know if I’m going to be in the movie.’ But finally, you get the final edit and I was in it. It’s wasn’t about me, it’s about something way bigger than that. I’ll never forget it it was amazing.

Are you someone who watches a lot of films? Do you have a favorite contender for Best Picture?

Of course, I think Killers of the Flower Moon is the best picture I’ve seen. I remember I was looking forward to watching it and we live closer to a theater in LA so we walked there. I was happy with my part in it and that was cool to see. There’s a scene about this idea of what the afterlife may be, which is probably a tradition in the Osage history that they’ve pulled from. It’s beautiful. You just have to be human to feel something from this theme. It stayed with me. Great films do.

Photography: Jim Wright