Pete Yorn is remarkably prolific as a singer, not to mention his sheer versatility as a songwriter.
Since first gaining recognition with his 2001 album “Musicforthemorningafter,” which included his signature single “Strange Condition,” Yorn has become a prime example of what a combination of constant touring and choosing the right projects can do for a singer’s career.
And in the case of “Strange Condition,” he can craft a tune that can be the most hummable example of introspection you’re liable to ever hear on commercial radio, and is just as likely to be followed on an album with a track of pure garage rock with the amplifiers turned to 11.
That unpredictable range of talent also flows over into his tours, as with his current You & Me Tour: An Evening with Pete Yorn, set to open at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall this Tuesday.
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The solo acoustic run will take the singer across the country in support of a variety of projects that Yorn has released in the recent past, from his 2016 album “ArrangingTime,” to new releases featuring collaborations with superstar female talents. That includes the “Apart” EP recorded with actress Scarlett Johansson, and a cover of The Pixies “Here Comes Your Man” featuring Liz Phair on guest vocals.
We spoke with Yorn before his tour cranks up in Durham. Reaching him on the phone during a break in tour preparation, we discussed the singer’s propensity for working with strong female talents, and the backlash Johansson has received in regards to a singing career.
Q: With the recent releases of the “Here Comes Your Man” cover with Liz Phair, as well as your continued working relationship with Scarlett Johansson, what’s led to these chances you’ve had to work with such strong female vocalists?
A: I love these girls. It just happens kind of organically. Sometimes I’m recording a song, and I’ll just think, “Man, I’d love to here so-and-so’s voice on this.” Liz is an old friend, Scarlett’s an old friend of mine, so these are things that just naturally happen.
Liz and I actually sang together a few times years ago on a couple of different covers, and I’ve played drums on a couple of her records as well, so she’s just an old buddy. It’s funny, how she came to sing on “Here Comes Your Man” — and it’s a little foggy — but I almost want to say that my buddy that produced the song brought her into the studio to sing on it when I wasn’t even there that day. I may be mistaken, but I want to say that’s how I’m remembering it, and she sounded so great.
And I’ve known Scarlett since she was 18, and we just found a window last year to record some more songs.
Q: Was the “Here Comes Your Man” cover something you’d been wanting to get into a studio to record for a while, and the time finally just presented itself, or was there something more to it than that?
A: Here’s a secret, my friend: it’s actually a part of a covers album that I may or may not release in its entirety one day. This song is just the first installment of it. It’s kind of just me singing some of my favorites, some of the classics that I’ve always just wanted to cover, and there are a bunch more just sitting around.
Q: If that’s the case, will folks coming out to your acoustic show in Durham have a chance to hear more of these covers?
A: If history is any indication, I tend to break out some covers during my shows, and that’s always fun for everyone. I love a good song, and I’m happy to sing a lot of my songs, but sometimes there’s a song that just speaks to you that are fun to just break out. There’s no real set list to acoustic shows; I tend to make it up as I go along, and just help the audience along with their yelling out requests. It’s a good time.
Q: Different artists take different approaches to their setlists when it comes to tours like this, where they tend to stick to the same songs each night, or make it up a minute or two before they walk out onstage. I know you said that there is no real setlist, but I’m wondering if you approach your shows with at least a rough outline of what you’re performing each night?
A: I’ve been doing this for a long time. Usually I’m more likely to go with a setlist if I’m touring with my full band, but one of the reasons I do these acoustic tours is for the freedom that comes with it.
Before the tour begins I’ll spend a few months just playing songs by myself, just getting the muscle memory back. It’s funny, I find myself Googling my own song lyrics, just trying to remember the tabs to some of these songs I haven’t played in a while.
There’s still nothing better than playing a song in front of a crowd to force yourself to remember lyrics, but I still warn the audience some nights that a song may sound a little rusty, and that they should feel free to help me out if I start to lose my place. That’s just part of the experience.
Q: You recently released “Apart” with Scarlett Johansson, with it being the second release you two have created together, after 2009’s “Break Up.” What has led to your working relationship lasting?
A: She’s an old friend, and it was never on my radar to do another record with her, but I ended up seeing her a lot last summer. A window just manifested itself during that time, and I had a few songs that I really wanted to hear her vocals on, and it all just came together. She came into the studio and recorded all of her vocals in one day, and we kind of just put everything together from there. She’s great to work with, has such a cool voice, and it’s cool to just get a few more songs of the two of us together out there.
Q: Did you ever feel the reaction she received from some people for her work as a singer was unfair? Her 2008 debut album “Anywhere I Lay My Head” was met with a lot of ire from folks who seemed to think that it was her attempt at crossing over from film into becoming a pop star, and I could never wrap my head around why anyone would think a collection of Tom Waits (1999’s “Mule Variations”) covers would be anyone’s choice for their shot at superstardom, and I say that as a fan of Waits’ music.
A: There are some people that just have a knee-jerk reaction to an actor singing, which I always thought was bizarre, because the whole history of performing has always included the concept of performers who are the triple threat of song, dance and acting. It’s just such a natural extension of talent, so it’s never bothered me at all.
I think she’s always been a little ahead of her time, in that a lot of people seem to be rediscovering that record now that years have passed. Scarlett’s always had really good instincts, and she has the talent to do anything she wants to do, and explore anything she wants to explore. History has shown her to usually be on the right side of things.
Who: Pete Yorn
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 25
Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham
Cost: $30 in advance, $35 day of show. $45 “Seats & Eats”
Info: MotorcoMusic.com or 919-901-0875