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Grandaddy
an interview with Jason Lytle and Jim Fairchild by Matt Dornan / pictures by Elliot Kew

Grandaddy by Elliot KewJason Lytle and Jim Fairchild are recounting an interview low point of their current tour.
Jason: I wasn't too keen on the guy in the first place. First thing he said was 'I haven't heard the album' or 'I just heard it'. And then he talks about how he was in some pop-punk band and I'm like 'oh shit...'
Jim: I go, 'what was your band like?' and he's a Scottish guy and he says 'you know, typical west-coast pop-punk' - meaning California.
Jason: Like Offspring or Blink 182, got things off to a bad start...

You told Magnet magazine that you felt part of a new generation of bands. You've always acknowledged an affinity to Home, but who else were you thinking of when you said that?
Jim: They're are tons of bands. Yeah, Home and Flaming Lips would be two noteworthy examples because they have Dave Fridmann helping with their latest records. But having spoken to Home recently and having read about the Flaming Lips process, bands are no longer clueless and having to settle for whatever the results are. They can take charge.
Jason: Are you familiar with Tape-Op magazine? To me that is like...any time I start losing interest in all of this stuff which, unfortunately, happens far more often than I'd like to admit, the new Tape-Op will come, or I just have to start sorting through my back-issues and that immediately regenerates me. It reminds me what the initial interest was in all this in the first place. You can imagine how easily that can be forgotten among all the ridiculousness. I actually feel indebted to that magazine for some reason.

Is there not that 'anything he touches sounds like that' kind of scenario with a Dave Fridmann production? Isn't there a negative connotation to that too, being thrown in with other bands?
Jim: I hate that whole 'whatever is the most contemporary example should be held up as the hallmark' thing, I think that's kinda bullshit.

But the way this industry works, that will happen whether you like it or not...
Jim: Absolutely, but I don't think that Mercury Rev record sounds too much like the Flaming Lips aside from both records were orchestrated. There's an essence that's shared there but...
Jason: I actually read that [Dave Fridmann] just had to get a manager who's this really pushy guy. I guess Mark from Sparklehorse was supposed to be doing some stuff with him but it turned into such a hassle because his manager's like 'you know you're really sought-after these days and you have the golden touch' so, every band that can actually afford that and wants to in some way emulate those records is coming out of the woodwork and saying 'oh, Dave Fridmann.' Eventually Mark said 'screw it.'

(I notice some lengthy prose among Jason's drawings) Is that a lyric for a forthcoming song?
Jason: Actually it took some time to come up with this, but this is my answer if anybody asks what's the story behind the album: 'Tales of gluttony, debris-creation and secret domestic aspirations.' Which for some reason made more sense to me when I wrote it.

If we ignore the 'concept album' angle, the volume of b-sides that you've done would have suggested that they didn't fit the album. But that would suggest there was a concept of sorts...
Jason: There's some unfinished stuff that didn't make it for fidelity reasons. I did a lot of breaking-in of new equipment for this record. So, I can't even really think of anything that didnt go in because it didn't fit. Though I do have, for some reason, a collection of songs that fall into the flat-out, almost silly, category. Like I have a song that's about hanging out in the mall, except all the characters in the mall are dogs. So there's all these different dogs that all have different personalities, based on the kind of dog they are and stuff. I don't know where the hell that one would fit.

On a concept album?
Jim: That'd be the best thing to make a concept album about...
Jason: And Broken Household Appliance National Forest almost fell into the 'too-silly' catgory but that one...I've been doing a lot of stuff like that. I do know that I wanted it to be big and just like driving some point home, before I even knew what the point was.

How many comparisons to Space Oddity have you had for He's Dumb, He's Simple, He's The Pilot?
Jason: There's actually been a bunch, and that was one of the big surprises. I love that song, I've always loved that song.
Was it always going to be nine minutes?
Jim to Jason: I remember you saying you has a real long song, said it was going to be this big, epic trilogy...
Jason: And there really is this satisfaction knowing that people at the label are going to be scared by that. They look at the name of the tracks and they look at the length of the tracks, and the fact that the first song is nine minutes long is gonna scare the shit out of them. And stuff like that thrills me to death.
Jim: It's almost enough.
Jason: That's what makes all of this fun, is being able to slip stuff like that in. Just try to get away with it. I think we always try to do that and we don't always get away with it...

When you say you don't get away with it...
Jason: Considering the type of music that we play and knowing that there should always be a good dose of rebellion in all of this and I think people get too safe and they start taking it too seriously. I'm really bad like that in the studio. I'll find myself getting bored with the formulaic thing and I have my own version of taking risks in the studio. Like I almost never archive stuff, I go 'okay, how can I make this more like bull-riding or motorcross?' or something. How can I make this more risky and in turn make it more fun than it is? Things like spending hours, maybe days or weeks on certain parts and then punching in or punching out parts that you know you can't re-record. The main thing right now is not archiving stuff. I'm constantly erasing stuff and it's a bit irresponsible sometimes and it would never fly in a proper studio because they're really regimented about that stuff but...I'm actually trying to come up with riskier, funner, more interesting ways to work in the studio. Extreme recording! And I've been trying to amass more ideas like that...because there's too much of that 'there's too much at stake here, we need to get serious. ' You get too many people or too many pressures that are making you lose that flair...I don't think that's a good thing.
Jim: That risk, there's that rapt tension when something's gonna happen or it's not gonna happen. You know Hand Crank Transmitter [from Signal to Snow Ratio]? There's four different punch-ins and they were all done completely live and, if it was gonna be fucked up, it was gonna be fucked up. And the thing was I was pushing the buttons, so I'm sitting there thinking 'Man if I don't get this right Jason's gonna be fucking pissed off!'
Jason: You're not walking through mine-fields or anything. Some people require a bit more of that in their lives than others.
Jim: In terms of the label, you learn that bands don't get away with half the shit they could. I mean at first we were a little bit more timid in terms of 'I don't think they're gonna go for this' or skittishly go 'Um, we have this idea...' and get a 'No!' knee-jerk reaction. And say, 'Okay, we won't do it...' and just fight for it. If you've proven over time that your ideas are sound enough and you're not just doing stuff in this flippant self-destructive, haphazard way and you do have basis for your ideas then they'll come around and say, 'do it.'
Jason: One thing I wanna do when I get back and I don't think the label knows this and I don't think I'm gonna ask, I'm just gonna do it. I just have like boxes of DAT tapes. Old four-track versions of songs... A pretty all-over-the-place CD that we're only gonna sell at live shows. It's probably gonna be somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 minutes of really random...fill in a lot of gaps for anybody who's interested. I'll spend a lot of time to make it somewhat comprehensive and pretty informative. I'm actually pretty excited about that.

You're home for a month in September. Will that time be spent recording anything specific, like another EP?
Jim: I actually would like to do another EP myself, I don't know how Jason feels about it.
Jason: I'm having a hard time coming up with the b-sides...
Jim: I actually got really inspired the other day reading Beck's interview in the NME. He said he's been touring his ass off and when they're done with this tour he's gonna work on three records. He's got one done, he's working on one with Cool Keith, he's working on one with Timberland...
Jason: That guy's at the level where he can do that. He has all the best musicians, the best studios. He can just wander in and just lay down tons of shit. He's probably got tons of people working pro-tools 24 hours a day and he just gets to walk in and choose from 15 alternate mixes of all these songs. Must be kinda nice but that's a whole other deal...
Jim: It is but I got inspired that he is willing to not rest. It's just inspiring that he's working his ass off and he's gonna continue to do it.

How are you balancing the whole 'world tour' thing with your love of Modesto, clean air and working at home. Is it coming easier to you know?
Jason: I'm a little more at peace with the idea. Sometimes we'll get back from a trip and we're supposed to leave in another four or five days...just for the sake of my own sanity I'll pretend that I'm not home, I'll tell myself I'm still on tour, and stay in tour mode, because it's worse on you if you try to get back to normal and it's more jarring if you have to uproot and leave again. So I just do laundry and keep working on band-related stuff and all of a sudden it's time to leave again. Just in the name of self-preservation, I think I've become a little more at peace with the idea that this isn't going to happen for ever. So, while it is we might as well stay busy and put a lot of effort into it because it could be over tomorrow.
Jim: This last one was the worst fucking example ever. After Japan I totally got used to being at home. One of our friends just had a kid and I'm totally attached to him and all that stuff. And Saturday came and we were leaving and I'm like 'hey I'm home,' cooking for myself, semi-healthy, watching Henry walk around for the first time...
Jason: It probably wouldn't be so bad if you aspired to that lifestyle. If you didn't place such stock in peace of mind and being somewhat healthy. If you're okay with being fucked up all the time, and ragged and people are talking to you and you're not really paying attention, you're just constantly going in this direction or that direction. It's nice to be able to absorb the information someone's giving you and be able to reciprocate and be a halway - decent civil human being and be able to appreciate things around you [but] if things are going too fast around you and everything's too crazy then after a while you have to shut off. Or you'll end up turning into some freak like Michael Jackson.

Is the next album in motion? Have you begun discussing it yet?
Jason: I wouldn't even let myself go there for a while. Just recently, I don't know what happened, I was thinking 'I can't put myself through that again. It was a really draining, exhausting process this whole last record. I was actually shooting really high and I think that from what I wanted it to be it fell a little short so, with that in mind, and seeing how much it took out of me personally, trying to imagine another record...I don't think I'd let my mind go there. But, just recently I went 'okay, so I'll make a completely acoustic folk album' just to go the completely opposite direction. I had this idea I was going to throw away all my CDs or take them and sell them or give them away and start completely afresh. All I was going to buy was classical and symphonic music and Bob Dylan. I don't know why I came up with that because I don't even own a Bob Dylan album. But I just need to re-learn the art of simplicity because I really wanted The Sophomore Slump to be that much bigger and enhanced...but I presented it to myself as 'one last push to the summit.' But I don't know why I had to look at it in that context because I don't know how much bigger and better it could get without taking it to some extraterrestrial level where you're burning messages into people's brains...

When did you last listen to it?
Jason: A couple of weeks ago in my truck. I almost felt really guilty like there was something naughty about doing it. I actually listened to it from end to end and it took me back. I hadn't realised how distanced I'd become to it. I still listen to it and think 'God, that was a lot of work.' But maybe I'm not distanced from it enough. I was pretty happy with it, though. I was looking forward to the next song and stuff. I felt to a degree like the outside listener and it had a freshness to it.

How about the response of the critics and the buying public?
Jason: I was actually a little spooked when it came out because there was all this 'album of the year' stuff and that was a little bit frightening because immediately people are being told 'you haven't heard this but it's the album of the year' so it was being set-up, maybe to no-one's fault - I mean it was nice that people considered it that at the time - but it just reeked of a backlash, particularly towards the end of the year...'so what happened to that album of the year...?' 'It's a nice album,' that would be nice.

CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000

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