Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.
Interview by Ben Bridwell
Photo by James Elliot Bailey
Following a divorce and a move back to his hometown of Modesto, Calif., Jason Lytle got Grandaddy back together to record the band’s first album in more than a decade. Last Place is not only one of the band’s best LPs, it’s also Lytle’s most personal. MAGNET asked Band Of Horses frontman and Grandaddy fanboy Ben Bridwell to talk to Lytle about subjects ranging from nicknames and album sequencing to being nice to strangers and Grandaddy’s resurrection.
I passed a lot of my time in the ’90s in the record shops of Seattle, scouring the used CD bins and compilations sections in search of something that looked interesting, exotic or familiar by word of mouth through magazines or friends’ recommendations. I’d rush back to my tiny apartment and blaze through all the day’s spoils in hopes of discovering treasure. Even one new great song to ease the pain of another coming night in a dish pit scrubbing burnt pots and pans for minimum wage. One such rare treasure was Grandaddy via the Zum Audio Vol. 2 compilation. The song “Ghost Of 1672” instantly stood out. The pristine clarity amid the seemingly homespun innocent quality of the sounds and the intimacy of the vocal immediately captured my attention, while the lyrics activated my imagination, drawing me further in. “Who in the damn fuck is Grandaddy?” I thought—I needed to know. Well, I’d soon find right out by crate digging and special ordering any and every shred of Grandaddy music I could find. This band from Modesto, Calif., was a mysterious blend of low and high brow, low and high fidelity. Clever and simple. Sincere but with a strong dash of cheek. I followed Grandaddy relentlessly for every release, tour announcement, even new merchandise for the next decade until their apparent demise in 2006. Somehow I managed to befriend Jason Lytle, the band’s captain, just as they were disintegrating. Now almost a decade since our first handshake, I’m proud to call him a great friend and oft collaborator. This is a chat between two buddies. One of whom still happens to be a fanboy. —Ben Bridwell
Ben Bridwell: It’s good to talk to you.
Jason Lytle: Yeah, what’s going on? I’m at home. I’m in my bachelor pad. Where are you?
Bridwell: I’m at home as well, in my very opposite of bachelor pad. [Laughs] Where is home for you right now?
Lytle: Oh, dude, I’m back in Modesto.
Bridwell: OK, good. So you’ve set up shop? You’ve got a place and everything?
Lytle: Yeah—I’m sure we kinda talked about this that night in San Francisco. Yeah, I came back here, just kind of temporary, not really knowing what the hell was going on but knew that I had to live somewhere. Knowing that all this Grandaddy shit was gonna fire up this year. I got a little apartment right on the outskirts of Modesto.
Bridwell: That’s awesome!
Lytle: Six months ago, if you would have told me that, I’d be like, “No fucking way.”
Bridwell: I’m glad to hear that you’re at home. That’s awesome.
Lytle: Yeah, man, it’s working. I’m making it work. I just kinda lay low. It’s like a little one-room apartment, just gear everywhere. It looks like a fucking Grandaddy factory in here. It’s like boxes and cases and pedals. Just stacks of fucking shit. Couple of bikes.
Bridwell: Like hiking shoes? Just like various hiking things.
Lytle: Big-ass Craftsman tool chest and down jackets everywhere. That actually reminds me, if they still did Cribs, my Cribs, I would have a salad bar in my living room. Like a Whole Foods salad bar in my living room.
Bridwell: Just every kind, like young lettuces, old lettuces. All kinds of shit. Can I get into asking you some shit about stuff?
Lytle: Yeah. I figured we’d be freestyling, but you’re a planner, right? I appreciate that.
Bridwell: Yeah. Oh, my god, you have no idea. This is like the third draft. I did keep it mostly just to themes—I would like it to be free flowing and not feel like a damn interview because we don’t really talk like that. I do want to get something out of the way, because I think I have a kind of resentment issue here and I want to resolve it with you. The first question: Why did you steal the sound of Band Of Horses’ new record for your new record? [Laughs]
Lytle: [Laughs] Damn it.
Bridwell: I don’t know why you guys are trying to sound like us now.
Lytle: Shit! That big stack of notes that had like three notes about the recording of the Band Of Horses record did come in handy.
Bridwell: You’re a thief with a hammer? “This is how I’m really gonna get that sound!”
Lytle: [Laughs] Good first question.
Bridwell: Thank you, man. I’m really doing a great job. Thank you. So, how about this whole thing right now; you’re trying to talk to a lot of people about the record and what you’ve been up to and all that stuff. We both know from experience that that can get a bit monotonous, and interviews can become a bit samey, like a recurring dream or something. You kind of go into automatic mode—the interview’s over and you’re like, “I’m not sure I really feel that way anymore!” You’ve been saying the same thing for so long and that recurring question. What’s it like for you right now? Are you in the midst of that, or is it still so fresh and new that you find interesting things to talk about?
Lytle: It must be fascinating for you to ask this question because it’s something that you’ve dealt with a lot. I try to explain this to the people who coordinate the interviews and they don’t care, nobody fucking cares. They’re like, “Let him get this out of his system.” Let him do those 13 interviews in a row, all on bad connections to Italy. I find myself getting taxed because I do care. As much as I want to go into auto mode and just, like, assembly line these same stupid answers coming out of my mouth to the same questions, I do feel the need—it’s a bit like a jazz improv—I do need to improvise and I do feel the need to think a little bit harder and think a little bit differently about certain questions. And it kind of wears you out. And I almost feel like it would be better if I didn’t give a shit and I could just go into “third eye blind” mode and just answer these questions. Because first off, the songs didn’t mean anything to begin with and now I’m just answering these questions about things that didn’t. But, like, everything means so much, you feel like you need to honor it by giving it a thoughtful, caring answer. And that’s the part that wears you out. It hasn’t been too terribly prolonged, but it’s getting there. And it’s only because people are talking about it—the more interest, the more momentum gets rolling and there’s more requests. But we’re really trying hard to filter out the ones that don’t … I don’t want to say don’t matter. It’s just getting the bang for your buck.
Bridwell: Easy! I’m just kidding, go ahead.
Lytle: Only because I know that’s what’s going to come out of my mouth. I really care about what I’m saying. I have to be a little bit choosy.
Bridwell: Quality over quantity. Makes sense.
Lytle: Part of why I couldn’t handle any of this stuff anymore—and if there’s a top 10 list of these reasons why I kind of had to back out of this whole part of it awhile back—is because of that. I’m just trying to be more thoughtful about all the different categories. You don’t need to do every goddamn venue between here and Vermont; don’t need to do every interview; don’t need to play every radio show; don’t need to sing happy birthday to everybody’s boyfriend, who’s been a big fan since ’97. You just have to be a little choosier now.
Bridwell: It makes sense, and that kind of goes into the next thing. On the other side of the promo aspect, the radio-station business, the radio liners and taking photos and that kind of stuff. Do you find yourself, at least at this point right now, whatever qualms you might have had about it back in the day when you were younger, maybe full of a bit more piss and/or vinegar, do you find yourself even more grateful now, like, “Hey, I’m just grateful now that someone fucking cares!” Is it still annoying? Is it as annoying? The confusion that kind of comes with the territory when you’re being paid attention to, it can make you pissed off to feel like you’re doing some sort of fool’s errand. How are you now, now that you’ve been in this life of music for a long time? How does that apply now when it comes to all these other promo things that you’ll be asked to do and you still want to show good faith by showing that you’re working hard so that they’ll work hard at the label or PR company or whoever? How does that apply now?
Lytle: I’m still working on it. I’m at the front end of it right now. I keep joking with people, I could be a month away from being like, “Oh, that was a bad idea; forget that!” It’s like, “What the hell was I thinking?” A big part of it that makes it shaky for me is that I am—and you know this—I really enjoy spending time alone. I’m not a big groups-of-people person, and the people who I do have around and I’m comfortable being around are people who I have to. I don’t feel the need to be in the middle of a bunch of stuff going on. If anything, I can’t really handle all the noise and all the clamor. That part of it is the toughest part. When I do get into these situations, it’s a big relief when you sense that there is a genuine interest. The caliber and the quality of the conversations that I have, the ratio has shifted for the better. Like 30 percent of them are just people who are asking great questions and they have all this interesting insight, and you have these meaningful conversations, and I think that’s it, too. Having a conversation means that you’re sharing something, going back and forth. I think it’s always being active; when it’s so one sided, that’s just, like, ugh. It’s just cheap and weird. It’s strange to me.
Bridwell: It seems like no one’s listening, too, they’re just like saying things at you. And you answer their questions, whether it’s a logistic issue—you know, management or label—or a series of questions in a promo day. It just seems like nobody’s listening, too, right?
Lytle: I’ve been surprised though, too. I’ve been like, “Whoa, I just did some total dingbat interviews for someone’s, like, junior-high yearbook.” And this piece comes out, and they were listening and it was wonderful! They kind of picked up and expounded in all these poignant ways, and it’s just like, “Wow!”
Bridwell: You learn things about the process. You uncover little secrets that you forgot about during the process.
Lytle: Definitely. I think a lot of what we’re doing throughout the process is, we’re kind of in this other mode and we’ve got blinders on, and that was most of what we did with you guys, the whole idea was just to kind of set aside this time and go into our own little universe for two or three weeks. And you’re doing it for a reason, and you’re not really thinking straight. It’s better that you’re not trying to make sense of what you’re doing. You’re taking skills that you’ve learned, but you’re also allowing some of this weird, mysterious stuff to flow out. You can’t be expected to be assessing that scientifically throughout the process. Because that has a threat of killing it, snuffing it out. It’s weird to finally be asked, “What were you thinking when you did all of that?” And I’m just like, “Fuck! I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Bridwell: Yeah. “Can you help me remember? Can we listen to the track?”
Lytle: They’ve picked up on things, and it does help you kind of jog your memory a little bit. That could be a cool part of it, too.
Bridwell: Damn straight, absolutely, then you had a good day. The next day might fucking suck, but at least you got one good damn day out of it. Hey, you like having your picture taken? Band photos? [Laughs] “Everyone looks cool. Relax your mouth!”
Lytle: I’m just so ugly that it’s just awesome.
Bridwell: Oh, no.
Lytle: Yeah, yeah, OK, tell me I’m not ugly. Tell me this; have you learned this? If I can give anybody advice, if the picture-taking process does not come natural to you or you’re just like, “I’m not having fun, I’m not having fun,” the one piece of advice that I will give anybody right now—and of course you have to learn the hard way, like early on at some point. So there’s this guy taking the photos and you guys got three different locations, and in the course of an hour he’s taking like 350 photos, And he’s asking you to switch it up, especially in the U.K., they’re like, “Do something wacky!”
Bridwell: Yeah, “You stand still. You look that way. You put your hands this way now.”
Lytle: But they try to make you feel guilty for not … And you’re just like, “Nope, this is what I do.” So, out of like 350 photos, there’s one—you let your guard down and do something stupid and that’s the one they use. So I’ve learned, despite what they ask, despite anything they suggest, you show up and just stand there, don’t do anything. Just do the same thing for every single fucking photo. If you deviate at all, look off to the left, look kind of quirky—that’s the one they’re gonna use, and you’re gonna look like a complete idiot.
Bridwell: MAGNET is gonna sell so many magazines for this, just for that nugget. Great advice. Thank you, that’s great advice—I’m gonna have to remember that. I’m gonna skip around, just so it doesn’t seem too static here.
Lytle: Oh wait, to expound upon that a little bit: If you’re in a band and you’re pissed off at one of your band members that day, you encourage him to do something wacky and just stand there and don’t do anything. And when that issue comes out, guess who’s gonna be the stupidest-looking one? I’m done with that one.
Bridwell: What’s your favorite nickname between “Desto,” short for “Modesto”; “J Li,” a twist of “J Lo,” with the same amount of letters; or “Lionel Richard?” And why? [Laughs]
Lytle: Oh, man. [Laughs]
Bridwell: OK, I’ll move on, sorry. Let’s talk about listening to other people’s music.
Lytle: You didn’t let me answer the question.
Bridwell: Oh, I thought you weren’t taking me seriously.
Lytle: I’ve got one, it just showed up recently. You know that Squeeze song, “Goodbye Girl”?
Bridwell: I think so.
Lytle: [Singing] Sunset on the lino … do do do do … goodbye girl.
Bridwell: I don’t know a lot of Squeeze stuff.
Lytle: And scene. OK, next?
Bridwell: What’s your nickname, though?
Lytle: Nothing, nope.