When Jason Lytle, front man for the Modesto, California-born indie rock band, Grandaddy, is at home with nothing else to do, nine times out of ten, he says, he’s plunking away at the piano. He calls the instrument his “go-to guilty pleasure” and his favorite to play. So, it wasn’t a difficult stretch for the musician to turn to the piano for his group’s latest LP, a special 20th anniversary re-release of the popular album, Sophtware Slump. For the new record, Lytle dove back into each and every song and rerecorded them with only the piano and his voice. The result is an intimate reimagining that pulls heartstrings and allows the listener to reevaluate lyrics and ideas in ways the buzzy rock record might not have allowed for decades ago. The album, which Lytle fell in love after some early trepidation, is out November 20th.
“The idea, specifically,” Lytle says, “it turns out was not even mine. Jim Fairchild, the guitar player in Grandaddy, he reminded me that at some point back around the time of Sophtware Slump twenty years ago, I said something to the affect of, ‘Hey, I started a new record and I can play everything beginning to end on piano!’ But I don’t remember saying that.”
At Fairchild’s prompting, Lytle began to remember originally learning all the songs from the record on piano. He jokes that he may have been bragging a bit to Fairchild – a brag that, two decades later, would come back to haunt (and inspire) him. Lytle, though a prolific musician and songwriter, doesn’t like to linger anywhere in public too long. He’s the kind of artist, he says, who would rather get on stage and play five tunes and walk off rather than play for hours and hours. That’s just his style. So, to revisit a twenty-year-old album seemed, in some ways, a fool’s errand. However, after putting a few toes in the proverbial water, he became more comfortable and began to adore and appreciate the process of rerecording the songs.
“I committed to the idea,” Lytle says. “Then it became appealing. I thought, ‘Wow, this is it. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody doing something like this before.’ It was a really cool exercise.”
Over the past few years, Lytle had dabbled in piano renditions of his band’s songs before. He’d even done recent piano tours throughout Ireland and the U.K., only playing venues with acoustic pianos. So, some of the songs from Sophtware Slump were still in his fingertips. But he dreaded diving back into the other less familiar ones. Oddly though, he says, those ended up being his favorites to redo. He learned all the songs, editing them a bit along the way and made them fit for the piano.
“I shortened some stuff, tightened some stuff,” Lytle says. “A lot of the original arrangements had these extended musical passages. So, I allowed myself a little bit of liberty to tweak stuff.”
Lytle, who first began listening to music at four-years-old, came to it thanks to his mother. She’d plop him down in the center of the house at the family record player, put headphones over his head, and play some of the family’s classic albums like The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and KISS. It was chaotic in the household often, but Lytle, sitting there with his music, kept calm. Later, as a teenager, he became an accomplished skateboarder. He met his idols, earned their respect and, just as things were taking off, a severe knee injury derailed his athletic dreams. Thankfully, there was music to turn to.
“That was a huge turning point,” he says.
Prior to his knee injury, Lytle had played some music before. He enjoyed drums. They provided, in a similar way that skateboarding did, the melding of the physical and cerebral worlds. Over the years, Lytle has learned that given the right balance of physical exertion and mental focus, he can achieve some personal form of bliss. He had it with skateboarding and he has it when his music is at its best. Additionally, he began to learn more and geek out at home recording. In the early 90s, when he formed Grandaddy, four-tracks and other electronic equipment was on the rise.
“It became pretty clear that I was someone who needed something to be focused on,” he says. “Something to be obsessed with. And overnight it became music.”
As Lytle’s songs received more and more attention in his hometown and outward, his career, too, grew. He did it all independently. Grandaddy, which formed in 1992, has since put out four records. The band took a hiatus in 2006 and got back together in 2012, releasing the LP, Last Place, in 2017. Now, the group is working toward perhaps its eventual sonic conclusion – though who really knows?
“I’m always saying that,” Lytle says, with a laugh. “I’m always talking about the last, big Grandaddy record on the horizon.”
Regardless of finish lines, the all-piano Sophtware Slump LP is a wonder. It’s intimate, tender, elegant and proficient. It’s many things while sounding so much like the single essence of a single band. But that should come as no surprise to fans of Lytle or the group. For the artist, music provides the way into a new idea. But it has also provided some of the most exhilarating experiences of his creative life.
“It could be a song I’ve heard a trillion times,” Lytle says. “But the right chorus, the right resonance, the right message – I don’t know, it just blows my mind that something can make you feel like such a superhero.”