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Jason Lytle: A Grandaddy's Reminiscence

26 September 2011

Grandaddy‘s second album, The Sophtware Slump, is one of my all-time favorite records, and I’m not alone in that sentiment; it appeared on many top ten lists at the time, and over the years it has grown in its recognition, to the point where it is often found on many best-of-the decade lists as well. Personally speaking, I’ve owned three copies of the record—the first one, purchased on its release, and worn to the point where it could be listened to no more; the second, equally loved, and, most recently, the recently released Deluxe Edition of the record. I have listened to it in its entirety at least once a week ever since it came out in May of 2000.

The success of Grandaddy, and the day-to-day realities of being in a band, however, weighted heavy on leader Jason Lytle. Single “The Crystal Lake” contained the lines “I gotta get outta here,” which, in retrospect, proved prophetic; later songs hinted at a greater dissatisfaction, that Lytle would be much more content to skateboard or to walk around in nature than he would be to load up in a van and tour the country and the world. Final single “Elevate Myself” pretty much serves as a justification of the band’s break-up and Lytle’s feelings. An aside: A friend who is a bigger Grandaddy fan than I, she refuses to listen to the song or watch its hilarious video, because she didn’t want her favorite band to break up. (Let it be known that Grandaddy has some very loyal fans—-myself included.)

As a fan, I eagerly looked forward to my chat with him. After all, with a big reissue campaign taking place this year—vinyl-only reissues of the first three albums, which sold out almost instantly, and the aforementioned deluxe reissue—it would seem the time was ripe to discuss the “Good ol’ days.” It became kind of clear, though, that Lytle is very much one who wants to focus on the present. I honestly hadn’t thought that the guy who says, “I don’t wanna work all night and day on writing songs that make the young girls cry/or playing little solos on the keyboards so the kids will ask me how and why” on his band’s final single would, in this time of reissuing and reevaluation, be reticent to discuss such matters.

I was, of course, wrong. To his credit, Lytle patiently answered my first few questions, and when I, humble interviewer, got the hint that the present was much more important to him, the interview took a much more pleasant turn, and, honestly, at this point in his life, I can’t say that I disagree with his sentiments about the past, and I would probably say exactly the same things he said.

After my interview, I say to him, “I thought this chat would devolve into something like Chris Farley‘s classic interview with Paul McCartney“—which sends him into hysterics. I love this band, and I love this second record, and I want to thank Jason Lytle for taking the time to speak with me.

BT: I remember seeing you on the Under the Western Freeway tour, and though I thought you were good, I certainly wouldn’t have expected what was coming to have come from you. Coming out of that first record, was there anything that spurred you on?

JASON LYTLE: (Laughs) Hmm, you know, man, I gotta be honest. I don’t remember! That’s been so long ago, and so much time has passed. I think I had a lot to prove right then. I wanted to make a really good record, and, really, that’s all that was in my mind. By that time I had a good idea of what I did and did not want to do. I did not want to do something that was—I wanted to avoid all the cliches. I just wanted to write about things that mean a lot to me. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. I didn’t want to do something just to be cool or popular, I just wanted to do what I do. So, I dunno. When you do it like that, you hope to end up with something unique. At the time, I was just—well fuck, I don’t want to make up answers, just to give an answer. I know what it means to me, it’s difficult because I don’t want to just put my own spin on it. I knew the band and the capabilities and I know what would work. I did the math in my head and then I came up with the material for the album.

BT: When I first heard it, my thought was, “This is a concept record for people who don’t like concept records.”

JL: (Pauses) Yeah. That’ll work! (Laughs) I mean, the whole concept record thing, I’ve had that question so many times, and I understand it. People, they want to make that connection, but it was more me trying to make more sense of what it may be.

BT: I did an interview with Jonathan Donahue recently, and talking about one of his records, the idea was that, well when you release a record, it flies away, out of your hands, in terms of how the listener and the world receives it. You the artist have no way to control it after it comes out, and sometimes people see concepts that aren’t necessarily there, or they pick up on things that you as an artist might not have realized at the time.

JL: Oh, yeah, totally. People are going to find their connection and there is gonna be inconsistency and you hope for a consistency between one listener and the next. At this point, eleven years later—I dunno. I think it’s pretty interesting…the people’s need to make sense of something. (Pauses) I totally understand that. You just have to leave it behind.

BT: One of the dichotomies in your work—not just with Grandaddy—is being torn between just walking around in the forest or in nature, or being caught up in the studio, indoors, with technology. Were you, at the time, deeply concerned with Y2K? I know you’ve probably been asked that a million times before.

JL: It wasn’t so much about that. I sat back and I watched all that that was going on, and I was a little concerned. Y2K, it was just so…trendy, and it was trendy having people ask me that question, about technology, and honestly, it wasn’t really an overwhelming thing for me. I’m not a conspiracy theory guy, never have been, really. If anything I was just sitting back, watching people just shit themselves over something that probably wasn’t going to happen.

BT: What about the end of the millennium, where we were ending on such a vastly amazing note, as opposed to the natural, uninhabited world we had been at the beginning?

JL: I think it was more about selfish concerns. I have a big problem with waste, clutter, people neglecting the environment, and being thoughtless. It was all those things that go along with being around way too many stupid people who are crammed into way too small places, like Modesto. All the destruction of nature that happens. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to make a big political album or that I’m trying to be mister green about it, though (laughs), the CD was green. I think it was just about hating the neighborhood. Like, when I’d go to take a ride down the street in California, there is just so much junk and shit, and so many thoughtless people not doing the very basic things, like putting their McDonald’s cup in the trash can or not tying their trash bags up very tight when the garbage man comes, or the trash men just thoughtlessly not picking things up when they dump them. I was just making the most simple observations. I’m just simple minded, kinda dumb when it comes to my thoughts, that’s just the way that I am. I have to put a cap on my thoughts, and I usually just keep these things to what I see around me.

BT: So, is it weird for you to be talking about The Sophtware Slump, eleven years later? Because, I gotta say, you sound like someone who is very much for living in the now, and, honestly, I get the feeling this is a topic you’re somewhat tired of talking about.

JL: Aw, well…Grandaddy ended in 2006, but here I am, five years later still talking about it, still doing the same thing, and I don’t even have that band any more. It’s kind of…yeah, it is weird. But I chose this medium, and I chose this way to put music out, and I’m still churning things out, it’s a cycle, and I guess that when you’re a musician you never fully escape what you think are previous cycles in your career. It’s just annoying when here I am, I’m working on something right now, and this definitely requires me to get humble, and I dunno. The whole idea of a bunch of dudes getting together, having fun in this little shack, playing jokes, and an album coming out of it, and that album being so well-received and determined to be a “classic,” and having to talk about it a decade later—yeah, that’s weird. It is a little frustrating, because while I know you love what we did, and I thank you for it, but for me, it’s hard to live in the now when you’re having to live in the past.

BT: There is a rumor I have heard going around here in Texas, that you’ve recorded an album with Midlake, based in part on your collaborative performance with them on Record Store Day. I wasn’t able to attend, but I have a recording of it, and it was excellent.

JL: Oh, that’s definitely a rumor. You enjoyed that show? Wow, thanks. I was hoping the kids would get a little more excited about what we were doing, but it just sort of fizzled. We had such a great time doing it at the time, they were extremely enthusiastic about the performance, and, I’ll be honest—most of those songs I haven’t played live or heard live in a really long time, and you know what? It was…it was kinda nice.

BT: Since that is just a rumor, what are you working on now?

JL: I am deep, deep into a new solo record, and I’ve been working on it on my own for quite some time now. I’m really excited about it! There have been a lot of little things dragging me away from my work on it, and yesterday—man, that was fun! I got to sit down in front of my computer, after having been away for a while, and I opened up a bunch of files yesterday and I started tweaking things. I got to listen to things with a fresh mind, after having been away from them for a little while. I think I’m at a good place for me to be with my song writing. It feels like I’m getting back into the dreamy, storytelling place with my music. Yours Truly, The Commuter, it was—I dunno. It was me coming to terms with myself, it was introspective, and it was a slightly therapeutic experiment for me. I think now I’m drifting back into the fantastic a bit more.

BT: What of your band, Admiral Radley, are you still doing stuff with them, or was that simply a one-off thing for you?

JL: Yeah, man, AdRad! That was definitely another experiment for me. That was just me and my friends, man, just getting back together and having some fun, doing a band, but on our terms. It was a real blast for me! We sort of had an inside joke about it, though. We were sitting around one day, and we decided, “Well, you know, if we get to tour Japan, we’ll have accomplished everything with it, and we can call it a day.” We actually wound up doing that! The last show we played was over there. It was a fun time, but there’s no plans with that. Aaron and Ariana have just finished up a new Earlimart record, so AdRad is the last thing on their minds. It was a fun time for me, being in a band again, with my good friends, having fun, going out and doing it all on our own, without all the hassles that go into being in a band like Grandaddy, where you have so many other concerns.

BT: I also enjoyed your record you put out last year, Music Meant to Accompany the Art of Ron Cameron.

JL: Yeah, that was my friend Ron Cameron, he is a buddy from the old days, we’ve been friends for many many years. He had an art show and put together some stuff, he asked me if I’d perform some music to go with what he was doing, and I said sure, and sort of for fun, as a commemorative sort of thing, we did that album, pressed up a few CD’s. A lot of that stuff was just—it was almost like a cleaning out of the vaults, of stuff I knew I would never put on any record. That doesn’t mean that material was a bunch of tossed-out rejects; I spent as much time on some of those as I did my regular releases.

BT: I enjoyed it, and that’s one thing I like about you, Jason, is that you’ll put out stuff quietly, not drawing attention to it, and yet those things, when people hear them, become sought after, because they’re just as good as the regular things you release. Look at The Windfall Varietal—that little release, I really dug it, and I know plenty of fans who do, too.

JL: Yeah, man, that was a fun one. When we started to get a little bit of notoriety, and people started to pay attention to us, it really fueled our creativity. After all, if people are starting to listen to you, you want to repay that gift by doing your best and giving them music on a regular schedule. As a result, we became quite prolific. Problem was, we were on a major label, and as you know, there are certain strings that come from that kind of relationship. When you tour as a major-label band, like we were, there are so many weird things at play. For a band without those ties, touring doesn’t bring on extra business commitments. The merch we sold wasn’t really ours, we had to give a significant portion of it to either the label or the companies we had to do business with. The money we made at the venue would have to be split up with other bands, management, booking agencies, labels, and so on. Someone came up with the idea of The Windfall Varietal, a bootleg, to sell on the road. That record, it was really under the table, due to contracts—we had to be sneaky because some of those things were demos of officially released songs, as well as the whole business of the label owning anything you write. But that little record helped reinvigorate us, because we could go on tour, kind of sell that little record under the table, and we could actually make money when we went out. That record sort of helped form my opinion of record labels, too—when they found out about it, they said, “Well, you can’t do that. Don’t do it again!” Labels like that—you would think they would want bands to be prolific, but that’s not always the case, and it’s frustrating because you make a good song and you want the world to hear it, but they put so many strings on you to prevent that from happening.

BT This year seems to find the world in Grandaddy reevaluation mode, not only with the deluxe reissue of The Sophtware Slump, but with the reissue of your first three records on vinyl, which sold out quickly, almost instantly.

JL: That was a totally pleasant surprise for me, too! At the time, I thought, “Well, it’ll be a good thing to have those out, for the people who really want them,” and when they went so quickly—I didn’t expect them to go so fast! It really makes me think about things in a more positive light. Sometimes, Joseph, Grandaddy is a mixed blessing for me. I love those guys, and I love that band, but there were some frustrations and things of that sort that I don’t miss at all, and sometimes I get to feeling a little weird about it all. Like I said before, it’s odd for me to be talking about The Sophtware Slump eleven years on. But then things like that happen, and I’m reminded that we made people happy, that people loved what I did, and that overwhelms and overwrites my less-than-happy thoughts—and maybe that’s what spurred me into doing things like the collaboration with Midlake doing Grandaddy songs, and maybe that’s what has inspired me to go back to exploring the dreamier atmospheric song style, too. People ask if we’ll get back together—and I’m glad you didn’t—and I say, “I dunno,” and just sort of shrug my shoulders. To be reminded of the good things you did and to see that people still love and respect that band, even despite my personal feelings, it makes that question less and less of an annoyance, and it makes me feel content.


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