Jason Lytle, vocalist and guitarist with Grandaddy, chats with Kevin Cooper about where the band’s name came from, his hiatus from the band, their latest album Last Place, and their forthcoming tour of the UK.
Jason Lytle, is a vocalist and guitarist with American indie rock band, Grandaddy. With a keen interest in skateboarding as a teenager, he was a sponsored amateur until an injury ended his career. Whilst recovering, he started to play music, writing songs and eventually setting up a home studio. Grandaddy came together gradually; signed to V2 Records, put out albums, and toured the world.
After spending years on the road, Lytle grew tired of the rock and roll lifestyle and recorded much of the band’s 2006 album, Just Like The Fambly Cat on his own. Prior to the release of that album, the band decided to split up citing elusive mainstream success and lack of money, despite critical widespread acclaim.
During the break Lytle released a solo album, together with an EP. He also produced an album for Band Of Horses before forming a new band, called Admiral Radley.
Grandaddy reformed in 2012 and has since made a number of live appearances. In 2016, the band announced its fifth studio album, Last Place, which has now been released and the band are touring to promote that album.
Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Jason how are you?
I’m hanging in there Kevin, how are you doing?
I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s no problem, no problem at all.
And just how is life treating you?
I have to be honest with you and say that currently life is not bad. I am right at the front end of playing a bunch of shows with the band and let me tell you, the band is sounding so good. So for me that’s a huge relief (Laughter). It’s sunny outside and as soon as you have asked me everything that you want to ask I will most probably go out for a very long bike ride. So really I can’t complain.
I have to ask you where did the name Grandaddy come from, whose idea was that?
Well, the real answer to that question is that it has been so long ago that I can’t really remember. But if I think about it I did have a grandfather who I used to refer to as Grandaddy, so I can remember that. I can remember sitting in a restaurant with a couple of the other guys in the band and being slightly annoyed that it had been left to me to come up with a name for the band. So I started jotting a few things down and I realised that I liked the way that it sounded. Also if you write the name Grandaddy down on a piece of paper and you then drink half a bottle of whiskey, if you give it about ten minutes and then you stare at the name long enough the word actually starts to look like gradually (laughter). And I have to say that I feel like that has been the secret to what we have managed to pull off so far.
I have to say that I have been playing your latest album Last Place for a few weeks now and I think that it is a great piece of work.
Excellent, I’m so pleased that you like it and thanks for saying so.
Are you pleased with it?
Yes I am, I mean it took me a long time to get to that stage but I am now happy that I can pat myself on the back a little bit about the record right now. Let me tell you that there were plenty of phases that I went through when I wasn’t sure how the record was going to shape up.
A lot of your fans are saying that the album is your best work to date. Would you agree with that?
Man, I am not going to disagree, I mean that would be nice (laughter). I guess that everyone who considers themselves to be an artist out there probably wants their most current work to be their best and most relevant. I have to say that I do think that there was a lot of evolution together with a lot of progress that went into the album becoming what it is, combined with keeping a sense of naivety and a sort of innocence of what the music and the band are about.
I really do love Evermore, what’s the story behind that particular song?
Oh man, well yes that song is sounding pretty good live right now too which is kind of exciting. I have got to the stage now where I will write songs about Modesto, California which is where the band hails from. Modesto can be a pretty bleak place simply because it is in California and it is supposed to be this idyllic and semi-magical place but in fact it is actually this creepy little pocket within California that has a lot of darkness lurking about. So that is kind of what that song is about, it’s all about re-examining and re-explaining where it is that I grew up. And I honestly did try to do it in an interesting way (laughter).
I have to say that it’s great to see that you have made the album available on vinyl.
Yes we have and there are so many people who are giving us positive feedback in relation to that. It was great fun for me to be working on the artwork for the album too because it calls for nice big pretty pictures (laughter).
You are about to get back out on the road and tour the UK. I have to ask you does touring still excite you or is it now a necessary evil?
Well for me I would have to say that touring is most definitely a necessary evil. However, the thing that does excite me is assembling a set list that is fairly involved and fairly complex which has a multitude of dynamics and is capable of pulling the show off. Having everything sounding good and seeing everything coming together, for me it is pretty hard to be able to replicate that thrill. The other twenty hours of the day is the part that I can have a problem with.
Having said that do you enjoy the time that you get to spend here in the UK?
Yes, more often than not I usually try to make sure that wherever we stay is next to a big park or open space of some sort because I tend to get a little skittish whenever I spend a lot of time in big cities. There are a handful of massive wonderful parks throughout London so just so long as I can put myself next to a park or river that doesn’t have too many junkies and cardboard neighbourhoods then I’m in good shape. It usually makes for me being in a good mood and putting on a good show.
On the subject of the show, what can we expect?
Man you can expect all the hits (laughter). I don’t know, I think it’s going to be a really good blend of some of the fans favourites together with a handful of more obscure tracks off all of the albums. Plus we will probably play three or four tracks off the new album as well.
Do the UK audiences appreciate just what it is that you are trying to do?
Yes and I have to say that the UK has probably been one of our strongest supporters over the years. I tend to think that the English speaking countries really get the gist more so than any other country. It has always been fascinating to me and we do really love our fans over there in the UK. We do really well over in France but it still blows me away, the fact that the majority of our French fans don’t even bother to listen to the lyrics and I feel that for someone to fully get the gist of what we are doing you have simply got to have the lyrics working with the music. It fascinates me that the French fans are operating more on the feel and the vibe of the music. So I do tend to think that they are missing out on the whole experience a little because I do feel that the lyrics are pretty important.
Taking you back to 2006, looking back was it the right time to split the band?
Absolutely, but I have to say that it wasn’t an easy decision. It really was a tough decision for me to take but it had to be done. As a matter of fact if it hadn’t have happened then, I wouldn’t by talking to you today about the bands new record. I’m certain that it was the right decision for me to make.
And coming right up to date what was the catalyst that got you back into the studio once again?
Well for the past twenty years I have always had a studio in my house, I am surrounded by gear and I am always working on stuff. So I never really quit working on music. I work with various bands on various projects plus I also work on music for movies. Back in 2012 I got asked to play a few shows with the rest of the guys in the band and I sort of agreed to it kicking and screaming and to my surprise we had a really enjoyable time and I’m pretty sure that’s when the seed got planted. That’s how it happens with me, the seed got planted and the next thing that I knew I was making a new Grandaddy record.
You say that you were influenced by Jeff Lynne and ELO (Electric Light Orchestra). Have you managed to see them performing live yet?
Yes I have and it was one of the most amazing shows that I have ever seen. I guess that he went on to play some really huge and expensive arena shows but I saw him in a warmup show in a small theatre in Hollywood. I got tickets and we walked in and I was standing probably no more than thirty feet from the stage. I was in disbelief. I couldn’t fathom that I was actually going to be standing this close to one of my musical heroes. The sound was amazing and god, I could just go on and on about the whole event. I was singing every word, jumping up and down, and I didn’t even know that I had that in me (laughter).
After the show I found myself sneaking backstage and I actually got to meet Jeff which was a little embarrassing because I actually told him that I loved him (laughter). I was standing between him and the bartender, and he ordered a scotch and water. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that he was the reason why I make music. Then I shook his hand and told him that I loved him. I turned and walked away from the bar and at that moment I was shaking. The whole experience was bringing something out of me that I had not realised I had in me. It was a really cool night.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
That would most probably be the last Glastonbury show that we headlined. That really was an endurance test for me. Somebody made the huge mistake of actually getting us there two days before our performance. So as you can imaging I was pretty much drunk and high on everything that I could get my hands on for a whole two days. I was feeling like shit and pretty much an awful mess before we got up there on stage but we pretty much pulled it off. The audience thought that we were awesome and what I personally remember is that as we were finishing our set the sun was going down and I was doing everything that I could in order to hold it together.
I have to say that despite everything we actually sounded pretty good. No one was aware that I was as bad as I was (laughter). I felt like a superhero walking off the stage, I felt really triumphant like I was returning from a catastrophic war. I pulled it off.
Is there anything musically left for you to achieve?
I would be completely happy if I could think that I have done a pretty good job of not going through some uncomfortable awkward phase where I start working on stuff that is not sane and makes other people nervous and wondering why I did it. I just want to make sure that I continue having good stuff, quality stuff connected to my name I guess. I really do care about what I do and I can assure you that I will not resort to questionable activities (laughter).
What was the first record that you bought?
The very first record that I bought with my own money was The Cars first album which surprising was called The Cars (laughter).
Who did you first see performing live in concert?
That was Cheap Trick and I saw them playing in a small theatre in Fresno, California. I was lucky and manged to get a guitar pick off Rick Nielsen.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Believe it or not it was one of my own songs. I had been working on it for ages and I couldn’t get it finished. Eventually I booked some time in a studio where we created a string arrangement and as soon as we added strings to the song it sounded perfect. It needed the strings to take it to the next level. As soon as I started editing the track I almost couldn’t work on the song anymore. It had become too sad for me. The song is called This Is The Part and it is off the new album Last Place.
On that note Jason let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham.