The word ‘recluse’ doesn’t exactly fit Jason Lytle. After all, with Grandaddy, he became a huge star in the alt-rock firmament. But what he does like, he tells IAN MALANEY,is flying solo
WHAT DO YOU do when the band you’ve led for almost a decade-and-a-half finally runs out of steam? If you’re Jason Lytle, you pack your bags and move from sunny Montego, California to the epic mountain-shot skylines of Montana. Having your former bandmates a couple of thousand miles away is one way to say to the world that it’s definitely all over.
This explains the general sense of surprise when, six years on from their formal exit, Grandaddy re-entered the fray by announcing a short series of dates around the world this past summer.
Beginning with the Outside Lands festival in Los Angeles, the Grandaddy reunion was much more low-key than most, and that was just the way Lytle wanted it. It was an open-and-shut affair, where the end was in sight from the beginning. Their pragmatic and honest approach made for a welcome change from the usual self-aggrandising narrative of today’s endless reunion tours.
“Knowing that it was going to end at a certain point made it a lot more digestible as an idea,” says Lytle while walking his dog, halfway up a mountain on the other side of the world. “We were there to perform a very specific task which was to try to pull off these songs, have a good time on stage, make some people happy and then pick up the cheque and move on. It wasn’t like the old days, where you never knew when it was going to end and it was just going and going and going. In a way, it was a lot better.”
“You pretty much can’t go wrong if we’re up there enjoying ourselves, and the places we’re playing are completely packed and those people are enjoying themselves and we’re actually getting paid to do this. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I was totally fine with it. I had a great time and I’m glad that we did it and I have no idea whats going to happen from here.”
The most immediate port of call is Lytle’s second proper solo album, Dept. Of Disappearance. Described by Lytle as “kinda epic-sounding at times”, the follow-up to Sincerely Yours, The Commuter marks a departure in some ways from the things that have tied him down in the past.
“There’s a lot of sound and a lot of sections and a lot of stuff that I knew I was going to have absolutely no possibility of trying to pull off live, and I didn’t really care either,” he says. “It definitely used to hinder my recording process to a certain degree, knowing that a lot of the parts would have to be accountable for and worked on. I’d have to talk to other people and rehearse and work out what new piece of expensive gear you’d have to get to emulate that sound on stage. It was kind of nice not to have to worry about that.”
Lytle’s reputation as something of a loner remains unsurprisingly solid now that he calls the rural northwest his home. He has always avoided recording studios where possible, and the new album was recorded by Lytle himself, at home and alone.
“I’m just a lot more comfortable working by myself,” he says. “I think I’m a lot more in tune with making good decisions or making very clear decisions when I’m working by myself. I’m always aware of the presence of other people – and that has its time and place – but when I’m trying to create things and think on another level, it’s better that I just don’t have anyone around.”
That entire process is now more centred on Lytle than ever before, from working alone through to putting out records under his own name. This latter element is not something that bothers him though.
“I’ve come this far and I’ve realised this is what I do,” he says. “I could slap a Grandaddy name on it for the sake of selling a couple more thousand copies, but I don’t know, if it felt right, I would do that. At this point, the most natural thing for me to do is throw my name on it and see what happens.”
To Lytle, there’s nothing less personal about a Grandaddy song than anything that appears under his given name; the emotional core remains the same.
“I’ve found over the years that if you’re writing about things that mean a lot to you, even if you’re speaking directly or indirectly about them, it allows the songs to have a stronger life, a longer life,” he says. “If you plan on playing these songs regularly in the coming years, it’s a lot easier if they mean a lot to you. In order for them to mean a lot to you, they kind of have to be about subjects that, for me, have something to do with my own life. In that way, yeah, people are going to have some kind of insight about me. That’s also probably why I spend an inordinate amount of time away from all that.”
Spending time away means further isolation and less time on the road. Despite having a short solo tour in the offing, you’re more likely to find Lytle supporting some of his friends on tour, such as Band Of Horses or Neko Case. As low-key and pragmatic as ever, this approach suits him perfectly.
“At this point, I like to surround myself with people I enjoy being around,” he says. “I just don’t want to fucking tour very much. Basically doing what I have to do, just enough and no more of it. Having all the stupid logistics that go along with thousands of pounds of gear and 15 people in buses and hotels and planes and trains and taxis – I have no interest whatsoever in any of those things any more.
“I’m just travelling light and trying to make this as painless as possible, so I can get back home and work on more music.”
* Dept. Of Disappearance is released on October 15th