Grandaddy shut down amidst personnel
and financial unrest at the release of Just Like the Fambly Cat
in 2006, but frontman Jason Lytle never planned to stop recording.
Around that time, he packed up his rig and relocated from his
longtime base in Modesto, Calif., to the Big Sky Country. Montana's
vistas show up on his first solo work, Yours Truly, the Commuter,
with pastoral keyboard passages and a contented final line, "I'm
here for good." Think dreamy Flaming Lips melodies with a hint
of Radiohead's electronic-rock dissonance, but the key influence here
is obviously Grandaddy. On a noisy outdoor balcony at the Driskill
Hotel in Austin, Texas, during SXSW this past March, Lytle discussed
commuting from Montana, the status of Grandaddy's catalogue, and how
he wants to make a complete mess of his next record.
Paste: Why did you end up in
Jason Lytle: I'm one of those guys who needs space. I figure
things out at a slower pace. When things are moving too fast, too
much stimulus, I just start shutting down and blowing fuses. I can
hop on a plane and be in L.A. and do all this crap and come home and
make sense of things after. I just have to have my own regroup time.
I can't have the constant thing going all the time. It's identifying
how your motor runs and working with it rather than working against
it. Once you start working against it, you start introducing
medication and substance abuse and nervous breakdowns.
Paste: "Fürget it"
and "This Song is the Mute Button" stand out in this
collection because they're so tranquil.
Lytle: It's good to hear,
man. Thanks. I have a lot of songs similar to that that have ended up
B-sides, for lack of a better term, castoffs. That's the stuff that
comes naturally to me. It was nice to have a platform for that and
not be so worried about: "Gotta make a record, it's gotta sound
like a band." Blah Blah Blah. I could easily make a double album
with songs like that. Actually, one of my concerns with this record
was, I wanted it to be a little more adventurous or extreme in some
direction, but I knew it was my only opportunity for a debut solo
album. I had to think a bit. I had to make it more
Paste: Balancing became a constraint
Lytle: You're in a weird position when you realize you love
all sorts of different types of music. If your ability level is such,
you can actually record these different types of music. At some
point, though, you have to ask yourself, "What type of music do I
want to make?" A lot of it is dictated by mood, and my moods are
up and down with the weather and with just being alive. So I end up
with a pretty well-rounded catalogue of stuff to draw from. I tend to
work in this way where I kind of lose myself for a while. Then I have
to snap out of that and become my own secretary and make sense of
what happened when I was losing it. Eventually I just got to the
point where I wanted to make a well-rounded record. The second one
will be a complete mess. I'm looking forward to making the messy
Paste: Have you started mapping out the mess?
Lytle: Yeah. I just moved to a different location. I just set things up to
where it's really easy for me to work super fast. My control room has
two pianos, a pump organ, 16 different synthesizers and modules, and
a drum set. Everything in this one room. Plus, I know my equipment so
well where I can be out of my mind and just make shit. I just kinda
have to have the backup beats going.
Paste: Are you working by
Lytle: It's coming up mad scientist. Bouncing from tambourine to piano to sound module to
drum machine to drum set. And wake up the next morning and go, "What
the hell just happened?" I like working like that.
Paste: Do you have all of the equipment
you've ever wanted?
Lytle: My biggest weakness is my own musical
ability. I'm self-taught. I believe in practicing, but just enough. I
don't really like to practice. I love to play the piano. That feeds
my soul, but I don't practice. It actually makes more sense for me to
walk on a treadmill or on an elliptical machine than to play scales.
Unfortunately, it shows sometimes. When I play live you're not going
to look at me and think I'm the most proficient musician. I'm more
into arrangements, more into sound. My weakest link is that I love to
spend time outdoors more than I do indoors. I'm pretty into tools.
When it's time to start working on stuff, everything's there. My
tools are there. I don't know about me.
Paste: I see you're still
performing with Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch.
Lytle: He's the
original guy I played with to begin with, super way back, and a good
friend of mine. I'm trying to stay away from the idea of having a
band again. If I am faced with the prospect of playing with a group,
I want to make sure they're good people. All these guys I'm super
comfortable with. I think people get that. The audience wants to be
part of it and if you sense tension and weirdness up there, it just
Paste: How do you keep the demons at bay while
Lytle: Certain situations you just gotta give up on it. I
tend to drink a little too much in those situations because I
internalize all that stuff. The Austin thing is like a bright,
burning light. It comes, it happens and it's over with. For some
reason, if I was faced with the prospect that this was going to last
two or three months, then I'd be pretty screwed. But I know it's only
going to last a few days, so I'll power through it. We're driving
back to Montana, so I know I'm going to have plenty of time to shake
Paste: Is it going to be easier to sustain everything
Lytle: Yeah. It's kind of an experiment right now. I've had a
number of talks with myself at 3 a.m., head on the pillow: "Do
you want to do this, and if you're going to do this, this has to be
the case, this has to be the case..." It kinda got out of hand
with the Grandaddy stuff. I think if I do it right I can pull it
Paste: You're going to keep playing Grandaddy material,
Lytle: Oh, yeah. It's free reign. They're my songs. [In a
high voice] "They're my songs, dammit." It's all good. It's
actually really good to play those songs with my drummer Aaron.
Everything syncs up so naturally. Right now we're playing the SXSW
set. It's pretty concise. Hit 'em fast, hit 'em hard. It's about
50-50, old stuff and new stuff. It's just natural. If it would
have taken some big abrupt shift, that would have been weird. I
haven't become somebody different. I'm still me, the guy who wrote
songs for Grandaddy.
Paste: How has the breakup been sitting
Lytle: These things happen for every artist, for every
band. If you're an artist, you die. If you're a band, you die. You
can either go about it in a cruddy way or have a little control of
the situation and not put everybody through some big awkwardness. It
was a good time to do what we did.
Paste: Tell me about life
Lytle: It's kind of Boutiquey. but it has a lot of
what Montana represents, which is hard-working, self-sufficient,
mountains, national parks, emphasis on the outdoors. The town has
just enough good restaurants. There's not too much of anything. The
only thing there's too much of is fresh air and quality outdoor
Paste: How does the album's "commuter" title
Lytle: A lot of that is my concern and fascination with
going to that world and coming back to this world. I'm actually
pretty good. I'm really responsible. I'm not like the flaky musician.
My credit score is really high. I pay my insurance and bills. I'm
pretty upstanding as a citizen. I don't have a number of handlers.
I'm not a basket case, and I don't have assistants and stuff. I do
need to frickin' totally lose myself to get to certain place
creatively. It's hard bouncing back and forth between those two
worlds. It's not always pretty, but I'm trying to get better at it.