Grandaddy

Blood in the Machine

Jul 12, 2017 Issue #60 - Father John Misty Photography by Ray Lego (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share


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It's the morning after Grandaddy's first official rehearsal for their upcoming tour, and lead vocalist and songwriter Jason Lytle is in an uncharacteristically optimistic mood. Eleven years have passed since the last time the band hit the road with new material, and Lytle has been open about his hesitance to restart the machinery he was once so desperate to escape. But none of that matters, at least for today. With Last Place, an album that fits squarely in the band's tradition of thematically and sonically adventurous prog-pop,  Grandaddy has picked up almost exactly where they left off. "We're having fun, we're laughing, and we're playing shit that isn't Grandaddy music," Lytle says. "We're fucking around in the rehearsal room, and it's like, 'Alright, I'm already feeling better about this.' I'm getting these very clear glimpses as to why we used to enjoy certain aspects of it a lot a long time ago."

Though it has become standard practice for indie rock bands to make a victory lap comeback album after taking an extended hiatus, Grandaddy remained a special case, if only because their dissolution came more from Lytle's discomfort with endless rounds of touring and living out of a van with four other guys than any specific interpersonal drama. Even after a series of well-received reunion shows following the 2012 reissue of their classic The Sophtware Slump album from 2000, Lytle says he had "zero interest" in doing another Grandaddy album. He was two albums into a solo career that allowed him to live where he wanted (first Montana, then Portland, Oregon, then back to the band's hometown of Modesto, California) and to take life at a pace that was comfortable to him. He could write songs when he wanted, do a little production work (as he did on Band of Horses' 2016 release Why Are You OK), and take as many long hikes and mountain bike rides as he wanted. But the legend of Grandaddy wasn't dying. If anything it was growing stronger.

"I think at some point I wanted it to go away, and it just wasn't going away," he says. "I do recall years of eavesdropping or having direct conversations with Grandaddy fans or peers I've worked with, because they always want to talk about Grandaddy and those albums. So it was really helpful for me to talk about Grandaddy with other people and get out of my own head, and it allowed me to see the music differently, almost like I could approach working on the record as this exercise in attempting to make a Grandaddy-sounding album."

Following the dissolution of his marriage, a new set of songs began to pour out of him. Indeed, they sounded like Grandaddy songs. "Evermore," a track he had written years earlier during a hike but shelved, was recast with warm analog synths and buzzing electronics. Then came a piano ballad titled "A Lost Machine," a dystopian epic that Lytle says provided "a nice little opportunity for me to try my hand again at a little bit of a Philip K. Dick kind of thing." With that track, Lytle's obsession with cultural decay and the dehumanizing effects of technologyarguably Lytle's definitive feature as a lyricistreturned in full force, updated for the surveillance era. There are beautifully sad breakup songs ("The Boat is in the Barn"), sighing space-rock ballads ("That's What You Get for Getting Out of Bed"), and a brief punked up anthem ("Check Injun"). Jed, the alcoholic humanoid from The Sophtware Slump, even turns up in the wistful "Jed the 4th"a moment that Lytle jokingly refers to as "blatant pandering" to the band's fanbase. Like their last release, 2006's Just Like the Fambly Cat, the album was mostly recorded by Lytle alone, with drummer Aaron Burtch making some contributions and guitarist Jim Fairchild, bassist Kevin Garcia, and keyboardist Tim Dryden left on the sidelines until touring starts. The story of Grandaddy has another chapter, one that proves there might be quite a few more pages to go than we had thought.

"If I was just doing it for the wrong reasons and it turned out to be this crappy record that people are scratching their heads over, that, in my mind, would have been my worst nightmare," Lytle says. "But I'm actually happy to stand behind this record at this point. From what I've heard, people are enjoying it, and that makes me really happy and even more relieved," he says, before laughing. "But there's still a chance it was just a dumb idea."

[Note: This interview was conducted (and the article written and published in print) before the passing of Grandaddy's Kevin Garcia. This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

 

 

 

 

 

www.grandaddymusic.com

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