“I really feel super grateful that I have an opportunity to do this again,” says Grandaddy singer Jason Lytle, who is speaking to Gigwise over the phone from his hometown - and birthplace of the band - Modesto, California. The singer’s graciousness, and excitement stems from the fact that although new LP The Last Place is their first record in 11 years, it's still so warmly welcomed by fans. A nostalgic reform tour in 2012 made up for all their live appearances in that time, too.
So what spurred on the revival of this band, who formed in 1992, and made a huge name for themselves in the late '90s and early '00s? “I came back from that [2012 tour] and all of a sudden everybody was just saying, ‘hey you know that wasn’t so bad, maybe we should do more',” says Lytle “I think that's when this new little motor of my brain started firing up and got me to the point we’re at now.”
For an ordinary group with an insecurity about their future, it’s unlikely the spirit of the fans would be enough to spark fire again. But Grandaddy's synth-infused symphonic indie captured the hearts of highly-dedicated fans whose love - coupled with the rejuvenated inter-band chemistry - saved the band from disintegrating like a cut flower.
In the years Lytle has spent outside of the limelight, and away from the pressure of keeping a band together, his lifestyle couldn’t be as far removed from the intensity of playing festivals and going from town-to-town in a tour bus. For eight years, Lyttle lived in Montana, a desirable places in the United States for anyone with a love of the great outdoors. His time was spent writing music, sure. But they were a couple of solo records and didn’t carry the same intense release schedule that a Grandaddy album does. He was able to do “some figuring out.”
One of the ways he did this was to run: “I’m an avid outdoors person and I invested two or three years I invested in doing meditative trail running thing, there’s something truly primal about it,” he reveals. “I would spend between four and ten hours a day on a trail and running through the wilderness and relying on GPS and packing minimally. I just think you know drinking out of streams and stuff you tend to get a lot of shit figured out. The longest one I did was 50 miles and it was in January it was about 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) and it was at 20000 ft.”
This commitment to the mountains is so much so, that his heart is still there. In terms of the band, “the days are definitely numbered,” says Lytle. “I will end up back in the mountains and in a quieter place.” In fact, leaving Montana was not for him in the first place. He left there approximately three years ago for Portland and Lytle says it “was about making someone else happy apart from myself,” he says implying his wife at the time. “And then that whole thing kind of fell apart.”
Naturally, Lytle’s divorce is something that had an impact on the shape of The Last Place. The song ‘The Boat Is In The Barn’ talks about deleting photos, walking away, and regretting it. He explains it is from personal experience and uses the metaphor of the boat to reveal quite deep emotions: “It’s about love in general more than anything. It’s taken from my own situation. For me, one of the biggest regrets of things falling apart is I’ve never been the most expressive touchy feely person, and I kind of feel like being in love didn’t come natural to me.
“It’s something that I had to learn, that I had to be ok with, it had to be a safe place. The fact that that went away, that’s where the concept of this boat that should be out free and out breathing in the water is being stored away in the barn and that is me saying I haven’t lost, it it’s not gone, it’s storing away for now, because if feel I’ve lost it, it’s not coming back, it’s too despairing.
The intimacy of his revelation of that part of his life isn’t an overwhelming part of The Last Place, though. The impact of the album is far more wide-reaching than a melancholic introspection about love. It appears to reflect the diversity of the human experience with the light and dark moods not automatically attributed to pre and post divorce meditations. Lytle’s writings are far more sporadic and his experience in life is way more nuanced than going from a clean living happy marriage to a painful divorce: “We had been together for a long time and things have always been tumultuous,” he says.
But when the heartbreak is so beautifully told it’s difficult to not fixate on it in the conversation. ‘This Is The Part’ is a particularly fine passage of music accented by spectacular organic string section. Lytle explains how it came together:
“I think I usually start off with a much grander idea in terms of how a lot of the recordings of songs are going to go down. And it just kind of just end up you know just falling back into my old ways and just going DIY with most of it. But for ‘This Is The Part’ I knew I needed real string players. I was with the co-ordinator of the group and we went really deep and she really got it. I was able to direct them and then I took all the files back to my own studio and for a while I couldn't work on that song without starting to cry.”
You can feel how Lytle must have been feeling in listening back to his delivery on top of those lyrics, there’s a beautiful fragility in the delivery of words and the darkness setting in his mind is felt. Thankfully, it’s obvious the singer's in a better place mentally than back during the recording.
He puts this down to sacrifice: “If I would not have shut down the Grandaddy thing when I did, there’s a good chance any of this wouldn’t be happening right now," he says chirpily. "One of the primary reasons I did that was to keep our relationships in tact because I saw things were going to get messier,
“And now look, it’s actually the same guys. It’s. I mean luckily these guys were even able to do it. And here I am back in Modesto. I’m healthy. They are just like we play together. We laugh drink beer, we talk shit. And just like work on parts.”
The above foresight is something that we can only be eternally grateful for. Not having Grandaddy make this album would have been a huge loss to music. Thankfully it’s incredible and as thehy've confirmed a second new Grandaddy album the prospect of him retreating to Montana for any long period of time soon doesn't seem so likely. Stick around.