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Jason Lytle: Get Up and Go!

15 October 2012

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!