By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
By Arrissia Owen
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
Making it a peaceful commute with Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle
Fear not, Grandaddy fans. Despite the opening line “Last thing I heard I was left for dead,” Jason Lytle is in fine form on Yours Truly, The Commuter, his first proper output since his former band’s 2006 swan song, Just Like the Fambly Cat. Even if those lyrics could diminish our expectations, the album proves to be a luminous start to the solo career of one of indie rock’s most distinctive voices.
As the album title suggests, many of Lytle’s new songs deal with life passing us by, which is all the more apparent in today’s instant-turnover culture.
“It’s not too deliberate,” Lytle says, “but I’ve had two people tell me that some of their most satisfying moments of listening to the record have been while sitting in traffic with the windows down, watching people and watching vehicles drive by. That can only be reassuring that maybe I did tap into something.”
By turns wistful and uplifting, Yours Truly, The Commuter is a modest outing befitting Lytle’s status. He played everything himself, enlisting only a few backup vocals from Earlimart’s Ariana Murray because he couldn’t sing quite high enough. The album is stripped-down but warmly familiar, thanks to Lytle’s squeaky rasp, reverby guitar twang, daydreaming lyrics and wealth of otherworldly synthesizers. There’s a fair bit of piano, too, and the album’s quieter moments—especially the heartbreaking “Birds Encouraged Him” and “This Song Is the Mute Button”—throw his lyrics into stark focus the way an anthemic rock song never could.
“I basically narrowed a large group of songs down,” Lytle explains. “It just ended up being more basic. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff going on and a lot of subtle parts attached to each other. In the back of my head, I also knew that I was gonna wig out a little more on my second album. I didn’t want to scare people off with the first one.”
Wig out how?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I have a lot of gear that I have a lot of fun with. I have a capability of making a lot of really hallucinogenic sounds, so I had to withhold a little bit of that. I like the idea of the songs being concise and more pleasant-sounding.”
Despite multitasking throughout the album and releasing it under his own name, for the tour, Lytle has put together a band that includes his old friend Rusty Miller (from the band Jackpot) on guitar, Rob Murdock on bass and Grandaddy’s Aaron Burtch on drums. (For the band’s recent stint in Europe, however, Burtch’s brother David filled in for him.) Lytle and the band are even interspersing a few choice Grandaddy nuggets in the live set, which means he hasn’t completely closed the book on the band that won an international following with a quartet of solid albums, including 2000’s critically acclaimed The Sophtware Slump.
Perhaps the biggest change for Lytle was relocating from his lifelong home of Modesto to Montana. As for the geographic move affecting his solo album, Lytle says, “It had the most effect on my downtime. I found myself not spending very quality downtime when I lived in Modesto. Now my routine [is] record, record, record, and then head out to the mountains on some treks or little adventures. It’s a good way for me to clear my head and figure things out. That definitely had a big influence on the end picture.”
He has also taken a step back from his solo work by writing music for a commercial for, of all things, women’s shoes at Macy’s. Plus, he sang on M. Ward’s latest album and the upcoming Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse team-up Dark of the Soul. Most surprisingly, he provided lead vocals for “Slipstream,” a track off the Crystal Method’s new album, Divided By Night. The latter works quite well, with Lytle’s yawning delivery and the vast, sparkling scope of the production.
“I can’t imagine writing anything or having the ability to program anything like that myself,” Lytle admits. “It was a pretty neat challenge.
“People just contact me,” he adds. “It’s not as if I have a team of people out there trying to force me onto these records.”
As long as Lytle finds time for what sounds like a hell of a follow-up to Yours Truly, The Commuter, no one should mind the pit stops he makes along the way.
Jason Lytle with Two Guns and O’s and the Oculist at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, 2025 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 438-5435; www.arttheatrelongbeach.com. Thurs., June 11, 7:30 p.m. $20; $16 in advance. All ages.