Get over it
Just months after Grandaddy’s breakup, Jason Lytle rebounds with Sacramento’s Rusty Miller
It does kind of feel like a put-on now; the wave of press that accompanied the May release of the final Grandaddy album, Just Like the Fambly Cat, found the band’s frontman, Jason Lytle, painting a major bummer of a self-portrait: Sick of being in a band, tired of touring and full of hatred for Modesto (his lifelong home), he was packing it in. Oh, and don’t let’s forget a breakup with his long-term fiancée and an acknowledged substance-abuse habit.
The trucker-hatted troubadour seemed to have sworn off the whole pop thing for good, yet here he is, seemingly well-adjusted, making a stop at Harlow’s, where he’ll be playing Grandaddy songs with help from his friend Rusty Miller of Sacramento’s Jackpot. What gives?
“I didn’t really want to tour,” said Lytle. “Things had just gotten sort of blown up in the band—it was just too big, too much. Unfortunately, my perception of touring was because of my way of touring.”
Having opted to scrap the band—he had already pulled up stakes to Montana by the time Fambly Cat was released—Lytle decided to take a chance on touring again, this time on his own terms. In a sense, then, he is doing what he said he wouldn’t—touring the Grandaddy record—but he’s made it clear that he’s “done with the name.” In Lytle’s mind, it’s not something to lose sleep over, even if fans mourn the end of the moniker.
“It’s so weird to try to imagine how everybody looked at it,” said Lytle. “In my mind, it was always my songs—I consider them my songs, the life I lived, the influences I had as a child. It probably would have been hard if I placed too much emphasis on how [Lytle paused here, searching for the right word] precious other people were going to be about it. It was my life and my songs. If I wanted to get snotty about it, I’d say, ‘I’ll do whatever the hell I want with my own songs.’”
The songs Lytle wrote for Grandaddy don’t seem like the likeliest candidates to be performed sans plug. Even on a rocker like “Jeez Louise,” the upbeat opener on Fambly Cat, there’s always a lot going on, from Lytle’s multi-tracked falsetto harmonies to a chaotic drum breakdown that threatens to derail the whole song. Yet, in the final 15 seconds, a plaintive six-string plucks and strums earnestly. There is a dude-with-guitar core to Grandaddy’s synth-laden symphonies.
So, the performances on Lytle’s solo tour have taken on a texture not unlike Granddaddy’s records: a mixture of warm, lush sounds with angular, acrid electronic distortion, a sense of achieving epic proportions with modest means. And Lytle has found an able sideman in Miller, whose own band, Jackpot, could be a younger cousin to Grandaddy.
“It’s kind of an experiment,” Lytle admitted. “Rusty flew up to Montana for a week before the tour [to rehearse]. … I set up a folding card table and just started putting instruments on it. We’ve got a little mixer, a drum machine, some percussion instruments. It’s kind of weird—it was advertised as an acoustic thing.”
It’s not exactly an acoustic thing, but it is a chance to hear Lytle’s ambitious pop songs in a new setting—songs that, for him, are about stories. “The pictures come back vividly on a nightly basis,” he said. “It’s like watching reruns.” He cited “Jeez Louise,” a jarring narrative in which a prospective mother-in-law ruins everything, as one of his favorites to relive.
Isn’t it a little painful to revisit something that personal? “I think it’s a funny song,” Lytle replied with a chuckle.
Give the guy credit for this: However difficult the circumstances that gave birth to the bittersweet songs he wrote for Grandaddy, he is still playing them. And since his change of scenery has allowed him to “feel a shift, feel these synapses or gears that need to be moving,” he’ll probably keep writing them, too.