Jason Lytle needs to get the hell out of Modesto. Seriously. Like, right away.
He’s losing his mind living in his Central California hometown, but, at the moment, he can’t leave because he’s got a job to do: complete work on the kiss-off album to his city.
The album is titled Just Like the Fambly Cat “because when the family cat dies, he doesn’t make a big deal about it,” Lytle said. “He does it in a graceful, respectful way with no fanfare. There’s no dramatic squealing or rolling around on the floor. He just disappears.”
That’s sorta what Lytle hopes to do with the album, due in early 2006, which will close the book on a lifetime spent in a town that, he said, “sucks out people’s souls.” So far, the album is about 75 percent recorded and mixed, with 12 of the 15 or 16 songs ready to go. Among the titles currently being considered are “The Animal World,” “Camper Shell Dreams” and “Jeez Louise.” Because most of the songs are running five minutes or longer, Lytle expects the album to be filled with “pretty ambitious music, in terms of song length and density.”
As a taster, though, Grandaddy will release a seven-song EP called Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla on September 27, which Lytle said morphed from a tossed-off, closet-cleaning stopgap to an unofficial prequel to the next album.
“There are years-long gaps between a lot of these songs, and mostly they were just annoying me because they were sitting around doing nothing,” he said. “At the time, I was trying to find a way to occupy my downtime from working on the album, because in the past I tended to work real hard for three weeks and then have a blowout — which was not always the healthiest way to recharge.”
In typical Grandaddy fashion, even a group of seemingly disparate songs spanning more than a decade hang together and paint a vivid picture. From the chugging opening notes of “Pull the Curtains,” on which Lytle sings, “Pull the curtains on the day/ Sometimes it is the only way … sometimes you gotta turn it off and walk away,” the EP weaves the story of someone who yearns to escape the plastic, strip-mall society that’s suffocating him. The song is followed by the six-minute “At My Post,” a sprawling, Flaming Lips-like psychedelic carnival with one of the EP’s most poignant lines. “Out here on my post I’ve learned a lot/ I’ve learned the fruit on the ground is gonna rot,” Lytle sings in a falsetto whisper, adding, “There’s more ATMs with air conditioning/ Than there are birds on the wing.”
“For some reason, they are tied together by the idea of being fed up with your environment,” said Lytle, 36. He noted that he didn’t intend for the EP to tell a story, but once he began work on it, he started to see the “accidental” common threads.
The EP’s title was inspired by a personalized license plate Lytle saw while stuck in traffic on the way to Carson City, Nevada, a few years ago, which he later realized epitomized the kind of Modesto person he can’t wait to get away from.
“They’re loud and dumb and not afraid to give themselves nicknames,” he said. To his twisted satisfaction, he recently saw a plate that beat Zilla in terms of sheer idiocy. “Every now and then you see someone stretch the spelling of a word to get a point across, or because the one they wanted was taken,” he said. “This person had a picture of an elk on their car and a license plate that said ‘Ilk Huntr,’ because ‘Elk’ was obviously taken. I thought, ‘I’m 99 percent sure that person doesn’t know what ‘ilk’ means.’ ”
He claims to have gone into the EP not caring what it sounded like, but true to his exacting nature, Lytle became obsessed with making the songs sound epic. From the acoustic ballad “Goodbye?” to the Pixies-like punk screaming in “Florida,” the songs hardly sound like filler. Add in the accidental recording of a neighbor’s lawnmower — which just happened to be in the same pitch as Lytle’s piano — on “F— the Valley Fudge,” and you have what Lytle calls the “hors d’oeuvres” to the feast that will be the next album.
“This is the transistor radio versus the surround-sound theater experience you’re going to get,” he promised.