Earlier this year, defunct space-rock outfit Grandaddy announced that they’d reform for a series of festival dates this summer. Of all the recent band reunions, this felt pretty surprising. When the band disbanded in 2006, frontman Jason Lytle made it clear that they were kaput, and he seemed serious about it — so serious, he up and moved to Montana and, really, when you go that route, you’re telling everyone you are done. But the beloved band returns next week, on the heels of Lytle’s recent announcement of his second proper solo effort, Dept. of Disappearance. Hive caught up with Lytle earlier today as he was driving from Montana to California to discuss the Grandaddy comeback, future recording plans and the origins of Dept. of Disappearance.
When you announced that Grandaddy was done, it really felt final. What was the impetus for getting back together for these shows?
It was a little about there having been enough space, enough time. I haven’t really rehearsed this question [Laughs.] All I know is that it needed to stop when it stopped and there’s a whole set of reasons as to why that came about. It was never really intention of restarting it again. I don’t really feel like it’s restarting right now but around sometime last year, we were working on this reissue, anniversary of The Sophtware Slump. It was the first time a few of us, specifically Jim Fairchild and myself, had been chatting. The truth is more him was saying, “If there’s ever an opportunity to play some shows arises, blah blah blah.” And I was like “Oh, I don’t know if I’m ready to go there.” Only because, I’ve actually been enjoying myself flying solo. All that stuff of being responsible for all these other people…not having that anymore has been really nice. After him mentioning it, at times, I started entertaining the idea. After the reissue, there was a little bit of interest started stirring up. Outside Lands – it was those guys that sparked the whole “this could be a reality” type of thing. They made a really nice offer to play this festival in San Francisco. Because it was so easy: rehearsing in Modesto … I don’t consider any of this easy, but if there was going to be a scenario, this would be the easiest: me going to Modesto, rehearsing with the guys for a couple of weeks, and then we’d drive over to San Francisco, play this festival, make a bunch of money, people would be stoked and we’d have a good time and then say, “Alright, that was fun.” But what happened was, we got the offer from Outside Lands, said yes, and soon as we said yes, all these other offers started pouring in. Thankfully, they were really good offers so we could piece together this little chunk of shows. Next thing you know, we have this month-long string of shows. It’s still a bit surreal to me, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t until we got done with the first set of rehearsals, that I was like, “Thank god I’m not driving back to Montana going, ’What the fuck have I gotten myself into here.’” It’s actually really fun and it sounded really good. At this point, I’m really excited about it.
“I’ve actually amassed enough stuff …I’ve been fantasizing about the idea of making another Grandaddy record. Guilty pleasure, kitchen-sink stuff.”
Are you guys exploring the whole catalog or just certain aspects of it?
I created a master list and category one was “rockers/hits.” Little tongue-in-cheek there, but whatever. The next category was “favorites.” The last one was “others.” “Others” was the stuff that had maybe been a bit oddball but was fun for us to play on stage, covers and possibly a few things that we never did play before.
Were there songs that you all revisited that you thought were particular gems? Or ones you were like, “Wow, what were we thinking on that?” Any musical regrets?
Not really. I would make these records that were full of these songs, that at the time when I was working on them, I had no idea how we were going to pull them off. So I got that out of the way back then because the record would be done, we’d be listening to it, and everybody would be excited about the songs, but I would think about how to recreate it live. One of the cool things, though, about this time … we were notorious for having gear breakdown on stage, pretty regularly. Some shows would be magical and everything would work, but some would be fucking disasters and it would look like a pawn shop on stage.
Which is exactly the image you want as a professional, working musician.
[Laughs.] If I had a dollar for all the time the roadies at the big venues are hauling our stuff on stage and shaking their heads … I’ve been able to modernize things where, going into this, one of my biggest concerns was how we were going to modernize this, equipment-wise and not make it such a nightmare in terms of gear. I spent a couple of months doing nothing but that. I got to go back to the master tapes and find some of the original sounds and recreate them or use the same sounds themselves and reshape them, make them bigger, clearer, whatever. In a way, were going to sound better and more album-like on this little tour than we would’ve sounded back in the day.
Working through some so-called “kinks.”
[Laughs.] Yeah, in the end, that’s all we were doing. Never, ever, ever had it quite dialed.
Stream some vintage Grandaddy:
Have you guys talked about releasing any new material as Grandaddy?
You know what? I have all these songs that I work on over the years. Things come and go and I do definitely sock stuff away. Just mental notes to self, like, “Yeah, man this reminds me of something that could be considered a Grandaddy song.” There’s some stuff, and I think primarily, the more introspective things, is more what I consider my own stuff. I’ve actually amassed enough stuff …I’ve been fantasizing about the idea of making another Grandaddy record and making something that I’m going to make sound like a Grandaddy record. Guilty pleasure, kitchen-sink stuff.
Well, you are the controller of your own fantasy destiny.
[Laughs.] Well, yeah, so long story short, I’ve really been considering it.
You’ve been living in Montana for a while. Besides writing songs, are you working? In looking at the cover of Dept. of Disappearance, you have a hard hat on.
Yeah, that was … judging by that cover, it would look like I’m erecting telephone poles.
So what I want to know: Are you constructing telephone poles in Montana?
Luckily, I’m not. I’m continuing to do everything completely wrong. Which I guess is the way that I like it. I’m living in Montana, I have a recording studio, I’m somehow still making a living at quote-unquote indie rock music. I have a Pomeranian as a dog which is the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to have as a dog when you live in Montana.
Or a bad-ass indie rocker.
I’m really just trying to do everything wrong as possible and have it make perfect sense in my head.
Stream “Dept. of Disappearance” here:
Tell me about Dept. of Disappearance.
I think if anything, I was looking forward … some of the elements that used to drive a lot of my favorite Granddaddy songs home, was this whole storytelling aspect. Creating these little worlds and creating sounds and creating lines in songs that don’t really allow you to … you almost have to create your own little image to go with what you’re hearing. I’m not just saying, “I’m walking down the street, I’m holding a Starbucks in my hand.” It’s too easy to picture that. I want some sounds that you can recognize with a phrase that could be one of its own. If there were any deliberate attempts on this record, it was trying to get back to more of a fairy-tale-ish-fantasy thing that was once again rooted in reality, with drums, pianos and real instruments.
My early standouts are: “Hangtown,” Get Up and Go” and “Willow Wand Willow Wand.” That song seemed depressing but I liked it.
I had this recurring image throughout the album, and I don’t know where this came from — I still have another 1000 miles to drive, maybe I’ll think about it. It’s this recurring image, of some sort of tragedy. It’s a woman, stranded, up high, in a blizzard, among the rocks and a guy who is down in the valley who can’t do anything about it and its this distress of him knowing he can’t do anything about it. I think there are two or three songs, where that imagery pops up. Mountaineers would use these willow wands when they were going into the mountains and they knew there was a blizzard on the way. So to find their way back, like Hansel & Gretel, they would plant these sticks.
Do you have a willow wand yourself?
Not a real one…
I wasn’t talking metaphorically.
[Laughs.] Okay. That would’ve sent me off in a direction I don’t have time for.