By Dom Sinacola; photo by J. Garner on January 23, 2013
Despite the cult of personality that surrounds him, Jason Lytle just wants to be a normal guy. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so rooted in reality,” he says over the phone, taking a break from some housework, “because I spend a lot of time keeping up my yard, and a lot of time making sure my car runs, and all of these normal functions, paying my taxes.”
Twelve years ago, Lytle’s band Grandaddy, with help from Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb and a deal with V2 Records, released The Sophtware Slump, and met weirdly immediate critical acclaim. They toured with Coldplay; David Bowie said something nice about them. Soft drinks bought a piece. They were called a success.
So was Lytle, who wrote and recorded the sum of Grandaddy’s material up until their swan song, 2006’s Just Like the Fambly Cat, which he assembled himself in his then-new home in rural Montana. Fambly Cat is an odd and sad goodbye, bristling with Lytle’s now-trademark fuzzy hooks and lilting analogue synths, but palled with the dreadful task of letting go. The band broke up five months before the album was released.
They’d been together since the beginning, birthed in 1992 in Lytle’s hometown of Modesto, California. Throughout his teens, Lytle was a sponsored skateboarder, but an ACL injury meant a countless stream of odd jobs followed in order to fund Grandaddy’s first studio. “I worked at a hazardous waste treatment facility. I’m sure I was totally underage, driving these hazardous chemicals throughout California. I worked at a 7Up bottling plant; I worked at an almond and pistachio processing plant.” He lists these too good-naturedly, as if the soul-crushing danger of being responsible for all that waste was just a natural part of life.
Though Grandaddy’s first release, Under the Western Freeway, paved the way to international distribution, it’s Sophtware Slump that still, to this day, best captures the scope of Lytle’s songwriting. “No matter what album I’ve ever made or ever will work on, it’s me trying to achieve this feeling I had listening to music when I was 8 years old. Just being mesmerized by the production and the mystique and the stories.” While Sophtware Slump fits in beautifully with Lytle’s sense of youth, he readily admits to its acclaim coinciding with a popular notion at the time: the year 2000 and the end of the world.
A dozen years later, and The Sophtware Slump sounds all the more like how Y2K actually turned out: the world whimpering and then turning over and going back to sleep. Wearing nostalgia like a badge, Lytle’s voice beams through sincerely epic tracks about dislocation, cookie-cutter androids and the end of our organic world, his warmth both a compass and beacon. It may seem bleak at times, but the album glows with naiveté. “Are you giving in, 2000 Man?” he asks from the very beginning on opener “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot,” and it’s like he already knows the answer.
Sumday (2003) and Fambly Cat further refined Grandaddy into an almost effortlessly exquisite pop outfit, but as Lytle took less and less pleasure from the lifestyle required of success, he recessed all the more into solitude, eventually leaving Modesto and dissolving the band. Then in 2009, Lytle released his first solo album, Yours Truly, the Commuter. “I thought the cool thing about calling it a solo album after Grandaddy was that it was one,” he says. Unsurprisingly, Yours Truly sounds pretty much like any Jason Lytle album: alternately caked in mounds of strings and riffs smuggled from one’s sandy nethers, it’s an excellent culmination of not only Lytle’s songwriting prowess but his experience as a working musician up to that point.
This fall sees the release of Lytle’s second solo effort, Dept. of Disappearance, and while it may be a stretch to call it “contented,” it does bear the workingman’s whiff of accomplishment and dedication. Back on Sumday’s closer, the aptly titled “The Final Push Toward the Sum,” Lytle asks, “If my old life is done, then what have I become?” Every Grandaddy song presents that same question. It’s not hard to imagine all of his music chronicling the long process of one person trying to find normal again.
Recently, Grandaddy played a spate of reunion gigs. It was met with elation. But about this, Lytle mostly just cringes at the thought of another long tour fraught with sitting around and “dude talk,” by which he means all the recycled jokes the five guys still tell each other.
There’s probably not much more to say than that. F
JASON LYTLE PICKS 3 OF HIS ALBUMS YOU SHSOULD ALREADY OWN
The Sophtware Slump
I kind of nailed that. It just happened to tap into this popular subject at the time...but for me I was making a comment on this area where I live. All the nature was just being edged out by thoughtlessness, trash and lack of community. And people’s stupid use of this wonderful new invention called the computer.
Sonically, fidelity-wise, it’s got depth and bigness. My only problem with Sumday was that I was drifting away from that storytelling a bit, getting more into the “woe is me” kind of thing. Because I was really struggling with where Grandaddy was going, where we came from and where we could possibly end up.
Yours Truly, the Commuter
There were plenty of people who loved the last Grandaddy record, but I…sounded like I was just over it. [With the solo record,] I ended up falling back into form. I had become not stoked on music at the end of Grandaddy. I fell back in love with it. I had more of a childlike, enjoyable fascination with it again.
This article is from FILTER Issue 50