JASON LYTLE: I JUST WANT TO BE THAT SIX-YEAR-OLD KID
Fans of Grandaddy probably sensed they would one day hear again from Jason Lytle, the band’s former singer/songrwriter/reluctant leader, for despite its well-documented struggles, Grandaddy proved to be resilient. In fifteen years together, the band produced five critically acclaimed albums. However, while their peers—bands like Coldplay and Bright Eyes—went on to achieve commercial success, Grandaddy, whether by design or by the luck of the draw, found that type of success elusive. Now, Jason Lytle is back. Though he’s relocated from Modesto, Calif. to Bozeman, the fifth-largest city in Montana, his distinctive sound is unchanged. This interview by Nina Gregory.
You’re in London right now. How does it feel to be back on tour?
It’s fine—it’s still an experiment, though. I quit doing all this stuff, and I’m seeing little glimpses of why I quit—and I’m still at the front end of what appears to be a number of months of touring. So I’m having to make sure that I deal with it however I can. I’m a loner… and all of a sudden I’m always around people. Always. Always. The shows are good, though, and Europe’s pretty, but I do like my privacy. The tour just started and we sold out of all our merchandise a few days ago. We had no merchandise, so I got what I thought was a good idea. I know this good artist in London—Daryl Waller. I really like his art. So, I went to his studio and hung out… and I said, ‘Hey, let’s create a bunch of merchandise.’ We went to some dollar stores and bought mousetraps and pillowcases. We’ve been downstairs in the dressing room like two kids customizing this stuff. All these people keep walking in—and I just want to be that six-year-old kid playing with my coloring book. I do have that to look forward to when I get off the phone with you. I’m not good with too much stimulation. I need silence and you don’t get that on tour.
The artwork on your new album is really lovely. It’s like a children’s book with a little twisted take on typography, with branches for your initials. Do you design your album covers yourself?
Yeah—all of the full-length stuff was either designed by me or created by me. I get a lot of enjoyment out of that. It’s not a weird power or control thing—I just like to do art. I have an art table all set up in the studio with my musical equipment. In my world all that stuff blends together.
Your songs often have a melancholy feel—the last Grandaddy album was like a sad farewell. But now your first solo album opens with, ‘Last thing I heard I was left for dead… I may be limpin’, but I’m coming home.’ What are you coming home to?
I’m coming home to that thing that I mentioned before: the little kid sitting in the middle of the room with coloring book and crayons. That’s sort of me in the studio. I enjoy getting to that point where I get lost in the whole process of making songs, and over the years it seems that my medium for artwork has shifted—for me, making records is really like painting pictures. It’s kind of a celebration for me, getting back to that point. I had almost given up on my ability to get to that point.
Your music tends to be very personal—writing from experience and observation. In the past, one subject that arose in your music was life in and around Modesto—the tech bubble, relationships, isolation, the landscape. Even though you no longer live in the Central Valley, do you think about things there—like, say, the housing crisis, which has devastated the area?
I have always made what I feel to be a concerted effort into pursuing the escapist aspects of making art. I tend to shy away from politics. I like to keep music separate from those things and give you a break for four minutes—maybe even as long as an hour. I always felt I needed to be someplace like Montana. Even in California I always gravitated to places where I had space and there wasn’t constant audible and visual clutter. I like to feel as if I have a grasp of what’s going on around me, but it takes awhile for me to figure those things out. I can’t be always going. I can’t deal with constant stimulation.
So it’s safe to say you’re not Twittering.
There’s just no depth. It’s a big waste to see how much you can cram in. It’s just going to end up bad. It has to be up to the individual to say, ‘That’s enough.’ But, at that point, your ability to know how to get away from it—you’ve lost this. It’s shrunken—this little something that should have been exercised all those years while keeping up with the race.
With all the constant, intrusive forms of communication, do you think the ability to have some intimacy has been lost? Do you have to fight for that in your music or is it just your sound?
There is a craft to what I do. I refuse to let a song leave the house until it feels right. Even if it’s a stupid joke, it has to be structured and constructed, but it usually comes down to a balance, some discernable form, some human connection. It just happens the smaller and more mellow stuff starts to make me feel a certain way—I come up with lyrics after that, then you come up with this thing that feels like a human made it. I will fly that flag proudly as long as I can.
You seem painfully shy. Do you get any joy from performing?
It’s a weird contrast, performing versus being alone. I grew up around crazy skateboarders, going to parties, getting into fights—there’s that whole part of my upbringing. But there’s also the part—the introvert kid who can get lost in pages and get lost in the world of headphones… and at this point I’m just trying to reserve my strength. Because I’ve narrowed it down to the things that I’m pretty good at. And I don’t like spending too much energy or time on things that I’m not good at. I’m saving my energy for the good stuff at this point. And if that comes off as shyness, so be it. I’ve got a crazy sense of humor and don’t mind hanging out.
I want to go back to your Grandaddy days for a moment. You toured with Elliott Smith. What did you learn from him?
He had a really good sense of humor. Elliott was a really funny guy, which a lot people don’t know. He kind of had that thing I was just talking about—reserving your strength. At some point, you realize you’re just giving it out, giving it out, giving it out. Then, when it comes time to drive home and get through a hard day, you got 20 minutes left in the show and it’s not going the right way and you have to pull out the stops, and you dip into those reserves, I picked up a bit from him. Other than that, I’ve had a few friends that took this tragic route. He did. I realized that I don’t want to be like that. I love being alive and I love having these moments of beauty and experiencing things. It really sucks when you have friends that have died and you realize every time you’re having a happy moment—it just makes me wonder why they ended up taking such a tragic route.
David Bowie was a big fan of Grandaddy. Do you hear from him? What was it like to have Bowie as a fan?
It was pretty neat. More surreal than anything. He was really, really sweet. And oddly enough he was very informed of the albums and the music and songs, specifically. We have a few pictures of the band standing next to him. It doesn’t seem real—it just seems like us standing next to a cardboard cutout.
JASON LYTLE WITH TWO GUNS AND O’S AND THE OCULISTS ON THUR., JUNE 11, AT THE ART THEATRE, 2025 4TH ST., LONG BEACH. 7:30 PM / $16-$20 / ALL AGES. ARTTHEATRELONGBEACH.COM. AND WITH NEKO CASE ON FRI., JUNE 12, AT THE GREEK THEATRE, 2700 N. VERMONT AVE., HOLLYWOOD. 7:30 PM / $35-$40 / ALL AGES. GOLDENVOICE.COM. JASON LYTLE’S YOURS TRULY, THE COMMUTER IS OUT NOW ON ANTI-. VISIT JASON LYTLE AT JASONLYTLE.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/JASONLYTLE.