Interview: Pete Yorn & Jackson Phillips of Day Wave

Photo by Daniel Field

It starts with a story. About three quarters of the way through working on his debut album Musicforthemorningafter, Pete Yorn and his producer R. Walt Vincent relocated from one studio in Van Nuys to Culver City. Afraid to lose any karmic energy harnessed in the space of the former, Pete took a plastic water bottle, squeezed it, sucked in air from the old studio and released it into the new space. “Now the magic is here,” he said. It was a McGyverian method for sustaining a feeling, and a reminder of the intangible, unteachable bits of the music-making process — the invisible stuff behind the sonic curtain.

Here, the indie rock fixture chats with fellow musician Jackson Phillips of the band Day Wave for Talkhouse Podcast, recorded live at Ace Hotel New York. The two collaborators swap notes on life before Pro Tools, the perilous freedom of playing without a setlist and meeting at a party in Malibu with Jamie Foxx, too.

You can find your music for the musing after — Pete and Jackson’s joint album Caretakers is out now.

Pete Yorn by Jim Wright

Pete Yorn:
This is Pete Yorn. I’m sitting here with Mr. Jackson Phillips of the legendary band Day Wave. Will you introduce yourself?

Jackson Phillips:
I’m Jackson Phillips.

PY:
And what’s your occupation?

JP:
Musician, producer, songwriter. I guess all those things.

PY:
Where’d you grow up?

JP:
I grew up in Mill Valley, California, which is just north of San Francisco, right across the Golden Gate Bridge.

PY:
You like basketball?

JP:
I like basketball. I didn’t love it as a kid because I wasn’t that good at it. I was better at baseball. For some reason I got into watching basketball.

PY:
And you’re a Golden State Warriors fan?

JP:
Yeah.

PY:
Yeah, they’re a good team. I’ll say, while Jackson and I were working on this record when the playoffs came around, it was always fun. He’d be very excited about the Warriors games. I heard something interesting about you, that you started off as a drummer. Is that true? 

JP:
Yeah. I started playing drums in fourth grade or something. I don’t even know how. I think I wanted to play an instrument and my parents just picked drums for me because I think it was less of a cliché than playing guitar. I kind of wish they would’ve given me a guitar, but they gave me drums. And then I kept playing throughout middle school. I got into my first band when I was in eighth grade, and then that’s when I got really into music. I think when I started, that’s when I got really into playing music and trying to be a good musician. I was always obsessed with listening to albums. But once I started playing in a band, I was like, Oh, wow, I need to get so good at this. But then in high school, I kept playing, started doing more jazz. And then I went to Berklee College of Music and I started playing piano and started veering away from the drums. I started getting into production and learning that whole thing. And then it wasn’t until a couple of years after that I picked up guitar. 

PY:
Wow. So it was very late.

JP:
Yeah, I was 25 when I bought my first guitar, or 24.

PY:
That’s wild.

JP:
Yeah.

I like to have a song 70 percent done, but then you leave 30 percent for that magic in the studio to happen.

PY:
I think as a kid, drums are a great introductory instrument because all you have to do is hit them to get a sound. Piano also, in that way where you’re gonna press a key, and you’re gonna get a sound. But guitars, you definitely have to develop some hand strength or be willing to put in some extra work there for sure. 

JP:
I think being able to play drums has a foundation, it kind of sets you up pretty well to play guitar or piano because they’re both really rhythmic. I mean, guitar for me was like, the rhythm stuff at that point was not difficult. It’s kind of hard to learn how to pick, but that doesn’t take too long. Being able to have a good sense of rhythm and good timing is such a crucial thing for any melodic or harmonic instrument also. But coming from having already learned piano, learning guitar, I already knew some theory, so I knew how to apply it to guitar. But I’d take a lot of shortcuts, like instead of learning bar chords in the normal way, I just started by playing in open tunings and then I figured out, Oh, I can play a one chord, two chord, three chord, four or five, six. You know, all the chords and the major scales. I could figure out cool voicings and how to play them really easily without doing a bar chord. So I still actually don’t know how to play normal bar chords. 

PY:
You’d always have weird tunings. Whenever I would go to Jackson’s house to record, I’d be like, “Oh, give me this guitar.” I got the song idea, and I would pick it up and strum it like it was supposed to be a normal tuning, and it would be wrong. It would just be weird tuning every time, and we’d have to sit there and tune it so that I could actually get a proper sound out of it for me. But I think that it’s fun to play with you. You know, either when we have the band with us or just even an acoustic, ‘cause you always do different voicings on the same chord than I do. And we’re not really overlapping, so it just fits together in a different kind of way. And so I think it sounds interesting that way. I grew up in Jersey. I started on drums too, and going back, Iggy Pop was a drummer first. There are a lot of artists that started behind the drums and it is a good foundation for sure. I never learned to read music. I know you have a little more theory under your belt and you could read that, but I was too hyperactive and, I don’t want to say lazy, it was just fun for me. And the whole learning how to read music seemed like work to me.

JP:
No, I was never into that either. I learned how to read drum music a tiny bit because I had to in my drum lessons. But really all I ever cared about was making something that sounded good to me. So I don’t actually know how to read music very well. 

PY:
But it’s cool, you could speak of the five chord or the three chord, and I still can’t figure out what that means. And the guys in my bands would look kind of like “Pete, like this.” And I’d be like, “I don’t know, just show me the chord.” I don’t know what number it is. 

JP:
I think it’s helpful to be able to talk about music in that way. But as far as being creative, I don’t even know if it’s helpful to know that sort of stuff because it takes away a lot of the mystery. I’m sure once you develop the ear for it, it’s all the same because you probably, when you’re writing a song, you know, like, Oh, I could go to the G chord, but that sound might be very classic to you or it might be just a movement of knowing what you’re gonna do. Like that. It should go here. Sometimes it can box you in. It can be like, well, maybe I should go to the two chord right here, like two minor or something. And then I’m just thinking about what I’m doing and it’s taking away from the magic, whereas if you’re able to not know what comes next, sometimes it’s just easier to find something that sounds new to you and fresh. 

PY:
Yeah. I remember justifying not learning how to read music like that. It would box me in or it would make me do things like everybody else does it. And I like that. You know, maybe I didn’t have the theory under my belt, but I just did things my own way. My mom was a piano teacher and she taught the kids in our neighborhood. When she was a teenager, she’d played at Carnegie Hall. She was really good. I remember after I learned guitar, I was like 13, 14. I’d be like, “Come on, Mom. It’s like jam something out, you know?” And if you didn’t have music in front of her, she couldn’t follow. I was like, dude, just play these chords. And she really couldn’t unless she had music.

JP:
I didn’t know your mom was a piano player.

PY:
I remember thinking that was so weird, because I always could just hear it to an extent. Like, if I heard a melody, I could just play that melody back, and just to be the other way where you’re kind of tied to the music, that opens up something else completely different, which is amazing. But I remember just being like, I don’t know, maybe that makes me more original that I can’t read stuff like that. And then after years went by, I remember just using that as the justification for never learning to read. 

JP:
I don’t think you need to know how to read. All the great artists who have come along will prove to you that you don’t. It’s more about an ear thing. So many artists who may grow up learning classical and they know how to read, they don’t know how to write a song, or they don’t hear it. They just had the correlation between the music on the paper and their fingers and what to do. But they don’t actually understand how to create it. It’s a weird thing. It’s a different skill. 

PY:
And then there are super wizards who know theory and can create music on this unbelievable level. These guys are putting notes on a piece of paper and then people go back and they play ‘em, and they erase a note, they change it in process. I remember being really blown away by people who can do that and have it also be great. Ultimately music for me is all about how it makes me feel. And so I was worried that the science of it would take away feeling. But when people know how to do the science and create the feeling, like real composers, it’s really special.

JP:
I guess it’s possible to have both, you know. What age did you start playing music?

PY:
My parents tried to give me piano lessons when I was like five, but I was way too hyperactive. And I remember sitting there with my mom’s friend who was trying to teach me. She wasn’t going to teach me.

JP:
Your mom wasn’t going to teach you.

PY:
I’d sit there and my leg would be just shaking. And I would sit there for a minute and, you know, I could play a melody back kind of quick. But the whole learning the notes and all that stuff, I just didn’t. I was a crazy little kid. I would run around. I’d just get up and run around. But then I remember in third grade, you can play violin in the elementary school, so I tried that. We rented the violin and it was just like, [screeching noise]. I was terrible. I also didn’t apply myself at all, you know? Once you got to the fourth grade, you could get into the brass instruments, so we rented a saxophone from the orchestra place and that as well. [Laughs.] I just never applied myself. I couldn’t get a sound out of it, really, other than a squeak. 

I had two older brothers, and my middle brother was six years older than me. There was a drum set in my basement and they would be playing. When I was seven, they were in like junior high and high school, my brothers, and they would have their friends come over into our basement in Jersey and they’d be playing like metal covers, or they’d have their burnout friends come over and they’d be wheeling, like, Marshall Stacks down to our basement and playing “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest, and metal covers, Iron Maiden stuff.


I would be, like, seven years old watching them downstairs like, Woah, this is pretty cool. And then they would leave and I’d be like, I can do that. I remember in my head thinking, let me get behind those drums. I would just start messing around, and then I remember my middle brother like, “Alright, here’s a beat. Just like, boom, bah, boom, boom, bah. Take your hand. Put on the high. Kick the drum. And here you go.” I just picked it up right away, and then that was it. I loved drums. I’ve played that for years. So I didn’t learn guitar til I was 13 or 14. I remember the summer before I learned guitar, they had a mandatory guitar class in my elementary school, in public school, and everyone had a classical guitar that the school had —

JP:
Like, the nylon string?

PY:
I didn’t apply myself at all. I got a D in it. I remember I would just play bass lines. I’d play “Blister in the Sun,” like Violent Femmes basslines, or “Smoke on the Water.” But when it came down to learning the first position chords, which is all they were really teaching, and reading the music, I just didn’t do it. So I barely got by. But then that summer, I was away at some summer camp in upstate New York in the Catskills, and there were all these British counselors who were there. I guess they would come and they’d work as counselors for the first month of the summer, and then they would go and travel America. I remember these guys were all into The Smiths and The Cure, and one guy had a guitar and he started playing these Smiths songs. I was just like, “Whoa, what’s this?!”

JP:
And then you finally heard something that caught your ear, and at an emotional level.

PY:
Yes, exactly.

JP:
More than just a technical level.

“You have to want to learn your favorite song or something, and it has to be something that draws you to it.”

PY:
It changed everything. They showed me some chords; so in the spring, I got a D in the class, and then I went to summer camp and kind of learned all the chords. Then in the fall, if I would’ve had the class I would’ve gotten an A, cause I would have known all the chords. It’s just funny how that worked out. 

JP:
It’s really hard with music to try and learn it from the point where there’s no emotional connection to anything. You have to want to learn your favorite song or something, and it has to be something that draws you to it. A guitar classroom, or a piano class, there’s just nothing exciting about that. It’s just all technical. You’re just like, What’s the point of this?

PY:
I think it was an age thing, too. When I was a little kid, I was into this metal my brothers were crankin’. I loved it and I would play drums to Maiden and Priest. That was my thing. We lived down the sticks and we got cable pretty late. We had just gotten MTV, and I would sit watching, praying for a Judas Priest video to come on — it was all I could care about. I love those bands, but as soon as I became, like, 13 and I heard, The Smiths or The Cure, that’s what made me want to really pay attention to guitars because I’d like that kind of singing about stuff that it’s making me think about things, or feel a certain way, and want to dress a certain way. The whole thing kind of got me. And so I remember the shift happened where like, OK, drums are fun, but I can’t really write songs on drums. I need something melodic. So the guitar, as soon as I was able to learn some chords, I just started writing songs. I wasn’t like, Oh, I want to write songs. It just happened right away.

JP:
How old were you when you wrote your first?

PY:
I was 12 or 13.

JP:
Can you remember that song?

PY:
The first song I wrote was called “The One.” Ironically it’s called “The One.” I remember years later thinking that it was lame, because I rhyme “fire” and “desire.” But then there’s a lot of songs that did that, actually. But I remember I wanted to write a song that sounded like The Cure. The lyrics were, “She was the princess of the underworld. Her lips were red like fire. She told me once or so I thought that love was her desire.” [Laughs.] It had a cool melody and a cool beat. You know, it was my first song I ever wrote, and it’s actually not horrible if I went back to it today. Being able to write as an outlet was a nice thing as a kid, and I never thought I’d do it as a career. It was always just for fun. 

JP:
So you kept playing in high school and writing songs and had a band or something?

PY:
Yeah, I think freshman year I was a drummer in a band called Cheese, and it was these two other kids, Eric and Christian. One played guitar, one played bass. They got me into The Replacements pretty early. I remember they were really ahead of their time. I feel like they were kind of like proto, almost like grunge, but not Nirvana grunge. They were kind of ahead of the curve of that. They were interesting guys. I haven’t seen them in years. I ran into Eric — whose nickname was DuPage Doobie — in Portland. He was a bike messenger and I was crossing the street — this was maybe 10 years ago. He was like “Pete!” and I was like, “Oh, my god.” I hadn’t seen him since high school. It was really weird. So that was cool to see him. But yeah, that was my first band, we played in the high school gymnasium. Then we played in a talent show. But then it wasn’t until junior year where I finally sang in front of a band. I got out from behind the drums. So I used to play drums and sing.

JP:
That’s funny.

PY:
And then some other band heard me sing and they were like, “Yo, Pete, will you sing “Rockin’ in the Free World” with us?” The Neil Young song. And I’m like, “Yeah, sure, why not?” So I ended up playing guitar and singing on that. They were a metal band, it was a heavy version, and they were called Backgammon For Troubled Youth. And I didn’t even know how to play backgammon then, but it’s one of my favorite games now. We ended up winning the talent show, I remember thinking the singing thing’s pretty cool, but it wasn’t still enough for a career. I was gonna go to college.

JP:
So you went to college?

PY:
I went to college and I was supposed to be a tax lawyer.

JP:
Did you graduate?

PY:
Yeah, I graduated. It was important. I knew for my family, it was. I didn’t want to waste my dad’s money. Two years in I knew like, I think I want to do music, but I’d better finish school because I knew it was important for them. My grandfather would always say, “You have to have something to fall back on.” You know, to just go full music, it was scary. 

JP:
You knew you wanted to do that when you were in college.

PY:
By junior year, I knew that I wanted to take a shot at music.

JP:
Did you have a band or were you just writing songs alone?

PY:
I was writing a lot of songs, I was smoking a lot of weed. It was very cold in Syracuse, New York. I smoked a lot of weed and stayed inside mostly. I remember I was writing, like, four songs a day sometimes, just a crazy flurry of songs. I didn’t really play. I was the drummer in a band there, and I still loved drums and I think I could hide behind the drums in a way. And so actually this guy, Joe Kennedy, who was in my touring band for years, Joey K — I found him through a want ad at the student center. There was this “drummer needed” thing with the phone numbers, you know, all feathered out in the bottom of a piece of paper. It said, “If you’re into The Who and The Posies and Dinosaur Jr., call this number.” I was like, “That sounds fun!” So I called, and my buddies went with me, two of my friends who I’m still pretty close with, to this weird house off campus. I walk in and Joey K was there, and they tried me out, we played like a couple songs. And he’s, within two songs, like, “Yeah, you’re in, that’s it.”

JP:
Nice.

PY:
We played out a few times. The band was called Andy Said 15 as a reference to Andy Warhol, [who] said everyone has 15 minutes of fame. But then years later, Joey K graduated. Then as I was about to maybe put out my first record, he showed up at one of my shows at Largo. It wasn’t, like, Facebook — you lost touch with people, you know? And he showed up after I hadn’t seen him for maybe four years, and he’s like, “Pete, Joey K, what are you doing?” I was like, “Oh, my god.” And then I pulled him into the band because he’s such a sick musician. He was our secret weapon player. 

JP:
So how did you get from college to the point where you are signed and doing your first album? 

PY:
I graduated in 96 and I moved out right after that. I graduated in April, moved out to California in May. I knew I was gonna try and do music. I was supposed to go to law school, but I knew that I’m not going to law school. But if I went to law school, it would take three years, then I have to pass the bar before I could become a lawyer for real. So I was like, OK, I’ll give myself three years to try and get a record deal. And of course, back then getting a record deal was everything. 

JP:
That was a big deal.

PY:
So I was playing around. My brother was a drummer. My band, my other friend from college, had randomly drove out and he was going to go to law school. And then I called him and he’s like, “I’ll come play bass with you.”

JP:
So you moved to LA?

JS:
Yeah, I moved to LA and we were playing around a little bit and nothing was happening. There was some interest and I was just kind of improving.

JP:
So there’s some sort of notion that if you went to LA, you’d get signed up. 

PY:
Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely that element of it. There was a lot going on in LA. I’d been visiting LA since I was in college. My two older brothers had moved out there and we were best friends. There was no way I wasn’t moving to where my brothers were. If they lived in Dover, Delaware, I would’ve moved to Dover, Delaware.

JP:
And so this is, like, 97 or 98?

PY:
96, 97, 98. I got signed in 99. I’m just playing around and you know, we had some interest, but then we actually got offered a deal. But it was a weird deal. I was like “Nah, I’m not doing that.” And then at some point I remember in late 98 I was like, I’m sick of playing now. I just want to try to make this crazy record. And that’s when I met Walt Vincent who I made Musicforthemorningafter with.

JP:
Did you make the record before getting signed or you started it?

PY:
We started it. We were in the middle of recording the songs, is when I officially got signed.

JP:
Because they heard the songs?

PY:
Yeah, they heard some of the demos, which ended up being the versions on the record. Then I played for them as well.

JP:
You did the classic thing.

“When you work that way, I feel like you set yourself up for little happy accidents.”

PY:
I went in with an acoustic guitar in the office.

JP:
It’s something that you see in a movie.

PY:
Yeah, it was. Well, the first time I went and played for Donny Ienner in New York City. It was totally like, “Alright, kid, what do you got?” One of those moments.

JP:
Yeah, “Show me what you got!”

PY:
And I’m like Oh my… You know? Your life comes down to, like, one or two moments. This might be one of those moments. I remember I played him “Just Another Girl” and I played “Murray” and he went “Pretty good.” He’s like, “Alright, we’ll be in touch.” And that was it. We left and I was like, Alright. I don’t know what I expected that day, if anything would happen, but I just kind of kept my head down, kept working and then didn’t hear nothing. Then a few months later, we get a call that Donny was sending this guy Will Botwin [to] LA. He was another A&R guy, and he wanted to see me.

JP:
Come to the show?

PY:
He was gonna come to my house, actually, and just kind of meet me and see if I had anything else. I always tell this story onstage. But luckily, literally a day or two before, this producer guy who I knew lived around the corner from me, he showed me that weird chord in “Life On A Chain.” And he said, “Pete, I want you to go home and write a song with this chord on it.” And so I said, “Alright, I’ll try.” And I’m not thinking much of it, and I literally did. And then I met with that guy Will the next day and he’s like, “You got anything new?” And I was like, well, I wrote this song just now and I played him “Life On A Chain.” And right when I finished the song, he said, “Let’s do something.” “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Let’s make a record.” And that’s when I got signed. And I remember, I was like, “Whaat?!”

JP:
It just happened like that?

PY:
It gives me chills now. It really did. This was after a few years.

JP:
This guy was from Columbia?

PY:
Yeah.

JP:
And the original guy you met in New York was also from Columbia.

PY:
Yeah, he was like the boss man. So he pretty much sent out a head A&R something to like go make… “I kind of want to sign this guy, but make sure it’s actually good.” And then he was like, “Alright, let’s do it.” Yeah. I feel like that’s part of what was going on and I feel like he probably told Will, “If you like him you can do it.” I had friends at the time get these crazy deals as in like —

JP:
A lot of money.

PY:
— I mean, nothing would happen. Like, to get dropped after the first record. I remember mine was a conservative deal. They weren’t really sure what to do with the record, I remember. But it was really exciting because Columbia was like, you know — Bruce was on that label, Leonard Cohen was on that label, Dylan, Neil Diamond. I was like, wow, this is a big thing!

JP:
I assume you kept making the record after you got signed? It was like halfway through. Was there a moment where you made like a song where you’re like, “Holy shit, this song is really good!” or something, like “Strange Condition?” Or did you not think much of any of that?

PY:
I remember I loved the recording of “Just Another.” And “On Your Side.” I remember really being like it was like this scene mysterious to me. I was like, wow, I can’t believe we got this sound and this feeling. And the way that me and Walt were recording was very much like the way you and I were recording. Just kind of creating in the moment.

JP:
Not overthinking it too much.

PY:
Not overthinking, and just letting each instrument that we lay down take us to the next one. Wouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves. I’ll be like, “OK. We just laid that bass and that bass sounds different than I thought it would sound. But you know that’s making me think of the Beach Boys here, which makes me want to play this part then.” Stuff like that. That’s my favorite way to work. And when you work that way, I feel like you set yourself up for little happy accidents, like I always say, I like to have a song 70 percent done, but then you leave 30 percent for that magic in the studio to happen. And then other times when you’re just creating while you’re working, there’s a potential for a lot of that magic to happen. And I think that’s an important thing that sometimes studio environments can get too tight and too sterile and too planned. That’s not what music’s about for me. 

JP:
Yeah. It goes back to that whole thing of taking music lessons. It’s kind of a similar thing where if there’s nothing that is connecting you to it, you’re not going to apply yourself. And I feel like that could happen in a studio where it all feels sterile and you’re not quite connecting because you might not have full control over everything like in a home studio. Well, I mean, I guess most studios now are like home studios, but just having more control and being able to get things to a point where you’re connecting emotionally with it or able to actually get what you’re hearing in your head out there. I feel like in a big studio, that’s kind of difficult to do because you have a lot of gear in the way. Especially as a musician if you’re not like one of these wizards, like big studio producer engineers, you’re not going to know how anything works. And in order to get what you want to be recorded, there’s all this stuff in the way and the gatekeepers are these engineers and producers. If you’re not on the same page with them, forget about it. So I think it’s got to really align. 

PY:
Yeah. I mean, back in the day it would be like, alright, this engineer worked on this record that I love and I know, you know, and this guy mixed this. And so there’s that sensibility that I feel like they can help bring to it. I mean, I’m going back almost 20 years. I remember when a friend of mine was like, “Yeah, I got this thing, Pro Tools.” And I’d just been recording in Cherokee Studios on Fairfax, the Robb Brothers’ studio. And there was tape and it was all we knew. I remember it sounded so nerdy to me. Pro Tools? You know, “What’s that?” 

JP:
So your first album was not on Pro Tools?

PY:
First album was on Digital Performer.

JP:
I had Digital Performer at Berklee. It was like one of the first DAWs that they taught. 

PY:
Motu.

JP:
Yeah. Motu Digital. It just seemed so outdated. I was like, “Who uses this?” And the teachers there were like, “No, I promise you, this is the industry standard.” 

PY:
The midi interface was tricky too.

JP:
It was terrible.

PY:
And you need the PC external time clock. All that. 

JP:
Yeah, exactly. It was a nightmare.

PY:
Yeah, it was. It was weird. We bounced everything to tape I remember.

JP:
You made it work.

PY:
Brad Wood was working with us at that point. Who’s a great producer. And he’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna bounce all the tape at the Record Plant. And then we’re gonna mix it there.” So it was this kind of balance of like making it in a garage on Digital Performer and then dumping it to something.

JP:
So you did do that. You ran it through tape and stuff.

PY:
We did do that. I think the idea was that it would sound maybe a little better, a little fatter, but I don’t know if it did. There’s always Brad’s rough mixes that sounded amazing, too. But then he did some great mixes in the studio as well. It was cool, a fun process that made us feel like these kids who were on Columbia Records, who made this record in a garage, and no one knew who Walt was. I think it made the label feel better that we were going to a real studio. Maybe it felt like it was an extra little process for us. I don’t know.

JP:
At what point did you realize that the album was doing well?

PY:
I feel like we turned a record in, and it sat for a while before it came out. I think it was done about a year before it came out, March 27, 2001. And it wasn’t till they started to send it out to some press and everyone just seemed to really respond to it. And I remember that was what kind of got them really excited. I remember like, “Oh, yeah, people liked this record Pete,” you know, and got them excited and then they gave it a pretty good push. I feel like it was one of the last old school record pushes for new artists that you get. It was right before Napster and all that stuff really blew up. It was a cool time. We put it out in March of 2001 and had a really good run. I toured for 18 months straight on it. And in the middle of it 9/11 happened, and we were on tour for that. That was weird, because we had to just keep touring through it, and that was just a weird time. You know, I’m always scared, and we were flying so much. I remember I started getting a lot of anxiety because every flight I was on, I was thinking like, “What’s going to happen? Is something going to go down?” It was definitely a weird time. It was good music to have at that moment, though, I feel like. But let’s bring it back. I know we haven’t touched upon this, but do you want to talk a little bit about how we met?

Photo by Daniel Field

JP:
So my manager brought me to a birthday party.  

PY:
Britton?

JP:
Yeah, Britton. He brought me to a birthday party for the head of the management company, Ian. And it was at Ian’s house in Malibu, really cool. And there were so many artists there, all the bands from the roster, you know, everywhere.

PY:
It was Ian’s 50th. That was a big deal.

JP:
Yeah. Everyone was there. And I remember being like That’s Jack White over there. It was cool. At some point in the night, we saw you across the yard and we were both like, “Oh, is that Pete Yorn?” ‘cause at some point both of us had been a fan of your music. I think we walked over and you were like, “Hey, Day Wave, I know you.” And then I was like, “Oh, woah, you know my band. That’s crazy.” And we just got to talking. I don’t even really remember if we talked about making music or anything, but I was saying, “Oh, I love your song ‘On Your Side.'”

PY:
It was late. It was the latter part of the night, before things got really blurry. I had come with my wife Beth, and that was one of our first date nights out since we had had the baby. I remember she was like, “Alright, I’m going to get back to relieve the babysitter, but you stay.” So I’m like, “Alright, I’ll stay.” And then I remember, everyone started celebrating the birthday and Jamie Foxx was I think pulling shots out.

JP:
It was really funny.

PY:
But yeah, when I met you, it was just weird because I had been seeing you around on my Instagram on the Harvest Records site and before that, I follow Andy from Riot on Twitter, and he tweeted something about Hazel English who you also produce. So I was like, wow, this is cool. So all this stuff came together, and then you were in front of me and it was so cool to me. Yeah I don’t know, maybe Britton said “You guys should do something together in the studio at some point.” 

JP:
Yeah. It might have been brought up, but it wasn’t for another couple of months. I think it was a couple months later you came over to my house where I lived at the time at Echo Park and we just talked and listened to music. I showed you some of the music that I had done. I remember I was telling you that I wasn’t really that happy with how my album went with Harvest because I felt like I liked my demos more. But it was that type of thing where I think they really wanted to push to alternative radio. So it took the music into this other place, and I think we talked about that. And you had shared some similar experiences where you’re like, “Oh, yeah, this happened. When you work with other people, sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way you want,” or something. I feel like you gave me some wisdom, from being like, “Oh, I’ve been through that, it happens.” 

PY:
Well it could be so frustrating. Every once in a while there’ll be a demo version of a song that will come on my shuffle, and it’s not the version that made it onto a record. I’ll get the demo and it’ll just cut right through me and I’m like, agh, why did I keep going? And then I listen to the version on the record. I’m like, it’s good, it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. But sometimes it’s just an idea in our heads that didn’t get the chance that it could have, or there’s an innocence to it. Sometimes those demo versions sound so good. I got really worked up about it a few weeks ago on this one song, a song I have called “Close.” There’s a demo of it that came on I hadn’t heard in years. I was like, Oh, what was I thinking? And then the version on the record on Back & Forth — I went back and listened. It’s good. It’s good, it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. But it’s something about that original. Just feels like a compromise or something.

JP:
Yeah. Well, at least for me, having that experience with my album where I started off producing everything, doing everything myself, mixing it myself, mastering it myself — it wasn’t until I gave away all of that to somebody else to help produce and mix it, I realized it just wasn’t going to end up how I wanted it to because I had the vision. I’d done it before with my EPs and stuff. So to give that away and then to trust the label and be like, Well, it’s gonna change it a little bit, but maybe it’s for the better and it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do because they know what they’re doing. And then when you realize they don’t know what they’re doing and you just kind of gave away your creativity, and then you put this thing out that isn’t really what you wanted, it’s kind of a tough pill to swallow. 

PY:
Yeah, it could be frustrating. But when you look back, sometimes you could be harder on yourself. Like it’s good to have an open mind and try things, and you try things and they work out the way you want sometimes, you know the result maybe isn’t what you wanted. There have been times where I’ve been like, Man, you should have just been stronger and put your foot down. But then what if I really look at it and just see it for what it was. In some ways it took a lot of courage to not be such a control freak and try some other things. So, you know, you look at it through a distorted lens often. Ultimately, I think it all leads you to where you’re going anyway. It might not be a direct line, but you try things and you pick up some of them from working with somebody else. But yeah, I feel like for you. You’re so lucky that you’re able to play, sing, write, engineer and mix everything yourself. I mean, you’re kind of a one stop shop for yourself if you want to do that, and that’s a thing to be able to do. 

JP:
I feel like I get in my own way sometimes. I convince myself that what I’m doing is not good or something. Sometimes I’m in the zone where I like what I’m doing. But I mean, recently I feel like I’m always kind of not into what I’m doing.

PY:
I’ve heard so many cool songs from you that you’ve been working on when you just play me some of them and I’d be like, “This is awesome,” and you’d be like “Yeah, I don’t know,” and then you would just bury it. I don’t know what you do with that stuff. 

JP:
Yeah, [it] probably goes away forever.

PY:
So much cool stuff.

JP:
I feel like that’s kind of what we spoke about that first time you came over. And that’s part of where it was just refreshing to be working on an album with somebody else. And we started making music the next time you came over. And then each song would just flow pretty quick. There was no overthinking it or anything. It was just like make a song in a day and then come over the next week. 

PY:
I feel like the timing of it was good because you had that experience that we spoke about. And I was familiar with that experience in different ways. And I feel like part of the way that we started working together was a reaction to that. It was like, “We’re taking this back or getting back into a little bedroom recording and we’re gonna just make music that we love without any expectation.” No one’s asking for this music. No one’s the label, like financing this right now. We got to do it a certain way, getting together and just exploring music. And that was what was so great about it. 

JP:
Exactly. 

PY:
[It’s] why I like to make music.

JP:
There’s no pressure or anything. It’s not the type of thing where you feel like you’re on the dime with some record label, or making songs because you want to make a cool song. I feel like that always turns out the best.

PY:
You know, there’s some people who like to work and they like to create chaos and they think that makes for a better working environment. I’ve never had a chaotic session or a painful type session that’s ever turned out anything interesting at all. It’s always just a complete waste as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been with people who want to take like six hours to get the drum tones up and all that. I like to just move quick. I’m like, “Dude, we got to go.”

JP:
Oh, totally. If you’re focusing on one thing for too long, it’s just not going to work out. You got to kind of be moving and even if you try something for, let’s say, 30 minutes, just trying to get some part in, it’s not happening. It’s like just move on.

PY:
Go on to something else. Play something else and then come back.

JP:
As soon as it starts to feel stale, it’s when you’re gonna lose that magic. Because it’s got to flow organically.

PY:
So let’s see: we met in Malibu at the birthday party, three months later or so I come to your house. We decide to go for an EP and try and record like five songs. But then what happened was we started meeting up, like, maybe once a week or something.

JP:
It was like once a week. And then eventually we had 10 songs after a few months went by, and we just had a song each time that we were kind of excited about and we didn’t even think too hard about it. It was just like each time there was a new song and it was done.

PY:
The spirit of that was one of the greatest things about it. We would get a new song pretty much every day. And after a few I was like, when I come back to the studio — in the back of my head in the car — well, what if we don’t get one today? You know, is it gonna happen again? And then there’d be times right before we break to get some food, I’m thinking, I don’t think it’s gonna happen today. And then out of nowhere, by the afternoon, it would just like, poof. It would just somehow come. I remember just being like, I can’t believe it, you know? And some are obviously more meaningful than others, but I do feel like there was a consistency there. At least for what I’m trying to do, that kept happening. 

JP:
You never know what’s going to happen. That’s the thing. It’s such a mystery. You never know which song is gonna come together in a certain way. 

PY:
That’s what I love. It’s weird because I see a parallel there. I’ve been touring for the last four years, pretty much solo acoustic. And my only rule is no setlist. Cause for me, growing up, music was just like — it’s cliche, but it was just freedom, and it was fun and that was all. If it ever creeps to this place where it isn’t fun anymore and it feels like a trap, you gotta mix it up. 

JP:
Yeah, you gotta take a break at that point or something.

PY:
So I feel like in a weird way, having no plan every time we’d come in was almost the equivalent of no setlist. You know, we just kept creating something new every time. So we’re here to talk mainly about this record Caretakers, which came out on August 9 on Shelly Records, which is my first fully independent release. But this is really the first installment of a lot more music that Jackson and I made together that we’ll probably continue releasing. 

JP:
Yeah. It’ll be fun to make some more. It’s been a couple months since we got to make music, but the last song we made actually is on Caretakers.

PY:
Yeah. The last one that we did is called “A Fire in the Sun” and that jumped some other songs that we had done prior and just seemed really interesting to us. I remember the synths that you laid down on the chorus. I think I was watching Stranger Things at the time and just gave this heavy Stranger Things vibe. And lyrically, it was resonating with me. And so it made it onto the record. About three quarters of the way through when we were recording, Jackson got a house and he moved. And so there was this new studio space to go into. I remember the same thing happened when I was making Musicforthemorningafter, we were in this little garage in Van Nuys. And then Walt moved to Culver City. And I remember thinking, “What if we lose the vibe? We’re gonna go to a new place.” And I took a plastic bottle of water and drank it and I squeezed it and I sucked the air from the old studio into it. And I closed the cap. And then we went to Culver City and I remember I released the air into the studio.

JP:
And you were like, “Now the magic is here!”

PY:
And then the first two songs we recorded were “On Your Side” and “Sleep Better” in that room in the new studio.

JP:
Really? Wow.

PY:
So I was like, “I think we still got it.” And so it was okay. I feel like when we moved to the new studio at your new house, you had just got that new piano, so instantly there were these new songs that aren’t on this record that have this beautiful piano aesthetic that you created. We took it a different way. And I went and learned something cool just moving into the new room. 

JP:
I’ve definitely been there where I kind of tricked myself into thinking that a certain studio space or something is the key. And then when I’m moving to another space, I’m like, “Oh, no, we’re gonna lose the vibe.” Like, I know what you’re saying. But, you know, it’s probably not that simple. I think it’s more of a mindset.

PY:
A lot of it is probably getting in your own head. And so if you believe that, then you could bring that to fruition. But if you don’t believe that, you could keep going.

JP:
But yeah, I think “Fire in the Sun” is the only song on the album that we did in my new house. And that’s one of my favorites, that happened so quickly. I just kind of played some instruments and then you sang in like one take. The vocal only took like two minutes ‘cause you just sing it all at once. 

PY:
Yeah. The music was hitting me so hard, it just came right out. So that was cool. So, you know, I don’t want to take up too much more of anybody’s time, and I would like to thank Talkhouse for letting us be a part of their community. And if you haven’t heard Day Wave, Jackson’s band, please check them out. And if you haven’t heard this guy, Pete Yorn, definitely check him out as well. Also, listen to plenty of Guided by Voices and (Sandy) Alex G. and whatever else you might want to be interested in listening to. Enjoy music. And Jackson, you have anything to add to this discussion?

JP:
No, I think we’ve kind of covered it. Let’s make sure you listen to Caretakers, out now.

PY:
Oh, that’d be good. Yeah. Caretakers is out now. Shelly Records, available everywhere on the streaming services and there’s some rare vinyl to be had somewhere, you could find at peteyorn.com and then some maybe local record shops around your town. And hopefully we’ll come to a city not too far from you. Jackson’s band Day Wave has been kind enough to help me play some live shows lately. And so maybe we’re going to do a little more of that where we’ll join forces and play some shows together. So looking forward to that. Hope to see you out there. And thanks for listening.