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GrandaddyHere we sit and talk skateboards, sipping Evian in the expanses of a Shepherd's Bush travelling fairground. The remaining members of Grandaddy have ambled off dressing-room bound and Jason Lytle and I settle down for a chat as the Dodgems are prepared behind us. Later I will casually stroll out of the nearby Empire before the onstage arrival of those Super Furry Animals after a superb support slot from Modesto, California's finest; fairground lights aglow in the West London night. For now, we compete with the disruption around us, and endeavour to carry out the interview. Famously keen to avoid the analysis of his songcraft, and understandably aggrieved by the column inches dedicated to facial hair, Lytle seems relaxed as I ask my first question, which goes something like this...
The Grandaddy philosophy seems to be 'We're serious about our music but don't wish to be taken too seriously by the listener' or 'We enjoy making our music and hope people enjoy listening to it'. A fair assumption?
an interview with Jason Lytle by Matt Dornan
I don't want to sound too expansive or scientific, it's just an attempt to project the 'affection' I have. Keeping it as reflective of life as possible, to me, is the main thing. I do agree with both of those things you said, though. I know I have a really good sense of humour and I know that just makes everything so much easier and so much more bearable - to not take everything so goddamn seriously. Particularly music. And, to me, I like lots of different music for different types of reasons but, I think, my favourite is the thing that enables you to just, sort of, drift away and just go someplace else, you know? Just a means of taking off for a while.
In the band's mini Tour Programme you talk affectionately of an album by a band called Home. Aaron describes it as having 'achieved such a variety of texture and sounds but still [remaining] a cohesive, listenable album'. Which, to be frank, could quite easily be said of Under The Western Freeway. Do you share the same work ethic?
I was pretty excited when I ran across that band. I've just always considered the band being in this 'fan stage'. Reading magazines about other people who are bigger, special and everything. But it seems the band, Home, are on more of an equal, peer situation.
You have a fondness for fresh air equalled, perhaps, only by a love of beer. Is your health important to you?
[laughs] There's a pretty good contradiction going on there! If anything, it emphasises the whole thing of moderation. I said that in relation to touring and band-life and everything. As soon as I get home I kinda shift gears and ride my bike a lot and I go hiking and just get out. It's a pretty extreme difference and it takes awhile to switch over. I'll have about a week of readjustment time where I'm not really sure who I am but then I slowly become human again.
Could you put fresh air, beer, skateboarding and music in order of importance?
I guess if we could put them all together, that would be pretty good! I lived in LA for about four months - that was about long enough for me. There was a skate park there called Upland which is a pretty renowned park and they used to have first, second and third stage smog alerts. And first is bad, second is really bad and third? You couldn't even go there and ride. You'd take a couple of runs and it was as if you were jogging in a coal mine or something.
To someone who hasn't set foot on a skateboard in around twenty years, what's the attraction for you? The adrenaline?
Yeah, definitely, that's a big part of it. When I was younger I realised I was more into the individual sports and there was just enough rebellion in skateboarding...
At this point, one of the fairground crew - a bare-chested, skinhead, piece of white trash - steps up and asks, oblivious to the scarcity of cameras, 'Are you making a film?' Because this is funny, here's the whole conversation:
Knucklehead: "Are you making a film?"
Me: "No, we're doing an interview"
Knucklehead: "With who?"
I nod in the direction of Jason
Knucklehead: "Are you a musician?"
Jason: "yeah, I'm a musician."
Knucklehead: "Is that your record?"
He looks at the vinyl Jason's holding.
Jason: "Yeah. Well it's his actually."
Knucklehead looks at me.
Me: "He made the music, I own the music."
Knucklehead: "You own it?"
Me: "Well, it's my copy."
Knucklehead: "Oh, I see. So what kind of music do you do?"
Jason: "I dunno. Uh, rock...rock'n'roll."
Knucklehead: "Do you need any musicians?"
Jason: "No, we're squared away."
Knucklehead: [surprised] "You don't?"
Jason: "[laughs] No..."
Knucklehead: "I'm a bad musician, man!"
Jason: "You're a bad musician?"
Knucklehead: "Yeah, I'm a very good musician."
Jason: "A good bad, bad good...?
Knucklehead: "I sing, play bass, guitar, percussion."
Jason: "A multi-instrumentalist."
Knucklehead: [having been baffled by the number of syllables or having exhausted his attention span] "Can I have a drop of that water?"
Jason: "You can have it if you want it."
So, we were talking skateboards?
The whole thing was pretty intense. My whole life was that for years and years and years. I had a few bad injuries through all of that but I had one that finalised...was pretty much the end of it. I tore all the main ligaments in my right knee. Everything I'd been working towards - I'd been competing and everything - was, all of a sudden...This addictive kind of thing that had consumed my life was over with. I almost went through all those withdrawals and...I guess it's not too hard to understand the whole adrenaline thing. But, all of a sudden, I wasn't getting that from anything else. The neat thing about skateboarding is that it's really expressive and when you get to that higher level and you watch all these pros...you can almost tell people's personalities by the way they ride. The fluidity and gracefulness and aggressiveness or the different styles. That's what the attraction is. When it came to an end I think that's when I had to replace it somehow and I was lucky that I was able to hand things off in the form of music.
I know you're not comfortable analysing your songs, but did you consider the song I'm In Love With No-One (found on a split EP with a recent issue of the US 'zine 'Snack Cake') to be too personal for general release?
We just did a Peel session and we did that. I have a completely different arrangement which is structured around the band configuration. The Snack Cake thing is this intimate, 'bedroom artist' type of thing. I'm kinda scared of songs that are too long because I have this fear of boring people. That's why the whole idea, normally, is to get the idea across in the shortest amount of time possible.
You're very fond of your headphones. What's your current favourite headphone album?
The newest one is this guy, Cornelius. That one is total ear-candy. I totally buy different recordings for different reasons. Some things I'll get on vinyl just for milling about the house and certain things I really want to have on CD 'cause I can use them as references for matching frequencies and stuff.
Jason begins to draw on the record sleeve when our neighbourhood knucklehead returns...
Knucklehead: "Got any gigs coming up?"
Jason: "Yeah, tonight. We're just the opening band, we're not the big band."
Knucklehead: "Do you need any support bands, like in the future?"
Jason: "Um, it's really not up to me to choose that stuff. Our record label organises that stuff. Sorry."
Knucklehead: "Don't be sorry, mate, be happy. You gave me some water."
He walks away, but not before imparting some wisdom: "Without water you can't eat. Without God...you can't sing."
(straight-faced we continue) Lyrically you seem to find humour in human failing, and you seem to enjoy the mundane and simple things in life.
To me, if I was going to go out of my way to come up with any sort of concept album, that would be my goal. To make this wondrous, beautiful sounding thing which was born out of the smallest, regular things that...There's a song called For The Dishwasher that I came up with riding my bike on this pathetic, stupid job that I had. It wasn't a special night - there was nothing extraordinary about it. But I feel if I can attempt to remain this regular person, being in this fortunate position where I can document it in this extra-special way, hopefully someone will get something out of it the way that I did from stuff that I was affected by. I hardly ever read anything about Jeff Lynne but every time I did read anything he just seemed to be the most regular, down-to-earth bloke which, to me, is really phenomenal considering what it was he pulled off.
Of the bands that you've been compared to, which have delighted and annoyed the most?
I'm actually a bit baffled by the Beach Boys one. And, at the risk of sounding like a sonofabitch, I don't really appreciate the Eels one. That's popped up a few times. I can see why but I just think it's a completely different thing. It'd be neat if people could start making comparisons that were with things other than music. Maybe experiences, things that they've seen...I dunno. Whatever. I don't want to start getting too arty! It is just a bunch of instruments and paychecks to buy instruments.
Do journalists' opinions matter to Grandaddy?
A little bit. It's interesting to have gotten to the point where...it's still completely clear in my head, sitting in my bedroom going 'I wonder what strangers would think about this music'. That memory is still vivid enough for me to where I still get a thrill, good or bad, whether or not somebody has something to say about it. I still have the memory of when nobody knew about it.
CWAS #3 - Summer 1998