Grandaddy is spry again


August 1, 2003



What the Beach Boys did for Southern California in the '60s, Grandaddy now does for the northern part of the state, chronicling its unique mix of natural redwood beauty and suburban strip-mall ugliness in incandescent psychedelic-pop songs.

The group was formed in 1992 as a lo-fi home-recording project by guitarist, keyboardist and notoriously closed-mouthed singer and songwriter Jason Lytle in his native Modesto, Calif. After a series of independent releases, it expanded to a quintet (bassist Kevin Garcia, drummer Aaron Burtch, guitarist Jim Fairchild and keyboardist Tim Dryden round out the band) and it signed with V2 Records.


*7:30 p.m. Sunday
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Following 2000's stellar concept album, "The Sophtware Slump," the new "Sumday" represents the strongest collection of songs Grandaddy has written to date. Tunes such as "El Caminos in the West," "The Warming Sun" and "O.K. With My Decay" layer gently propulsive grooves, mysterious synthesizer sounds, sinewy guitar lines and Lytle's cryptic but indelible lyrical observations to create a summer soundtrack that is both lush and inviting, and oddly sinister and foreboding.

I spoke with Fairchild shortly before the start of the group's current headlining tour, which follows its earlier jaunt opening for Pete Yorn.

Q. The new album is one of the best I've heard this year. What was making this disc like?

A. There was a general sense of loss of direction, maybe even apathy, at the beginning of it. It was strange, because we toured that last record for a long time, and we got back home and knew we were supposed to be making a record because the label had given us some money to do that, and we had told them that we'd be complicit with that request. But there wasn't a whole lot of desire and we weren't really sure what to do. There was also the fact that we knew that we weren't going to do it unless there was something valuable to add.

Q. Where was this ennui coming from? "The Sophtware Slump" had taken the band to a new level. Was there concern that you couldn't top that, or were the band members just tired?

A. A little of both, actually, and also it was just a long time to be away from home. I think there are certain bands--and I don't want to peg us as shy, backward guys--but there are a lot of people who know what they want to do with their lives and that kind of motivates them to pursue music. Whereas with us, it was never our big goal to go out and hang out with groupies and be [messed]-up all the time. It's kind of strange to suddenly one day wake up and say, "Wow, this is what I do now," playing in a rock band.

As much as we love it and as much time as we put into trying to develop our craft and make it better and better, I don't think there was ever this feeling of, "OK, this is what I want to do." Suddenly, we'd just been doing it for a few years and had put pretty much all of our energy into it. So there was this kind of sense of, "What do we want to do with our lives?"

Q. It's interesting that you talk about being away from home, because "Sumday" strikes me as being really resonant of life in Northern California in general and of Modesto in particular. We've all been reading a lot about that town lately, thanks to some lurid headlines.

A. I think that's always been present in the music and the lyrics. Jason has been pretty adept at taking snapshots and then holding them up and going, "OK, what the hell is really going on here?" With this one, it exists even more.

With all the stuff that's been happening, I've actually been forced to think about this even more than I wanted to. You have Laci Peterson and the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy deal and a few years ago the [Cary] Stayner thing [in Yosemite Park]. It's made me have to reflect on it, and I think that where we live in particular there's a sense of being forced into isolation, because 30 miles either way from us, east or west, are mountains.

People do feel sort of imprisoned, whether they know it or not, and that does create a little bit of that claustrophobia that happens. And then you've got the granola eaters on one hand and these abject rednecks on the other. It can be a very fitful existence, particularly if you're not aware of what's going on.

Q. When Jason comes to the band with a new song, what sort of shape is it in?

A. It really varies. Say a song like "Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World," that's pretty much a Jason solo song. It's pretty much fully developed and you just kind of watch it unfold. A lot of the stuff on this record, he pretty much demoed every song. With somebody who's as good of a songwriter as he is, it's really easy for the rest of us to come up with parts. You have such evocative lyrics and so many great melodies.

Q. Jason famously despises interviews. Is he just an unnaturally shy fellow, or does he want the music to do the talking for him?

A. It's partly the latter. I think he feels like he goes through all the trouble to perfect the tune and there's not much more to be added. Having said that, though, we'll sit and talk for hours and hours and hours about whatever topics--maybe our own music or other people's music or skateboarding--or we'll just sit around joking. He's not necessarily the shyest person in the world, but maybe all the stuff that we've gone through as a band, it's left him feeling like he doesn't want to be defensive about the music that he writes. He wants to have the magic intact that comes from the creation.

Q. "The Sophtware Slump" was a concept album about encroaching technological fascism. Was "Sumday" viewed in a similar way with all of its California themes?

A. It's funny, because I actually consider this one to be more linear conceptually than the last one. I can tell you there wasn't a definitive concept; we didn't push record and say, "OK, here's the direction." But there was this sense with this record that there had to be a finality, that we had to close this chapter of the band. Every single song, every single note that we put down had to represent that finality.

I don't know what that means in terms of the future of the band, because that can sound really fatalistic when I say that, and I don't necessarily mean it that way. But the idea of the band had progressed and progressed and progressed, and it seemed like when Jason first presented us with these demos, it was like the most crystalline version of the band that ever existed. So whatever got put down had to be complimentary to that.