Ex-semi-professional skateboarder and erstwhile leader of sadly departed (and impeccably bearded) Americana heroes Grandaddy, Jason Lytle returns to the fray this spring with his debut solo album, ‘Yours Truly, The Commuter’.
The album is scheduled for a May 18 release via ANTI, and its sound transplants Lytle’s synth-heavy brand of Americana to a more rustic setting, akin to Neil Young having a right royal ruckus in a moog factory.
Clash caught up with a bleary eyed Lytle, while he was in London, to find out more about the solo album, and (of course) to talk about the great Grandaddy…
Hi Jason, how the devil are ya?
I’m really good, thank you. I just got in last night for one day, I’m just doing a quick little press trip you know, I’m staying near Regents Park – its nice to be near something green!
Has the break since 2006’s final Gradaddy album, ‘Just Like The Fambly Cat’, enamoured you towards the whole circus of promoting a record at all – are you enjoying being back in the game? Or is it still just a necessary evil…
It’s okay so long as I can make some sense of it, you know, and there’s something tangible… some accountability for it all. It’s so easy to caught up with it and lose control over everything. That was a big thing with Grandaddy, the uncertainty and frustration of it all – money coming in, in droves, and going out in droves, and no one had a fucking clue what was happening…
Was a solo career the logical next move after the split with Grandaddy, or did you consider moving into something completely different? You didn’t seem particularly happy with your lot at the end, based on a few interviews…
Well, I kind of did give it up for a while… I had to get away from it and make some sense of it all. I’ve always been the same person since school; I’m not dumb, I’m not dense, but I just couldn’t – and cant – keep pace, because I’ve always been looking for a much deeper understanding of things, to really get to the heart of it and that’s what I had to do here. I had to get away from everything and look under the rock for a while, you know…? There wasn’t any master plan like: ‘Oh. I’m going to do this now’.
You relocated shortly after the split – how important was it to get out of California [Lytle moved to Montana] and get that change of scenery?
Well the only thing that was keeping me in Modesto was Grandaddy. I’d lived there my whole life so everything, from my first time experimenting with drugs or having sex, all happened there, and there were ghosts on every street corner. I guess I first thought about it around the time of [second Grandaddy studio album] ‘The Sophtware Slump’, but at the time it made sense to stay there. The first opportunity I had, though, I was out of there.
Reports suggested that a lot of drugs were being used in the studio in the past – now you’ve cleaned up, what’s replaced them in acting as a creative trigger?
I put myself into some pretty gnarly, outdoors situations! I mean grizzly bears, hypothermia, getting lost in the national park – all of these things are ten minutes from my front door. One minute I’m at the computer answering e-mails or putting down a guitar track, and next thing I’m in the vehicle potentially heading out to my death. All these kind of experiences give me that stimulation and inspiration. I mean, I still drink from time to time, but it’s a fine line you know – I quite like the challenge of seeing how far I can push myself and still operate with a hangover the next morning!
So the new surroundings are very much a part of this new record?
Yeah, it really helps having a clear head out here. I have a friend who’s an architect and we go out for walks – those first couple of hours into the hike is where the hurt is, but then you burn through it and then the endorphins kick in and it’s like your mind is being propelled. It’s so important to have a pen and paper or some kind of recording device with you to get the ideas captured. It all really feeds into the songs…
How different an experience was making the album this time out. on your own? A lot of people would argue that, being the main creative force in the band, all of the Grandaddy albums were essentially Jason Lytle records anyway…
It never really occurred to me to be honest, as there’s a point when you’ve been away from the studio for a while when you can feel this body of ideas building up behind you, and you know it’s time to start again making a record. When I went into this record I was, as ever, just purging ideas without ever really thinking about what the end result was going to be… it was just me in my studio, surrounded by hardware and guitars, and so it wasn’t really that different.
You’ve been pretty headstrong and stoic in the past about how you want to approach the process of touring and releasing music – refusing to play Ticketmaster venues, for example. Has that stance hardened at all while you’ve been away? Or has the experience softened your resolve? Are you more willing to compromise these days?
I guess the experience has taught me a lot about how not to do things… I mean, it is what it is and you deal with it, but you have to be careful – Grandaddy got to a point where we didn’t really know any other way of doing things. The whole set-up is tricky because you become a real little bitch and a prima donna you know, and it’s not until you’re sitting around with your opening act that you realise how dirty things have become… I don’t want to be like that in life. So, things are kinda striped down this time out – we don’t have these huge light rigs or big crews or anything, it’s all very hands on which is refreshing. In some ways it’s quite limiting to not have all this gear onstage with us to make this epic sound, but at the same time it’s nice to be able to throw everything up in 20 minutes and play a show…
How have the ANTI guys been to work with?
They’ve been really helpful so far. There’s one guy on the label who I think feels like he was really going out on a limb with this record – they weren’t really sure how it was going to go down being a ‘Jason Lytle’ record, but I wasn’t ever going to do it with a Grandaddy name on it, and I wasn’t going to sit there thinking of some other clever name. I just approached it very much with the view of ‘it is what it is’. I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised by it, though. Over the last few years with Grandaddy I made a lot of friends and really good contacts and relationships across publications and with promoters and stuff, so as things took off new things keep arriving and it’s starting to take its own life, which I think surprised them a little. ANTI are great to work with as a label, though – the roster is very varied and they are always right at the top of what they do. And on top of that they’re all about longevity, which I like. It’s how I want to work…
Finally, what plans are in place for this record – are you heading back out on the road again? I know it’s not something you’re a massive fan of. Are you hitting the festival circuit this summer?
Well, we’re in the UK in May – I think were playing in Manchester and London – and then back off to the west coast of America with Neko Case… I think then we decide whether to come back here or do something a little more expensive over there. The invites have started rolling in now from a lot of places, so we’re just seeing what happens. I really like the idea of going on tour and just opening for a bunch of bands I really like… I’m really into the idea of a 30-minute show, you know… I’m really excited about that right now.
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26 Manchester Academy 3
28 London Islington Academy
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Words: Ben Mainwaring