I’m 85 to 90 percent certain Jason Lytle did not angrily hang up on me in midsentence during our hilariously awkward phone interview in July. Some technical calamity must’ve severed us just as I’d doofishly asked whether it bummed him out that his recently dissolved band, Grandaddy, never got insanely popular in Radiohead-Death Cab-Pete Yorn fashion. Buhhhhhh. Dumb question. Crap interview. Whoever abruptly killed it — God, a tornado, the phone company, Jason himself — deserves a steak dinner.
There are cruder ways to put this, but I don’t recommend speaking, personally or “professionally,” to bands or artists you love too dearly. Otherwise you will inevitably reimagine everything you say as being spoken by Goofy.
Gawrsh, I’m a real big fan. You’re so cool. Talk about that. Gawrsh. [Skis off cliff.]
And yet the late Modesto band remains a breathtaking mix of melodramatic Californian indie rock and dorky new-wave synths: the Cars as reinvented by stoned skateboarders clinging to their rear bumpers. The Sophtware Slump (2000) is an absolute masterpiece, syrupy synths poured from multicolored IHOP dispensers over bummer odes to alienated astronauts, alcoholic robots, and the (possibly mechanized) deer prancing through the “Broken Household Appliance National Forest.” I love this record to death. So now I’m supposed to objectively interview the dude Lytle, frontman and mastermind, on a brief, mostly solo jaunt to support Grandaddy’s last record, Just Like the Fambly Cat, released months after the band split semi-acrimoniously early this year after a near-decade-long run. Take it away, Goofy.
Hyuck, back on tour, eh? Hyuck. [Attacked by effeminate chipmunks.]
“Somebody tried to sort of get that going — right off the bat, it just sounded corny to me,” he says, dispelling the notion that his upcoming shows will be VH1 Storytellers affairs where he’ll precede every tune with amusing backstories and anecdotes. “Some nights, you’re just feeling it, y’know? But some nights I just don’t feel like saying a word. I don’t wanna go into it thinking I’m supposed to tell this really clever story along with every song.”
So Fambly Cat‘s inner secrets shan’t be revealed. Onto Lytle’s post-Grandaddy future. He moved to Montana, where he now takes epic bike rides, occasionally auctions off weird detritus (a Liberace biography, say) on eBay, and enthuses about this tour’s stripped-down nature — just him, a good buddy as occasional sideman-accompanist, and the dude who’ll serve as opening act piled into a Chevy Suburban, with plenty of days off for sightseeing and skateboarding. Lytle is frank that this is essentially a business compromise, a bit of Fambly Cat promotion so his label, V2, will help hawk a retrospective Grandaddy DVD he’s cooking up for down the road. Maybe he won’t regale us with jokes, but these shows sound fun, built on an idea he’d toyed with back in his full-band days: “Kinda like set up a worktable right in the middle and put instruments on it, and play and walk around and decide what instruments you’re gonna use for that song,” he says.
This is, alas, as graceful as our discussion gets. The mysterious cutoff occurs just as I’m plowing through an anecdote about seeing Tell Me Do You Miss Me, a Tribeca Film Fest-screened documentary about NYC indie-rock band Luna’s mostly peaceful final tour. After the screening the band stood up and took questions from the audience; many fans wondered why Luna had never gotten superfamous. As one guy openly speculated that maybe the band’s songs were way too long, you could clearly hear frontman Dean Wareham’s jaw clenching as he imagined ripping a theater seat out of the floor and chucking it at the guy’s head twenty feet away.
Bands like this are not made for mass fame. Too insular, too delicate. They enrapture you on an individual basis, obsessions of quality, not quantity.
That’s how Grandaddy got to me, leaving me decisively unobjective and (as you may have guessed) probably inarticulate. After the phone line goes dead, my interview tape ends with a full minute of my dumb ass going “Hello? Hello?” in increasingly desperate ten-second intervals, with only a clicking phone line and tape hiss to answer me, my lonely lament of adoration swallowed by uncaring technology.
A perfect Grandaddy moment.