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GUY RAZ, host:

Some works of art take years of labor, frustration and even heartache. But for songwriter Pete Yorn, his latest album came to him instantly in a dream.

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Know What To Do")

Mr. PETE YORN (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) I don't want you coming here. No way. No way. Every time I am reminded…

RAZ: Pete Yorn dreamed of a series of male-female duets in the style of the recordings performed by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot in the late 1960s. For Pete Yorn, figuring out today's Brigitte Bardot was easy; he called up actress Scarlett Johansson

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Know What To Do")

Ms. SCARLETT JOHANSSON (Actress): (Singing) I don't want you coming here. No way. No way.

RAZ: Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson's new album is called "Break Up," and they join me from NPR West.

Hello.

Ms. JOHANSSON: Hello.

Mr. YORN: Hello.

RAZ: Pete, is that part of the story, right, that this really come to you in a dream?

Mr. YORN: Not so much a dream, but a time of not dreaming. I was having really bad insomnia and I was trying to pass out. I think I closed my eyes for about 30 seconds and went under. And when I came to, I just had this really strong impulse inside me when I woke up that I needed to make a duets record.

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Know What To Do")

(Singing) But when you're with me, darling, I don't believe in anyone else.

RAZ: Scarlett Johansson, what do you make of Pete Yorn comparing you to Brigitte Bardot?

Ms. JOHANSSON: Well, I think more than anything, really, I think the Serge and Brigitte comparison sort of - or the reference really comes from this sort of type of sound that Pete was trying to capture. And I think when I asked him, you know, what it was kind of that he was looking for, what he envisioned, he, you know, he mentioned Serge Brigitte and Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. So for me, I kind of saw it more as a sort of he said-she said duets as opposed to comparing me to Brigitte Bardot. But it's a nice compliment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Were you familiar with that record that they did?

Ms. JOHANSSON: Yes, I was. I knew the recording, so I was familiar with that style, definitely. Mm-hmm.

RAZ: Before we go much further, let's listen to one of those old Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot songs. This one is the famous "Bonnie & Clyde."

(Soundbite of "Bonnie & Clyde")

Mr. SERGE GAINSBOURG (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: Okay, now, not that this next song is an exact replica, but I want to play a track off your new record. And this one's called "Shampoo."

(Soundbite of song, "Shampoo")

Mr. YORN: (Singing) Another morning comes. Left another record on. Had a good night for all. Last thing I remember, things were getting better.

RAZ: Pete Yorn, what was it about the Serge Gainsbourg-Brigitte Bardot sessions that you were trying to capture on this album?

Mr. YORN: I wasn't setting out to, like, recreate their specific sound or their sexual chemistry, anything like that. It was just - they were kind of like a blueprint that kind of helped me wrap my head around the kind of duets record I wanted to make. And it was the kind of interplay between a male perspective and a female perspective, so they were a great example of that.

RAZ: How did you decide to approach Scarlett Johansson?

Mr. YORN: That's where the whole Brigitte thing comes in, because when I thought of that, that's what led me to Scarlett. Just - I guess she had a presence, and luckily, I'd known Scarlett for a long time. And I actually reached out to her via text message. I hadn't seen her in over a year and I had an old phone number of her in my phone. I just took a shot and saw if she was there, and luckily, she responded.

RAZ: How did you figure out the arrangements to these songs? Scarlett, did you just sort of show up in the studio and Pete sort of gave you the lyrics and said, let's just try this out?

Ms. JOHANSSON: It's funny because now having a perspective, I mean, we recorded these songs in early 2007, so Pete and I often go, why didn't you send me any of these recordings…

(Soundbite of laughter)

…before we started doing it?

RAZ: So he was really cold. I mean, that was - it was just totally cold.

Ms. JOHANSSON: Yeah, which is weird because Pete had, like, scratched vocals and, you know, he was already building all the tracks and everything, so it was strange. But I came in and just learned the songs from Pete. He'd sing them to me. We had an acoustic guitar, and then I'd kind of sing them back to him. And we sort of figured out which parts of our - I mean, we've never sung before together, so we had no idea what our voices sounded like together. So it was really just kind of figuring it out verse by verse, which was fun. It was a fun little experiment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Search Your Heart")

Ms. JOHANSSON: (Singing) Don't hate me for I live for you. Don't make me do things you won't do. Don't blame me for your trouble.

RAZ: Pete Yorn, how did you know that Scarlett Johansson could sing?

Mr. YORN: It was just going on instinct, really. I didn't know what her voice would be like. I figured that she could sing because she's very talented, and I figured most actors have to, you know, be pretty versatile. You know, coming up that, I think at least she would have sung in a school play or something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

So - but then, yeah. I started to worry about it a little bit, like, hmm, I hope our voices work well together. And then it was such a low pressure scene, you know, at the studio and, you know, we were just doing it on our own. Then I was like, well, if it didn't, you know, we'd go get lunch or just forget about it.

But, you know, luckily, she came in and we figured out what the dynamic between the two of our vocals, you know, would be. And it just kind of came together, you know, really naturally.

(Soundbite of song, "Search Your Heart")

Ms. JOHANSSON: (Singing) Don't hate me for your trouble.

RAZ: Scarlett, do you - in a strange way, are you at a kind of a disadvantage when you record a record, in that maybe some critics might sort of approach it differently because you're known as an actress?

Ms. JOHANSSON: Definitely. I think that that's to be expected and something that - I mean, I've been making movies for such a long time, I'm really used to being criticized. I think when you're in the entertainment industry, you have to kind of either not let criticism decide for you what it is that you, you know, want to do artistically, or you just don't do it.

And for me, I always want to put out music that I would buy, that I would listen to. Of course, it's great when people are into it, but, you know, and then obviously you expect that some people aren't going to be.

RAZ: And it must be a nice sort of change of pace for you, as well.

Ms. JOHANSSON: It definitely is. You know, I have a lot of friends that are - whether they're musicians that paint or directors that take photographs, I think when you are a creative person, it's nice to have many different outlets to express yourself.

RAZ: Scarlett Johansson, do you think that you will continue with both acting and music throughout the rest of your career?

Ms. JOHANSSON: Yes, I hope to. I have always loved to sing ever since I was a little girl. I actually started when I was about three, I decided I wanted to be in musical theater, and I started taking all kinds of vocal lessons and dance lessons, although those never panned out to be anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

But that kind of led me to, you know, auditioning for film. And I don't know that's it's in the cards for me to do a musical on Broadway, but a genre of film that I've always loved obviously is musicals. And, you know, I would love to be able to incorporate the two and do a musical film some time. And luckily, that genre seems to be having a sort of revival, which is very exciting for me and Hugh Jackman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And Ewan McGregor, probably. And, you know, so, you know, I never want my hands tied and feel like I have to be sort of pigeonholed into any particular format for the work that I do. I hope to be able to continue to do both music and film.

RAZ: Pete Yorn, any chance you'll take Scarlett Johansson on the road with you to tour the album?

Mr. YORN: I'll have her out any time she wants to come.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JOHANSSON: I don't know if I want to sleep in a bunk bed. That's the only problem that I'm having. If there's some kind of luxury…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YORN: You could have the back lounge.

Ms. JOHANSSON: All VW breadbox with a big waterbed in the back, I'm there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn. Their new album is called "Break Up." If you'd like to hear a few tracks from the record, go to our Web site, that's nprmusic.org.

Pete Yorn, Scarlett Johansson, thanks so much.

Mr. YORN: Thank you.

Ms. JOHANSSON: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Search Your Heart")

Ms. JOHANSSON: (Singing) When I met you, I didn't know what to do. I was tired, I was hungry. I fight. Now I'm away, I write home everyday and I see you on the TV at night.

You can see that life for us to talk about. You can leave whenever you want out. Whoa.

Mr. YORN: (Singing) You don't relate to me, no girl, you don't respect me, no girl. No girl. Oh, yeah.

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