Grandaddy doesn’t seem like a very happy band. And I don’t mean their music. Judging by what Jason Lytle, the band’s founding member, singer, and songwriter is telling me, I’m not even sure they’re a band at all. “[Grandaddy] has just kind of fallen back,” Lytle explains. “We still keep in touch, but people are getting older. They are just kind of wandering. A couple of guys in the band in particular, they do nothing musically; when they’re not in the band they don’t even play music. And literally, we just rehearse when a tour is coming up. By the 50th show, we’ve just about got things dialed in, and then 51 through 100 is us fed-up and exhausted and drunk and still playing.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not still putting out albums. Most recently, Lytle penned, recorded and produced the fitful and bitter—yet poppy—Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla. The EP was recorded in Lytle’s second studio while his main studio—which takes up much of his house, including half the kitchen—was being used to record the upcoming full-length (Just Like the Fambly Cat, due by the end of the year). The short release is entirely his handiwork, with the exception of the drum tracks, mostly played by Grandaddy regular Aaron Burtch. But this is par for the course. Lytle explains, “I was kind of left to my own resources—but it’s always sort of been like that ... though I think it was more so this time.”
The EP also expresses Lytle’s own personal grudge—one against his hometown since childhood of Modesto, California, a place he’s been planning to leave, unsuccessfully, for decades. The title of the EP refers to a name he saw on a personalized license plate in town, a name that he found synonymous with the kind of resident that makes Modesto a place worth leaving: “kind of dense and not really ignorant in a bad way, but ignorant in a loud and crude and sloppy way ... the kind you can see coming from a mile away.” The eight-song EP, featuring tunes like “Fuck the Valley Fudge” and “Goodbye?”, sums up his take on the area and is not so much a farewell as a fuck-off to the 200,000-resident agricultural town. “[The EP] was a nice opportunity for me to produce some whiney little complaining songs about my hometown. I think it’s pretty blatant; it’s pretty stripped down in terms of the message.”
Considering the history of his band, the message of Todd Zilla is particularly severe—for without Lytle’s inability to leave Modesto, the band would never have formed. In 1992, Lytle was forced to abort his plans to get out of town because of a serious knee injury, and since he couldn’t get away, he got Grandaddy together. It’s been because of Grandaddy that he’s stayed in town since. “I pretty much grew up within a 30 mile radius of this little area. All of my schooling was done here,” he says, “and the band has pretty much kept me here, for, I dunno, the last ten to 15 years. This was not my first choice of places to remain, but, it just kinda turned into this experiment, just to see if we could get good and pay cheap rent and still live here.”
The experiment, though taking its evident toll on Lytle’s psyche, has helped him produce a handful of Grandaddy albums that, while sometimes morose and brooding, are also often constructively introspective and impressively elegant. In addition, the band’s shotgun marriage to their Modesto studio has given them the time to engage in a handful of stunning studio experiments, allowing them to forge a unique and malleable sound—part “home studio style” low-fi fuzz, part professional quality “found” confusion. As with the band’s past releases, Todd Zilla does not fail to dazzle the ear, though it may hurt the heart.
But this is, Lytle insists, his final, bitter farewell to the town in which he and Grandaddy tumultuously came of age. Half the band has already left, and as soon as the full-length is recorded and the studio is disassembled (“The last microphone is already packed and the last preamp is turned off right now”), Lytle, too, will set off, toward “L.A. or Billings, Montana.” When asked if he will miss the horrible home that inspired so much music, Lytle is unrelenting. “In Modesto, it’s like gravity is a lot heavier. There’s something that just makes you feel like you’re doing all you can just to keep your head above water, when in fact there’s not a whole lot going on.” Of course, by “not a whole lot” he means the simultaneous recording of two albums almost entirely by himself. That kind of workload could chase anybody out of any town.