When I arrive at Glasgow’s ABC venue for the allotted interview time, only to be told that Jason Lytle, leader of the reformed Grandaddy, isn’t about, I start to worry. Has he begun to regret getting the band back together? Has he gone off on his own because he really can’t be around the other members? I’m told to come back in a few hours and assured Jason will be fine then. So later in the day I return and Jason Lytle appears for the interview – next step is to find some peace and quiet. Jason insists that we go somewhere without anyone else nearby, so finally we find a room just off the ABC’s stage and speak while the support act, White Star Liner, soundcheck in the background.
It was 2005 when Lytle called time on Grandaddy, finally tired of having no money, tired of all the responsibility of creating wonderful, charming records like Under the Western Freeway and The Sophtware Slump, escaping from his home town of Modesto, California to go and live in the wilds of Montana. Since that time, Lytle has released one solo record, Yours Truly, The Commuter and right in the middle of this reunion tour he’s promoting his second album, the very fine Dept Of Disappearance. Despite having his own solo career, which comes with not having the responsibility for delivering music on behalf of four other band members, Lytle agreed to get back together to play a string of shows. The question is, with all the reasons behind why the band split in the first place, why get back together?
I begin by asking Jason about his new solo record – you might think this strange backstage before a Grandaddy gig, but bear with me, there’s a good reason – and if Dept of Disappearance is, as it sounds to me, very much a record documenting a solitary existence. “Well, there’s definitely a lot of solitude,” he admits, “but it’s certainly not a breakup album. I dunno what kind of album it is… there’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s a weather album, there’s a lot of weather going on in there!” Does that come from living now in Montana [Lytle moved from California to Montana a few years back]? “Yeah, you really feel the effects – everything [in Montana] revolves around the weather in everyday life,” says Lytle. “But even beyond that, the recording of the album revolves around the weather as well. I’ve kind of got into the habit of watching the forecast and deciding, ‘I’ve got three days of crappy, intense weather so I’ll just hunker down and get some recording done.’ And then the sun comes out in four days.” Is that easy to cope with, though? “Something really makes sense to me a lot about a recording schedule that revolves around the weather – and having the luxury to do that as well, at home.”
Jason reveals that Dept of Disappearance was recorded at home: “It’s [the studio] in the house… well, not actually in the house, it’s a big room connected to the house. So it’s easy for me to shoot over there between making meals and watching stupid TV.” And was Jason the only player on the record? “This time it was all me, mostly due to convenience and lack of patience,” he tellingly reveals. “But there was one song… I was in Sweden helping this band called Division of Laura Lee produce some tracks, and I had some songs for which I asked them to be the backing band. So that was kinda cool – they played drums, bass, guitar and I built everything around that for the song on the album ‘Your Final Setting Sun’.” I mention that that track was one of the songs – on what’s a fine record – that really stuck out for me. “Yeah, well it’s the only one that really sounds like that,” says Jason, “and I wasn’t sure where it fitted in. So I was even more confused when the label said ‘yeah we’ll focus on that one!’ and we made a video for it and everything, but I was actually a little confused by that. So I said [Jason adopts a sarcastic tone] ‘all right guys, you’re the specialists, you’re the marketing geniuses’.”
I come then to the end of my long-winded point about starting our chat with Jason’s solo record: it’s such a solitary album, he clearly likes spending time on his own, so why get back with the other four members of Grandaddy to go on tour and spend a heck of a lot of time living in close quarters? “Yeah, well you know the funny thing is if someone had presented it to me how you said it,” begins Lytle, “I would have said absolutely not! But me and Jim [Fairchild, guitarist and owner of his own solo project All Smiles] were talking about it… and I’ve always been suspicious throughout the years… when Grandaddy ended there was a lot of money coming in, there was a lot of good times that people weren’t going to have anymore, but for me it was just ‘oh God, finally, a break from having to oversee all this stuff!’”
“So, when Jim was suggesting it I was just thinking ‘okay, they just want to get that party train going’, and I’m liking it by myself too much to kinda get back into this… He [Fairchild] assured me – he wasn’t coercing me or anything – that things were different now.” In what sense would it be different this time around? “Well we could play one show, or ten shows, there’s no label or meeting obligations and paying off some endless debt… we can rehearse some shows, play, people will be happy and we’re having a good time. And we actually get paid at the end of it for the first time in a long time. There was that part of it, and then there wasn’t that much commitment other than doing this tour that we put together, so I could kinda wrap my head around that: ‘it starts here and it ends there, we divvy up the money and pay the accountants’, and look back and say that ‘that was actually really fun… let’s see if we want to look at another stage, another step down the road’. But there’s no pressure to do that.”
The economic realities of being in an indie band is a hot topic recently thanks to comments made by Grizzly Bear in an interview with New York magazine so I ask Jason how much money has played a role in Grandaddy’s past, present and future. I mention being signed to V2 and the use of ‘AM180’ in a number of programmes, which must have brought in the royalties: “Yeah, I mean I did a little bit better than the other guys, but y’know even for me there was an uncertainty,” he reveals. “Holding your breath and watching your bank account going down and down and down, and then finally some windfall would come around and it would be a relief, and I’d be good for the next six months and then I’d just go through the same stress-out thing again. But it was right around the time where it became very apparent that the money that used to be there – and we were always pretty conservative with our advances – wasn’t, and that cycle that existed… we were always on tour and I just wanted to make records, and it took so long to make records and while I’m taking all this time to make records the band is just waiting around… it was just this full-time thing.” So what happened next? “I kept fantasising about this point where I didn’t have all these people that were hanging and waiting for the album to be done and the tour party train to start again…” Jason trails off here, but it’s clear what the tipping point was – he just couldn’t keep living the way he was and keep sane while keeping Grandaddy as a going concern.