srijeda, 17. listopada 2012.

Jason Lytle - Dept. of Disappearance

Legendarni Grandaddy najavljuju koncertno okupljanje a Jason Lytle, vlasnik tog neusporedivoga glasa, objavio je novi album. Ništa bitno novo, ali sve što je grandedično uvijek izaziva grandiozne intimno-filmične asocijacije.

The American state of Montana: a.k.a. Big Sky Country, a.k.a. The Treasure State, a.k.a. The Last Best Place, bearing the state motto of “Oro y Plata” (Gold and Silver). The state of juxtapositions: open, small-town, welcoming attitudes and active cultural xenophobia, a Democratic governor and a Republican lieutenant governor, the infamous “Chinook” wind that can bring below-freezing temperatures to 50 or 60 degrees. My birth state and the third least population-dense is an infamous place to hide the fuck out; Richard Brautigan, Michael Keyton, Margot Kidder, Peter Fonda, Huey Lewis, Ted Kazynski, and Elizabeth Clare Prophet have all found Montana as a place of hiding, either literally (in the case of Ted Kazynski) or generally (as in the indifference to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s presence ). Despite family and familiar connections, the state’s relative remoteness is what I remember it for the most.
So of what surprise is it that Jason Lytle would dissolve his former group Grandaddy, leave his hometown of Modesto, CA, flee to Montana, and title is his second solo album Dept. of Disappearance? For a former Montanan who’s seen the allure of seclusion in action, very little surprise.
Excluding this whole Montana thing, followers of Lytle’s music are probably well-versed in his bleakness, singularity, and desire for separation. However, Dept. of Disappearance is incredibly dark, even in comparison to Grandaddy’s pastorally unhappy The Sophtware Slump. It’s an album that’s so bleak that it draws comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, albeit with much less blood and violence. If there is any hope to be found in Dept. of Disappearance, it’s up to the listener or participator to bring the hope, as what Lytle gives provides none. Don’t take the album’s single “Get Up and Go” as positive. In fact, don’t even listen to it outside of the album, as it will lose all context. When Lytle sings, “Get up and go you can do it/ Everything’s gonna be alright,” he’s trying to offer an almost empty packet of faith that occurs midway through the album’s hopeless journey. Followed by “Last Problem of the Alps,” which recalls a methodical, lonely, and eternal existence in isolation, whatever’s left over from “Get Up and Go” is absolutely gone. Note the presence of cold, canyon-like wind in the album (in “Last Problem of the Alps,” “Somewhere There’s a Someone”), follow it straight to “Face down in the desert floor” in “Your Final Setting Sun,” and you’re left in a truly bucolic (a word I hated in recent use, but for someone who grew up with dead-landscape Montana winters, a word I actively mean) space where warm synthetics are the only comforts to the physically and emotionally cold surroundings.
“Gimme Click Gimme Grid” finishes out this emotional exhaustion, yearning for simplicity with the repeated expression of “If I claim that I did anything/ I’ll claim that’s what I did/ Gimme click/ Gimme grid,” contrasted against the complex arrangement between synthesizers, programmed and played drums, and what could be constituted as multiple suites between each song. Beyond Lytle’s ability to balance simplicity and complexity, it’s amazing how well he’s able to express that feeling between justification and insecurity in self-imposed exile. Through expressions that would be awkward on paper, feelings uncompounded by abstraction, Lytle reaches the base of internal conflict through the most direct route possible.
I am personally surprised by this album for a few reasons — one, that Lytle makes a sort of orchestrated perfection feel so human. My normal taste and aesthetic leans toward accidents, the imperfect and impure, but Dept. of Disappearance’s careful attention seems like the product of a focused isolationist, the moment where lost contact means a heightened sense of detail. I’m also surprised by how well he seems to capture, what feels to me, the state of Montana, behind in trends and technologies, surrounded by constantly familiar people while feeling despairingly alone, as strangers seem to create the space between possibility of new contact and that feeling of “everyone here knows everybody.” I’ve heard it said that some of the best writing about New York City has come from outsiders to the city, and in Lytle’s case, I feel that about Montana. Any insider would have too much of the constant similarity of their surroundings to see it for anything else. As I grew up there, I heard exclusive rants against Californians from my parents, family, pretty much everybody (which made me want to live in California as a kid). But I haven’t heard, read, or seen anything that portrays or recalls the state as beautifully as Dept. of Disappearance. (A River Runs Through It be damned, with all respect to Norman Maclean, who was a great writer.)
I know the state is growing, as is the planet, in population, but may no great catastrophic climate event change Montana into a tropical paradise. I’d hate for the US to lose one of its best isolationist states. I’d hate to lose the disdain and divinity for which I remember it. And I’d hate to lose the ability of an outsider to remember it better than I do.  - Alex R Wilson

Like a child lining up his green plastic toys for war, Jason Lytle crafts the most innocent tragedies you'll ever hear between a record's two sides. Mournful, shivery and almost imperceptibly self-amused, the newest output from the California songwriter sends him soaring along the trajectory he first launched with Grandaddy, propelled by the knack for rendering big sadness in miniature.
Although Dept. of Disappearance is sonically close kin to Grandaddy albums that have now aged for longer than a decade, Lytle has hollowed out a very particular pocket in music history that's sheltered him from ever sounding dated or stale. Even though many of his turn of the millennium indie pop peers have stomped on to stranger pastures, Lytle retains that rare gift of sounding fresh inside the same creative modes year after year. While Disappearance might technically be his sophomore solo album--the follow-up to 2009's Yours Truly, the Commuter--it's hard not to think of it as yet another entry in a dud-free Grandaddy catalog.
Like the best of Lytle's work before it, Disappearance serves as an anthology of sad, lonely fables all wrapped up in pitch-perfect pop. From the triumphant crescendos of "Matterhorn" to the alliterative singalong of "Willow Wand Willow Wand," the record handles both its big and small moments with equal passion and care. Yawning ballads like "Last Problem of the Alps" and "Somewhere There's a Someone" drive the drama home hard, while the opener and title track tackle the record's core sense of loss with a humorous spin: "you'll never get away from me/you'll never get the clearance/I work for the department/the department of disappearance." All over the record, Lytle's ageless voice drips with mounting saudade. On "Young Saints," karate-chopped syllables spell out the irreversible separation from someone loved: you are gone. On "Your Final Setting Sun," the melancholy clouds around the simple, enormous gift of helping a stranger die. 
Lytle anchors each parable on death and other loss with his trademark marriage of analog synths and gently fuzzed guitars. Occasionally, an orchestral flourish will swoop in to bolster the drama, elevating Lytle's songwriting to a previously untouched level of richness and warmth. Not only does Disappearance feel bigger than Commuter, but its track list feels bolder, honed in, not so distracted by instrumental oddities and one-off joke songs. While nothing quite tops Commuter's high point (the achingly lovely suicide lullaby "Birds Encouraged Him"), Disappearance contains more rock solid and heartily addictive songs than anything Lytle's put together since the Sophtware Slump.
It even finishes with what could easily be considered the thesis to Lytle's easy rhymes, his softly curling melodies. "It's all about the small simplicities," he sings from the perspective of a child trying to reconcile the world's chaos with his own expectations of a simple, orderly reality in the eight-minute sprawler "Gimme Click Gimme Grid." After all, where else are we going to put all that sadness if not inside the dollhouses of our own memory? By scaling the hard parts so they're smaller than us, we may yet have a chance at this life--as suggested by the brief mid-record encouragement of "Get Up and Go," where we're able to believe, for a moment, that "everything's going to be all right." 
Lytle has always eschewed somber grandiosity in his music, but the melancholy weighs no less than if he told it straight. If anything, the coupling of sweetness and sorrow makes the sad stuff all the more real. On Disappearance, Lytle yet again hits that perfect balance of gentle storytelling and hard, dark emotion--like a parent preparing a child for the harshness of the world by diving into a favorite tragic tale night by night, again and again. - Sasha Geffen

Interview: Jason Lytle on the Grandaddy reunion, the analogue age and cave recordings

The introverted indie antihero talks

Jason Lytle made his name fusing colourful synths and guitar drones into near-orchestral gentle pop perfection with Californian four-piece Grandaddy. The band (sometimes just Jason under the Grandaddy moniker) released four acclaimed albums before Lytle called time on the project in 2006, partly for financial reasons and partly (we suspect) out of Lytle's desire to not carry the responsibility for his band member's lives and livelihoods.
In the late summer of this year the group reformed for a new stint of triumphant live appearances, wrapping up the dates with a headline show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London on 4 September. We nursed a beer with Jason in his West End hotel the day after the band had performed to a rapturous crowd in the UK capital and found him to be every bit as surprising, awkward, melancholy, quiet, considered and brilliant as his back catalogue would suggest.
Read on to find out his thoughts on the Grandaddy tour, the religion of technology, songwriting synaesthesia and the story behind his most faithful companion: a 1970s Fender Jazzmaster.
Jason Lytle's latest solo album, The Dept. Of Disappearance, is released 15 October.
"If you had to force me to hang around with a bunch of dudes, this is the group of dudes that I would choose to be around, but I really like being by myself"
Has the recent Grandaddy reunion changed the way you think about the band?
"I love the camaraderie. If you had to force me to hang around with a bunch of dudes, this is the group of dudes that I would choose to be around, but I really like being by myself. I like moving quick and stealthily and making decisions that are snappy, which isn't easy to do when you have all of these grown men with gear etc. But I knew that it was a finite chunk of time that we were doing it and I thought, 'Alright, it's work. I get paid. I only have to factor in a little bit of uncomfortableness.' Always remembering that I'm in a very, very fortunate position and not to take any of this for granted. And it's been great being with the guys again."
Did you miss the other band members?
"Yes. I did, actually. It's almost like, imagine if you went to war, you know? We've been through so much shit together that it's like coming back from a tour of duty and there's so much you've shared and gone through that there is a bond there. It's something that cannot be compared to anything else. A lot of it was close to going to war, you know? We're not really super emotive, or touchy feely, so to have that and go through all of the stuff with these guys that are kind of sheepish and quiet... There's this level of understanding."
Grandaddy performing live in london in september 2012
Grandaddy performing live in London, September 2012. © Sebastien Dehesdin/Demotix/Corbis
You've had an amazing crowd response during your final show. Is it hard to walk away from it now?
"I'm just happy the show went as well as it did. I'm not addicted to the adoration so much, that I'm like, 'I need more, man!' I'm just happy that there were like stacks and stacks of people. We played well and everyone was happy and that's all I care about. I could easily shut it down, like right now - I don't care. That was everyone's moment last night. There's no pressure to do anything else. There's no pressure at all."
Could you describe the atmosphere of the rehearsal sessions?
"The rehearsals were actually pretty shitty. Well, the rehearsals went really well and that was just like the epitome of band bonding, but everyone still lives in Modesto [my hometown] and [from my new home in Montana] that was like a 17-hour drive, so I'm like back in Modesto and that's a bit heavy. We got this rehearsal space in a warehouse that was, coincidentally, right smack dab in the middle of where I grew up and went to high school, so I had all of these weird memories of everywhere. But it was like: 'Get into rehearsals. Eye on the prize. Work. Please let this go well.' And then things sounded good and it was a big relief.
"We had scheduled two separate rehearsals - one week ahead and one week right before all of the shows started, so the first week I was pretty afraid of plausability and potentially realising that this was a horrible idea and that I'd have to drive all of the way back to Montana thinking, 'What have I got myself into?' But it was good. It was really good.
"I made master setlist that I distributed to everyone via email and we ran through all of these songs and I was like, 'Holy shit! This actually sounds pretty good.' So... Relief. Big relief."
"I have this fatalistic weird thing where I just think: 'No one's ever gonna get it. Everyone hates us'"
Do you feel the world is more receptive to Grandaddy now?
"I don't know. I have this fatalistic weird thing where I just think: 'No one's ever gonna get it. Everyone hates us.' I have this built-in kind of thing and even the best of our songs, I just don't... I just think it's like the stupidest thing ever. As long as there's a Sarti, or a Chopin or a Beethoven, I just think, 'this is like the dumbest fucking thing ever.' But that's my own fault. And I don't think anyone's ever going to get it."
Grandaddy - sophtware slump cover
Grandaddy's second album, 2000's Sophtware Slump
On The Sophtware Slump you dealt with the intersection of technology and nature. In recent years the world has gone through a sort of return to the analogue, whether that's listening to vinyl, eating whole foods, riding bikes etc. Has that album grown more relevant?
"I would always comment about that that Sophtware Slump was, if anything, about technology in the form of a baby learning to walk. It was interesting, as it started to develop, watching if we'd decide to go this or that direction with it. It's so amazing and wonderful and informative and potentially beautiful, but it's like 'Really? You're gonna do this with a computer?'
"It was all about the awkward phase and getting through it. It was nothing prophetic on my end. It was just like, 'If you have a half a brain to begin with and you have this tool, you can do good. Or you can blow shit up on fucking video games, like idiots!'"
"Technology is just a tool. It's not a god. It's just one of those things that you either get it or you don't get it"
Unlike many techno-critics, you're not someone that fears technology, or doesn't understand it or use it...
"No. It's just tools. It's like money. When I was really young, my mom said, 'Listen: money - people think that it's God - but all it is is a tool.' Technology is just a tool. It's not a god. It's just one of those things that you either get it or you don't get it. There's all of these rich, powerful people out there that don't fucking get that and it's up to us little people out there to get our little jabs in whenever we can. In a very loving, positive way... It's that whole thing of 'guns aren't dangerous, it's the people that wield the guns'. It's the same idea. It can be a beautiful, wonderful thing, but people are just... fucking stupid."

Jason Lytle new solo album Dept. Of Disappearance, due for release on 15 October
You've got a new solo album, Dept. Of Disappearance, on the way. What single thing has made the biggest impact on your writing in recent years?
"Weather. Without a doubt. I check the forecasts and I find it if there's like three shitty days and four sunny days coming up, I'll be like, 'Alright, studio time.' And then when the weather comes around I really look forward to it and it's like my little gift to myself because I've been working really hard on those cruddy days. In Montana, it's all about weather. The winter is eight months long and pretty brutal, so I've gotten into making records in the winter time, for obvious reasons. So definitely the weather. I couldn't be prouder. I'm so connected to it. The fact that I'm adhering to weather is like, 'I win!'"
Jason Lytle's new single, Your Final Setting Sun, taken from the new album Dept. Of Disappearance
You've said before that your ultimate studio would be outside. Have you ever done any recording outside?
"The one occurrence that does stand out is with [US indie/folk star] M. Ward. He used to be in a band called Rodriguez and I recorded them. Kyle Field [now of Little Wings] was also a member. I decided I wanted to record in a cave. So we did a cave recording and it doesn't sound very good, so that was that. People have been chomping at the bit trying to get this old Rodriguez recording, but M. is like, 'No.' It might just need another five years..."
"The synth stuff is like more colour. The guitars I hear as like brown and beige"
There are definite orchestral elements to your music. Have you had any formal musical training?
"It's more fascination than anything else. [I've had] zero training. I'm more of a visual person. I put the piece together like making a puzzle. It's all just natural inclination. It's all feeling. I just keep adding until I start to feel. Not slopping on the gravy, but just adding little bits. It's a little scary how just the one little element can be, like *feigns a sigh of relief*, 'Aaah, yes! Fucking thank you! I found it.' So it's just slowly adding until I start to feel it."
How do you tell if it's going to be a guitar, say, or a keyboard part?
"It depends. The synth stuff is like more colour. The guitars I hear as like brown and beige. The synth and electronics start to bring in more colour. I love the colour."
Jason lytle playing live with grandaddy
Jason playing his beloved 1970s Fender Jazzmaster live with Grandaddy
You must have amassed quite a gear-haul over the last 15 years. What's your favourite find?
"My favourite synthesiser is probably the Roland Juno-60. It's like the most flexible and you can't program it, so the sound that you're gonna get is the sound that hear right at that moment. Live, my favourite gear is more like nerdy recording stuff, compressors and pre-amps and stuff like that."
"My Jazzmaster is like having an old pal - a good old dog"
What's the main keyboard/synth in your live setup?
"I actually joined the throngs of other folks and I have a Nord Electro 3, which is pretty incredible. They have like the whole library that exists online and you can sift through all of the sound and you can load it up, so there's a sound for whatever you're doing. It's funny, I've always been super annoyed by people on stage with one of those X-stands and a Nord, so I have to put a blanket around it - some people put them in these little organ housings - just to make sure it doesn't look like a fucking 'computer stick', you know?"
What's your main guitar? What's the story behind it?
"It's a good story actually. It's a Fender Jazzmaster. Grandaddy played for many years and we finally got signed. The whole time that we'd been playing all of those shows I had been using a bar guitar. At some point I think I iterated that to the guy who signed us and he was like, 'OK' *gives an eyebrow raise*. Then, as a signing gift, he gave me this woodgrain 70s Jazzmaster and it's the fucking best guitar ever. It has a very neutral sound and it's so beautiful, it's just wood and it's like having an old pal - a good old dog. And I've never had another guitar. All of the Grandaddy albums, that's it, that's the only guitar. It's never had any major repairs or anything. It's bombproof."

Jason Lytle: Get Up and Go!

When last we spoke with Jason Lytle, it was a busy time for him. He’d just finished touring with his new band, Admiral Radley, his classic Grandaddy albums were being reissued; magnum opus The Sophtware Slump receiving a deluxe, expanded release, while their back catalog were also released on high-quality vinyl. He was also in the throes of recording what would become his second solo album, Dept. of Disappearance. Our conversation felt a little awkward; with his mind on the present and the future, for him, looking back was weird, a distraction from what he was doing at that exact moment.
But it’s funny how things work out. The vinyl reissues of those Grandaddy records unexpectedly sold out almost instantly—much to his shock. Apparently it got him in the mood for his old band, as a few months after our conversation, it was announced that Grandaddy would reform for a series of shows—and rumors of new material have been floating around as well.
It’s an interesting reversal of the conundrum mentioned above: a new record being overshadowed, once again, by the past. It would be a shame for his wonderful old band to obscure Dept. of Disappearance, as it is a stunning record. At the time of our interview last year, he promised that it would be his “most Grandaddy, most Prog” record to date. While it isn’t exactly that, it is, however, an album that finds Lytle in fine, excellent form, blending rockers like “Get Up and Go” with songs like “Gimme Click Gimme Grid” and
Last Problem of the Alps,” which prove to be some of his most beautiful, most moving work.
Lytle was excited to talk about this new album, and rightfully so; it’s easily one of his finest to date.
BT: I really love the new album.
JL: Thanks, Joseph. I appreciate that! I’ve gotta remind myself that I’m at the point where people are finally starting to hear my stuff. You tend to get into your own little world when you make a record and if you’re lucky you can completely disregard the fact that people get to hear it. It’s that wave that’s sort of hitting me now—getting the feedback. I’m never prepared to hear it, even though it’s a natural part of what comes with the territory.
BT: The last time we spoke was right after the release of the Grandaddy reissues,and you were in the throes of making this album. Now that it’s out I’m sure people are spending a great deal of time talking to you about Grandaddy’s reunion!
JL: (Laughs) Yeah, you know, some people have been concerned that it was going to be a conflicting issue, but I said fuck it, it is what it is, I’m just going to press on and find time on my calendar to do it, because you can’t get too scientific worrying about it. It’s funny—in its own frustrating way—how these things come to pass, one cycle overrides and parallels the other.
BT: It was before there was any talk of a Grandaddy reunion. Do you feel that there’s some sort of inspiration between the two, like say maybe working on the album got you thinking about Grandaddy again?
JL: No, not at all! (Laughs) It was 100% unrelated, though I shouldn’t’ say that. If something’s a Grandaddy song, it’s still my song and if something’s a solo song it’s still my song. I have my own connection that’s deep and valid and no one else is gonna be able to share that with me, but for me, the two are completely different things.
BT: I had wondered about that because when last we spoke, I asked you to briefly describe what you were working on at the time, and you said it was going to be “A Proggy return to form, with big sounds but not necessarily loud sounds, a record that will satisfy those who like my music but will satisfy myself for doing something different.” Do you feel you accomplished this goal?
JL: (Pauses) Wow. I’m glad that came out of my mouth when I was talking to you. I remember telling other people at the time that when I got into it, I was intending for it to be this big, wild, epic mess, and then it wasn’t happening. Apparently the greater powers that be decided I had something else to say. I just went with it, I made the record I felt like I needed to make, and as sort of vague and neutral as that sounds, it’s true. At times you have to follow something else’s lead. When it gets down to it I’m just trying to achieve that magical feeling that I felt when I was eight years old, listening to music on headphones, often listening to something for the first time, and being really mesmerized and inspired by it. That’s really all I’m trying to do—capture that feeling again, whether in the space of a song, or over the course of an entire album.
BT: It’s interesting, sitting here, if someone were to ask me how to describe the album…actually, Jason, right now I’m sitting in a park, looking at the trees and nature, and as I think about it, I would say this is the album of a guy who gets up in the morning, takes a nice brisk walk around nature and feels good about doing so. I see your nature pictures you post on Facebook, and they’re inspiring; they’re reverent in a way that feels as if they’re a worship of nature for nature’s beauty.
JL: It’s something I require and it’s something that is really important to me. Sometimes I’m blown away that people don’t get it. (Laughs) The simple joy of a tree blowing in the wind…okay, it’s tough to go on about that sort of thing without sounding some like flighty, hippie-dippy nature boy type. But yet I do get excited about that stuff. The older you get, the more stuff you have to deal with in life, the twists and turns and pain and reality. I’m glad at some point that I was keyed into this deep appreciation for the outdoors and the natural world. There are types of therapy that come from just quietly watching animals and the trees. It’s just good for the soul. It means so much to me it’s obviously going to come across in my music. It’s changed my life—moving from Modesto to Montana, spending much more of my time outdoors, appreciating my surroundings—that’s important to me, and it’s going to creep up in my music.
BT: I get the feeling that some days you just turn off everything in your studio, lock the door, and just spend the whole day outside.
JL: (Laughs) Yeah! The hilarious thing about that is that it’s almost like a curse that I fell into this line of work. If I didn’t love to be outdoors so much, I think I’d have about three more albums under my belt. (Laughs) If only I spent more time indoors—which will never happen! (Laughs) But yeah, it’s sad, there are people who work their entire lives for their retirement, and they get a trailer and move to the Arizona desert, or they get some cabin or idyllic spot. That’s not for me. I want to enjoy being outside and in nature when I’m young, not when I’m a crippled senior citizen. It’s kind of ironic, that as much as I love to be indoors making music, I love being outside in nature even more.
BT: So I take it that part of your frustrations towards touring comes from that—where you’re “outdoors” being on the road and taking all of it in—yet not being able to actually stop and enjoy it along the way because you’ve got to get to the next gig.
JL: You know, I think you’re right. You would never, ever find me in those environments if I wasn’t forced to be in them, playing shows. It’s not really my thing. The confinement and everything’s dirty and broken, dark, stinky, musty—I prefer a little more elbow room, fresh air—better than spending time on airplanes and vans and dirty clubs. I’m trying to find a balance to prolong this thing I’m doing because I love what I do, but I know that if it gets to a point where I can’t tolerate those things, I won’t do it anymore. I came close but I found I wasn’t
really all that happy.
BT: I imagine it as being like, “Hey, look, there’s the Petrified Forest at the next exit, I really want to see it…but no, I’ve got to get to the next gig, to get to load-in and sound check.” Where you’re around this amazing stuff that’s just outside the van windows, but there’s just no time to see it, to take it in, being in perpetual travel mode—I can see it being a drag.
JL: Yeah, I’m getting a little bit better at structuring my tours thoughtfully and creatively, so that when I’m on the road and working, I’m still able to enjoy life and the things around me. Just this year, I worked out a tour of Australia, and it was fucking awesome!!! I had limited gear, the venues were small, but I went over there with a buddy of mine, made up a bunch of merch that was Australia tour specific, and drove ourselves. We drove everywhere, we had plenty of camping gear with us, we hung out at the beach, we scheduled plenty of spaces in between the main gigs, so we could take in the sites, as well as play a couple of low-key backyard shows for friends and fans. That’s my style, that’s how I used to do it. I grew up in the skateboarder world. I’d go to competitions, I’d perform demo shows, I’d go to towns just to check out the scene, lots of road trips and sleeping god knows where. I have an appreciation of that stuff, if I can get a little bit of freedom. I have no problem doing it ‘official’ touring style, but I can throw down and do it the vagabond way, no problem. I like doing that, too.
BT: I would think that the latest trend of playing house/couch shows would appeal to you.
JL: You know, Joseph, that idea really does appeal to me, but not to sound terrible, but it’s all the talking that I couldn’t do. It’s like, when I’m sitting around making music, I find that talking, it just drains my energy. My energy isn’t limitless, and I kind of run out of gas. Maybe if I did one or two of those, to get the feel of it, it might be good. The problem I foresee with a gig like that, though, is that when you’re in such close proximity to the audience, they tend to want to talk. It’s not conversations, it’s usually one-sided, where people are just asking, asking, asking about things you get asked all the time. And here I am, I’ve just played the best show I’ve done, and people want more. It’s nothing against the audience—I love them, and I’m accommodating, but at the end of the night I’m just wiped out. Eight hours of sleep only recharges you, but only for so much. If I could find a way to do it, get a couple days off in between, I might be down for that.
But you know what really appeals to me, Joseph, is residencies—where you get a smaller-size venue and hole up there for a couple of days or a month. In Portland I had a pretty great time doing that, so I’m kind of looking forward to smaller clubs, maybe with a piano, and maybe playing some low-key shows. If the shows are priced affordable enough, people can come a few days in a row—the set lists could shift; I don’t like playing the same things over and over and over. Maybe one night do a solo thing, another night do Grandaddy songs, one night just something totally different. I like that idea.
BT: One final, inevitable question….will there be another reunion…of Admiral Radley?
JL: (Laughs) You know, I’ve actually been thinking about that. Aaron (Espinoza) just released the new Earlimart record, but as soon as their album winds down and that cycle starts to peter out, I’m almost suspecting I’ll get some emails or texts from him hinting at it. I’m anticipating his cute little hints, because it’s nothing we’ve sat down and talked about. (Laughs) There might be some talk, but I have no freakin’ idea. I’m up for it, though!

Jason Lytle: What’s Wrong With The Safe And Warm?


It’s hard to believe, but the man slouching opposite me is responsible for some of the most influential indie music from the turn of the millennium. Jason Lytle, erstwhile leader of Grandaddy, is in full slacker uniform; vintage tee, scruffy trucker cap and old-school shades. He’s also nursing a beer and trying to adjust to being awake; evidently it had been a long night. We meet at lunchtime in a posh West London hotel the day after the last date of Grandaddy’s reunion tour, a triumphantly received two-hour trip down memory lane at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire that’s left him tired but elated, satisfied but sad.
It’s also an interview that nearly didn’t happen. He’s a hard man to pin down, and after aborted attempts to meet in Malmö and Glasgow, it looked like our schedules would prove irreconcilable. London became the last throw of the dice, and it’s a great relief to see him finally walk into the lobby. Such travails neatly reflect a symptom of our modern world, the sort of hyper connected yet strangely alienating reality he described so vividly, and seemed so scared of, on 2000’s ‘The Sophtware Slump’; the very definition of a #firstworldproblem.
That album, recently reissued, came out just as the dot-com bubble was beginning to sag under its own weight and with Y2K fears a very recent memory. Uniquely, it suggested that far from destroying us, technology would simply lead to disappointment, both with ourselves and how the future was supposed to be somehow better, perfectly capturing the post-millennial come down before it happened. Neither angry nor bitter, it was more a resigned sigh regarding undeniably truths; people get sad, things die, dreams go unfulfilled. It gave short shrift to the myth of technological salvation – life went on, our problems and insecurities as acute as ever – and remains a modern American masterpiece.

“A couple years went by and something happened
We gave Jed less attention
We had new inventions.”

‘Jed The Humanoid’, taken from 'The Sophtware Slump'

Lytle, however, doesn’t see the last ten years as vindication of such ideas. Rather, as he sees it, he was simply describing common human failings, an inherent weakness regarding our curiosity and desires – this is just the way we are. “Any time the general populace is given something, it’s like ‘What are you gonna do with it?’ You can research health and you can make yourself better, or you can just do porn and video games; it’s ridiculous. It [the album] was about ‘We’ve all got this, what are you gonna do now?’ and then standing back and watching. It’s kinda fascinating, but also a little sad.”
He professes to enjoy such contradictions regarding the Internet – “I love shit like that, love it” – yet famously is not on Twitter. “I tried it… but I didn’t really get it. I liked the colours, and the photos. I also liked the interactivity, but I was really bummed out that your posts can only be so long. I tend to ramble, and use a lot of dot dot dot, parenthesis, and stuff. I guess I don’t do it right.”
I’m not sure if, in his eyes, anyone is doing it right. To many, our fascination with hi-tech gadgets coupled with a throwaway culture will have only one ending; ecological disaster and the sort of dystopian nightmare portrayed so graphically in Blade Runner and RoboCop. It’s another common theme in his work, and one he’s particularly pessimistic about.
“I’d say [we’re headed to] more of an idiotocracy specifically… but yeah. At some point, we have to remember walking down the street, you saw some guy with a cell phone and you’re like ‘Oh, hey, that guy’s important’, you know? Or even a guy driving down the street in his Land Rover, and you’re like ‘Oh, hey, that guy’s important’. Now everyone has a broken down, shitty Land Rover. Within your lifetime, you see these little evolutions happen where at some point, someone was ‘the shit’ because they had these things. Nowadays, I’ve given money to homeless people who were arguing on their cell phone as you’re handing them cash. It doesn’t really matter any more, but it does, and you need some quiet time to try and remember how things were and how ridiculous they’re getting.”

“Bust the lock off the front door
Once you’re outside you won’t want to hide anymore.”

‘Now It’s On’, taken from 'Sumday'

Sociologists have long debated the phenomenon whereby despite being more connected than ever before – always “on” – we feel increasingly isolated and alone; the implications of Dunbar’s Number on social media being a perfect example. Part of Grandaddy’s appeal was the reverence they afforded to moments of simple, contained pleasure – falling asleep under a tree, or gazing down from ice shelves and glaciers – to be found in the wilderness, and how losing touch with such appreciation was leading humanity down a very dark path indeed. They prescribed nature’s beauty as the tonic to a constant diet of hustle and bustle, a beneficial retreat into your own mind and imagination.
Six years ago, Lytle took the decision to up sticks from his hometown of Modesto, California to Montana’s great outdoors. Fuelled in part by burn out, in part by this long-standing fascination with nature, it led to many questioning his mental health and whether he’d ever make music again. He admits to being “a big time loner”, but believes that such a back-to-basics mentality would be of benefit to everyone.
“As far as being hooked up to the Internet and computers and stuff, you’d be surprised what happens when you get away for five days. Just five, that’s all, give it five days. I have some favourite hikes of mine, excursions that I do, where I know I’m losing the Internet, cell service, or whatever. All of a sudden, it’s a little disturbing how disorientated and afraid you get, the anxiety on being disconnected, but it’s good and it’s healthy.”

“What’s wrong with the safe and warm?
What’s wrong with a book and tea at night?”

‘Matterhorn’, taken from 'Dept. Of Disappearance'

His retreat away from it all has clearly been beneficial, both to body and soul. It’s peculiar how the timing has worked out, but this little jaunt is serving as a warm up for an entirely different kind of adventure; a seven-date October tour of California in support of ‘Dept. of Disappearance’, his second solo effort. Distinctively recognisable, it deals with all the old familiar themes, and fans will be instantly smitten with the songs’ simple, earthy construction and emphasis on melody. It’s actually not far from what you’d imagine a modern Grandaddy to sound like, but gone is the sadness and melancholy. In it’s place is quiet optimism, a contentedness and satisfaction that at times threatens to boil over into full blown joie de vivre. Is he now more at ease with the world, and his place in it?
“I am. I’m glad that comes across, ‘cause I was having a real hard time towards the end of the Grandaddy stuff, like that cliché about being careful what you wish for. And I didn’t want it to go there; it was a wonderful, wonderful position to be in, but I just wasn’t happy. I really wasn’t. I had to make some very deliberate moves to change my life, to reset my brain and get things back into perspective, which had nothing to do with being disturbed, or a depressed artist, or anything like that. I know I’m at my best when I’m happy and healthy, and I’m just making music and art. I got back there, that’s all the matters. I had to get back there, and I did.”
Even lyrically, the album represents something of a volte-face. His lyrics always seemed to be aimed at himself as much as anyone else, self-referential advice being somehow easier to take, and more than one critic has theorised that Jed the Robot was autobiographical. It’s hard to reconcile the weariness contained in lines such as “You’ve lost the ‘Go’ in ‘Go for it’” – from 2003’s ‘Sumday’ – with the reassuring sentiment of ‘Get Up An Go’s “You can do it / Everything is gonna be alright”. Is this his new mantra of positivity?
“Definitely. It’s pretty optimistic. I was actually a little embarrassed by that because it’s maybe too happy-go-lucky, but I thought ‘Fuck it!’ I want to make good stuff, make people happy, and bring positivity into the world. After stepping back from all that stuff, and being able to look at the position I’ve been put in, it’s all about spreading love and spreading a good message. That song ['Get Up And Go'] in particular is like a mainline to that whole point.”

“Welcome back to solid ground my friend
I heard all your controls were jammed
Well it's just nice to have you back again.”

‘He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot’, taken from 'The Sophtware Slump'

This newfound peace of mind also stems in part, no doubt, from not just the reunion itself, but the reaction to it. Watching them on stage, it’s remarkable how at ease they all seem; they smile, goof around, and genuinely look like five normal guys just doing what they love. The sell-out crowd responds in kind; singing along, roaring their approval, and even starting a mini mosh pit during ‘A.M. 180’. In every sense it’s like they’ve never been away, a feeling he concurs with.
“It’s actually a little scary. We’ve gone through so much together, and you’d almost suspect that after five or six years, the amount of time we’ve spent away from each other, that things would shift but… no. It’s a little disturbing, it’s like it [the breakup] could have been yesterday. And I’m walking round on stage, playing songs, looking around and being observant, and I’m just thinking ‘Christ, it’s really strange’. It’s pretty fucking weird.”
At the very end, after a two-song encore, Grandaddy are given a five minute ovation. The house lights come back on, and the band has a group hug before leaving Lytle alone, centre stage, raucous applause ringing out all around him. It’s an appreciation not just for what we’ve witnessed, but for their whole career and the fact that this could be the very last time – currently, they have no plans to do this again. He seemed genuinely moved, and I ask what the mood was like backstage afterwards.
“We had a moment, a post-show moment, which was ten minutes of quiet, just kinda reflecting…I don’t know. Some of us are more requiring of that quiet time than others.” Clearly mindful of the pitfalls that befell them in their heyday, he’s now very protective of his bandmates, and shunned both the clamour for a huge, celebratory party and the line of celebrities at the dressing room door. “I was just concerned with wrapping up the time with the band more than anything else. I am a little protective, and I didn’t want other people to intrude on the fact that this was sort of a key bonding moment for the band.”

“But in real life
You’re in another world, you’re with another guy.”

‘The Warming Sun’, taken from 'Sumday'

It’s a shame that a well-earned moment of triumph was tinged with sadness, but then such bittersweet feelings seem to haunt Lytle. Swings between highs and lows, euphoria and despair inform much of Grandaddy’s story, and are at the heart of some of their best work, such as ‘The Warming Sun’. As great as the concert is, it’s hugely disappointing they don’t play it; then again, its mythical status is derived in part through never appearing in their sets. Having previously excused it’s absence by claiming “it’s really difficult to do live…sonically, there’s a lot going on”, it turns out there another reason as well.
“It’s for us. Actually, I don’t know if Grandaddy has ever played that song before. I do it on piano sometimes, on my own at parties and stuff. That was a good sleeper song, and it’s one of my favourites as well. All this shit got poured into it and…it’s one of those weird ones where you don’t really know after a while who likes what, and then eventually you shouldn’t really care too much who likes what, but it’s kind of coveted.”

“But somewhere there’s a someone
With someone else tonight.”

‘Somewhere There’s A Someone’, taken from 'Dept. Of Disappearance'

Being coveted is a fate sure to befall one new song in particular, one that demonstrates as grounded as he is nowadays, old habits die hard; a Jason Lytle album just wouldn’t be Jason Lytle without some semblance of regret. Plaintive piano ballad ‘Somewhere There’s A Someone’ is every bit the equal of ‘The Warming Sun’, a gut wrenching reminiscence about the one who got away. They both tell an eerily similar tale, and he confirms my suspicion that they’re about the same person with a curt “yeah”. I ask if, as he admitted in the past, he still has her photo on his keyboard. He seems stunned – “Holy shit! Wow” – and I can’t quite work out whether he’s surprised by the depth of my research or the fact I dared bring it up.
Eventually, he answers. “Yeah. We have a long winding joke in the band that I owe her some royalties….” His voice tails off as he shifts uneasily in his seat, and it’s clearly still a raw topic. He doesn’t even seem to subscribe to the theory that writing about such episodes can be cathartic, a therapy that helps get over the pain. “But at some point, it becomes like you’re dwelling on it, and whining, and blah blah blah…”
He’s far more at ease talking about the present, and how “I have a pretty good situation right now, I’m actually married.” He points to a woman sitting two tables away; it’s the same one who brought him a Corona earlier. “My wife, she’s almost like a zoo keeper who knows this is the way the coyote acts. I have a lot of particularities, she knows that, and she’s totally understanding. She’ll say ‘Alright, if you need to disappear…’, kinda like the opposite of pussy whipped. She knows my deal, and she lets me disappear on my own for a long amount of time.”

“If you get a feeling next time you see me
Do me a favour and let me know
‘Cause it’s hard to tell.”

Elliott Smith, ‘Oh Well, Okay’, taken from 'XO'

Lytle is big on spreading the love the love these days, and it’s touching that they cover Elliott Smith, a friend who, in the bands early days, gave them support and invited them on tour. Backed by a montage of fuzzy, homemade camcorder clips, a beautiful rendition of “Oh Well, Okay” is a fitting tribute to someone they clearly admired and looked up to. It also highlights the synergy between their music; how touching and heartfelt it is, and how it really connects and resonates with people. It’s a quality that seems to be lacking from a lot of modern indie rock, and I put it to him that I can’t imagine many current musicians provoking the outpouring of grief that Smith’s untimely death, aged just 34, did.
“That’s a shame [if it’s true]. I think that’s why I love music, and this just came from Neil Young, but there has to be feeling, you know? This [music] is all a feeling, and it’s all about passing feelings along. I say this with all honesty, it almost chokes me up. It’s like life; I’m super grateful to still have the opportunity to carry this torch, but feeling has to be at the heart of all that stuff. We win in the end, ‘cause we care and love so much and we’re trying to preserve that and pass it along. All you can do is laugh at all the other people who don’t fucking get it.”
Smith’s story was tragic, and perfectly illustrated the perils and pitfalls associated with being a talented yet struggling artist. Grandaddy, and Lytle in particular, have always seemed ambivalent about fame, and uneasy with the outside pressures that success brings. In many ways, they were unwillingly thrust into the limelight and wholly unprepared for life as indie rock poster boys; they had no affectations, and no ambition other than to be five friends in a band. It was part of their appeal, and part of what held them back. Famously, David Bowie once declared them his “new favourite band”; what effect does an accolade like that have on five normal guys from Modesto?
“I’m glad it was David Bowie, ‘cause I think that he has a pretty good grasp of the ups and downs, and the multi-dimensionality of scenes coming and going. We were flattered that he zeroed in on us, and I honestly think he got us for the right reasons, so I feel good about that. That part I’m happy about. And then, like, the obvious part of just being flattered is just the obvious part, you know? It was David Bowie!”

“Wrong to say I’m giving up
Right to say that I ain’t showing up.”

‘Levitz’, taken from 'The Broken Down Comforter Collection

At their height, they occupied a unique middle ground from their contemporaries; more accessible than Mercury Rev, less showy and psychedelic than the Flaming Lips. Both those bands shared the same underground, cult beginnings and had their troubles too, but they never ground to a complete halt. Reformations and re-releasing classic albums are currently very much in vogue – Mercury Rev reissued and toured ‘Deserter’s Songs’ last year – and coupled with their rather messy ending, it was perhaps inevitable that one day Grandaddy would return. An indication of just how much they were missed came when they decided to re-issue their first three albums as deluxe vinyls, as well as some classic band tees – both sold out within days. But despite the obvious goodwill, the impetus to play again actually came from within the band.
“To tell you the truth, it was really Jim [Fairchild, guitarist] who boosted my confidence by going ‘People want it! There is a demand!’ ‘Cause I’d been a bit isolated, you know, so my perspective just wasn’t really accurate, I didn’t know. I was like ‘Really? But really? Oh, ok. This is a valid sort of thing that would make people happy.’”
So there wasn’t any trepidation about how they’d be received, or if people might have been indifferent to the news? “Actually I wasn’t worried about that at all. I keep a pretty open Facebook situation, and I’m pretty involved in it. I’ve been playing shows myself and with my Internet activity, the people have been speaking and it’s been very, very clear that they were anticipating, and super excited about, this idea. My concerns were more logistical, like the gear, and sound related stuff. I didn’t want to just schlep our stuff up there and sound like shit; I thought ‘If we’re gonna do this, we have sound really good, and I want all the sounds, samples, and arrangements either just as good or even better than before.’”

“But that old life is gone
I guess that I’ve moved on
To new faces and strange places.”

‘The Final Push To The Sum’, taken from 'Sumday'

Far from feeling that this reunion is a backwards step, he’s enthusiastic about the opportunity they’ve been given; he sees it as a blessing, not a curse. At the same time, he’s dismissive of the idea that it amounts to anything more than just another band on tour. “It took me a while to wrap my head around it, and once I did, I realised that there’s nothing cutting edge or super awesome about it. I know a lot of it is just nostalgia and giving people the guilty pleasure of hearing the live renditions of songs off of albums they’ve heard… I don’t know. I was just like ‘As long as the band hangs out, has a great time, the audience is super happy, and we actually have some money to show for it when it’s all done.’ It’s like a win win win.”
Being so grounded is perhaps simply his way of dealing with the hysteria and hype. They’ve always been a good live band despite some well-documented struggles regarding their equipment, and Lytle has even admitted to performing on the edge; at Glastonbury in 2003 he was “pushing my own limits of being exhausted and just drunk enough.” The last time I saw them live was as a student, in the dim and distant past of 2001; they were a little rough around the edges, but no less mesmerising for that. I wonder if they felt any pressure to live up to such ideals, particularly with the buzz building and the shows selling out so quickly.
“I’m actually ok with that, that’s the part where I think I have the ability to step up. Growing up, I was a competitive skateboarder with all sorts of contests and ‘bringing it’, you know? Now I do all these competitive running events, and that whole ‘pressure’ thing, I actually kinda thrive on it, especially when somebody’s saying ‘no, no, no’, like the odds are stacked against you. I actually think that’s when I have the ability to step up…and the band as well. Ours is a rags to riches sort of story, so we thrive off of that.”
 Given the success of this tour, and how highly they’re obviously still regarded, he “doesn’t know” exactly how they’re going to resist the inevitable calls to stay together, tour again, and even record new material. But he’s candidly honest about this not being the end. “I’m actually looking forward to making another Grandaddy record. I mean, I’m looking forward to hearing another Grandaddy record, not actually the making of it…The simple part of my brain will not allow me to go there right now. I just need to go home and rest, and I’ll get excited about it again.”
So it’s going to happen? For real? “I think so. I think it’s gonna happen, yeah.” And with a firm handshake and a wicked laugh he’s off, seemingly ready to plot the full-blown return of a band who should never have been allowed to disappear in the first place.

Yours Truly, the Commuter (2009)

Two years after Grandaddy's quiet demise, Jason Lytle returns with Yours Truly, the Commuter. Immaculately crafted pop soundscapes mirror both the dramatic environment of Lytle's newly-adopted Montana and the vintage twang of Central California farmland that provided the backdrop to all Lytle's earlier work. Electronic flourishes collide with acoustic guitars and soulful piano parts, recreating Lytle's signature lo-fi-electro atmospheres.
The space-fuzz rocking of "It's the Weekend" is balanced by the beautiful heartbreak of "Rollin' Home Alone," and the opening lines of the first song "Yours Truly, the Commuter" poignantly capture the past few years of Jason Lytle's life, and his shining future as a solo artist: "I may be limping, but I'm coming home"

It bears repeating: What a strange world Jason Lytle inhabits. As the frontman for Modesto, California-based Grandaddy, he sang about homemade pets, homesick space miners, and carpool jockeys struck dumb by the natural world. Three years after that band's final breaths, his world has grown no less odd. On his first solo album, he sets songs about dead dogs and birds on suicide watch to technorganic arrangements featuring ELO guitars, from-the-heart-of-space synths, and steady, stoic drums-- if drums can be said to sound stoic, which in Lytle's world, why the hell not? With Grandaddy, Lytle sung his mock epics with such earnestness that many took them as ironic, which itself is a little ironic. But then as now, his songs work because they are deeply sincere, and that sincerity makes them sound all the more awestruck and imaginative.
So Yours Truly, The Commuter sounds an awful lot like a Grandaddy album-- not just another Grandaddy album, though, but a really good one, the best since Sumday. Relocated from Modesto to Bozeman, Mont., he recorded these dozen songs over three years, sequestering himself in his home studio to indulge the perfectionism he says he couldn't entertain with the band. It's a return, of sorts, to his roots: Grandaddy was born as a solo bedroom project for Lytle in the mid-90s and mutated into a full band. Such care and attention show through in these songs, which generally sound a little spacier and synthier than the band's records. On the other hand, in three years you'd think he could have come up with a better album cover.
Yours Truly opens with what sounds like a thumb piano playing a quiet overture, which is interrupted first by a foundational bass rhythm and then by Lytle's warmly familiar voice:
Lytle: "Last thing I heard I was left for dead."
Comically high-pitched chorus: "Yeah?"
Lytle: "I could give two shits about what they said. I may be limping, but I'm coming home."
Is this a rebuke to critics who greeted Grandaddy's final breaths with enthused ambivalence, to no-longer-amicable bandmates, or to some made-up tormentors too quick to turn their backs on him? Whatever the target, the song strikes a defiant early note, and because it's not only a solo album but a solo debut, it's tempting and perhaps way too easy to read way too much into such moments. But Yours Truly is strong enough to absorb whatever interpretation you throw at it and still retain some of its mystery. Besides, defiance fits Lytle like s a sleek spacesuit. The title track immediately restores some of the old grandeur to his signature sound, and songs like the defensive "Ghost of My Old Dog" and the piano lament "This Song Is the Mute Button" have unexpected bite.
"I see the pretty in things," he sings on the latter, "but you disappeared like a dream." Lytle offsets the somewhat caustic tone that creeps into some of these songs with tender ruminations on absence, which fills the album. "Rollin' Home Alone", possibly a sequel to the title track, grafts a distorted synth line to sugary canned strings to evoke a great American expanse, as if to soundtrack some long, lonely road trip. "Flying Thru Canyons" creates a churchly ambience perfectly summed up by that title. On the other hand, "It's the Weekend" is Lytle's Loverboy moment, a churning power-pop anthem that sounds like a Friday-afternoon staple on classic rock stations of the future.
As with previous albums, Yours Truly benefits from creative sequencing that winks at expectations. There are two obvious closers here, and neither of them come at the album's end. The first is the opening title track, whose chorus-- "I may be limping, but I'm coming home"-- makes Lytle sound like a true survivor, and the second is the soft lament "You're Too Gone", which ends with him singing "So long, so long" like he's floating away in a space pod. Instead, everything closes with "Here for Good", a tender, almost entropic ballad that sounds less like mission accomplished than a mission never undertaken. Again, it's tempting to read real-life connections in a song like "Here for Good". It's not that they're not there, but they don't matter. Such autobiographical trappings aren't necessary to make Yours Truly sound strangely affecting or Lytle newly reinvigorated. - Stephen M. Deusner

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