Hollywood honey Scarlett Johansson and songwriter Pete Yorn open up about Break Up, their new album of smoky, love-gone-wrong songs
Author Jenny Eliscu
The idea of Recording an album of duets with Scarlett Johansson came to Pete Yorn like a bolt of lightning. It happened during an afternoon nap and started with crooner Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. “The image I had in my head of Bardot brought Scarlett to mind,” he says. This was back in the spring of 2006, and Yorn didn’t know that Johansson was already working on her own album—Anywhere I Lay My Head, a collection of Tom Waits covers.
For the actress, it sounded like a fine idea. “He said, ‘Hey, I had this crazy dream that we made an album. Do you want to record one with me?’” she recalls. “And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” Yorn’s dream is realized with Break Up, a graceful collection of nine winsome, woozy retro-pop duets that muse on variations of romantic disentanglement. The ethereal “Someday” is dirgelike and bittersweet, with a haunting banjo refrain. “Relator” uses a honky-tonk guitar line and folksy verse-trading, evoking Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra at their contentious best with its sour-grapes chorus: “You don’t relate to me, little girl.”
“We wanted to capture the unspoken conversation between two people when they break up—the frustration you feel when you know the relationship’s not going anywhere, but you can’t let go,” says Johansson, who last year married hunky actor Ryan Reynolds. “We are really speaking to each other through the songs.”
ScarJo brings the same authentic cool to her singing as she does to her film roles. At times, her aloof delivery echoes Nico, the doomed chanteuse of the Velvet Underground. Break Up is an ideal showcase for Johansson’s voice—a smoky rasp she’s had since she was a girl. “I wanted to be a Broadway kid, so I used to sing a lot of Gershwin,” she says.
“I was listening to our album the other day for the first time in a while,” says Yorn, “and I remember thinking, ‘Did we put an old-timey effect on her voice later?’ But that’s just the way she sounds naturally, which is very bizarre.”
“Even as a kid, I had a deep voice,” Johansson says. “Everyone would ask me if I had a cold, and I’d say, ‘No, I just sound like this.’ I wasn’t able to sing anything from Annie, but I could belt out a good Ethel Merman.”
Jenny Eliscu is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.
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