But his career took a surprising turn with Break Up (2009), a collection of cutesy duets with superstar actor Scarlett Johansson — who turns out to be good at singing too. (Now would be an appropriate time to eat your heart out.) Last year, the duo revisited its musical partnership and released a new EP, Apart, a high-production affair that puts Johansson and Yorn's fun chemistry on full display
Yorn tells New Times it's unlikely the two will ever tour together. "We love recording when we're able to and we love singing the songs, but I never really saw us as a touring act," he says. "We're more of a studio act, for sure. It might be logistically tricky, but I would never say never."
Before their collaboration, most people — including Yorn — didn't know Johansson could sing. But like millions of moviegoers, he was drawn to her persona.
"She's just a character," he says. "I was thinking of that archetype of the songwriter with the beautiful movie star who carries herself in a cool way. Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot definitely came to mind... She's just a cool girl. If we were in school together, it'd be like, 'You should sing for our band.'"
Yorn will play solo on his upcoming acoustic tour, which includes a stop at Culture Room this Friday. He says he pretty much wings it when he plays alone, using the audience's energy to inform his next move, and also incorporates elements of storytelling.
"It's just me and a guitar," he says. "I've been doing that mixed in with the band shows for four or five years now. It's interesting to get out there and present everything myself in a very freeform kind of way. I write a lot of my songs on guitar, so it's good to strip it back and show how things were born, share stories about the creation of songs."
He finds connecting with audiences more automatic when he plays by himself because he's not wearing in-ear monitors and it's not nearly as loud onstage. "When it's just me up there and it's not crazy loud — I can hear everything and talk to people — it just feels more natural," he says. "The walls aren't there... It teaches me a lot about myself and what I'm capable of, and it reminds me that the songs mean something to people."
And not just to the fans: The songs mean a lot to him personally, whether he's playing solo, with a band, or with the highest-paid actress in the world. "I'm pretty insular," he says. "I don't really go out much. I just kind of hang at home with my family, and I could easily be like a cave guy. Music kind of forces me to get out there, and it opens me up to what life is about. In a weird way, it's life-affirming. It's good for me to get the hell out there and do this."
Pete Yorn. 8 p.m. Friday, January 25, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net. Tickets cost $32.50.