SONIC REDUCER O, Commuter wherefore art thou, Commuter? Grandaddy mastermind Jason Lytle is familiar enough with the concept of the long haul: he's known plenty of people who've made the trek from his Modesto hometown to Silicon Valley and the Bay. But this time out, on Lytle's first solo album, an exquisite clutch of songs titled Yours Truly, the Commuter (ANTI-), the typical definition of harried, driven, and road-raging working-stiff doesn't quite apply. Or so he explains from his home on the edge of Montana backcountry, over a hot printer jetting out flight info concerning his imminent European tour.
"In this instance, I'm referring to the place I gotta go to make good art, get good results, be creative, and then making the trip back to reality, which is just taking care of business and taking care of my life and making sure that the car still works and, uh, there aren't too many stains on the carpet," he rambles softly, as if speaking to himself, an old friend, or, as the Yours Truly song title goes, the "Ghost of My Old Dog." "It's not always an easy transition, and I've found that the longer I do this, the harder it gets to push yourself to that level of making good art, and then having to come back and be responsible and sift through the wreckage."
Lytle turned 40 on March 26, while fulfilling his target of becoming the "healthiest" he's ever been. ("Whew, it was a real chore!" he wisecracks wryly, recalling the performance and party gauntlet at South by Southwest a few days previous.) He has more goals where that one came from.
"There's all this stuff I want to do before I get old," the ex-semi-pro skateboarder says, when I joke that the grandpa years are approaching despite the demise of his old band Grandaddy. "I want to start painting, and I wouldn't mind playing golf, and I want to get a dog again. I still fucking skateboard on a regular basis! If your body allows you to do it, why quit?"
It's just as hard to imagine Lytle turning his back on music, in spite of his seeming hiatus since the release of Grandaddy's Just Like the Fambly Cat (V2, 2006) and his move to Montana three years ago. He busied himself setting up his studio, working on songs for M. Ward, Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse's forthcoming project, and commercials, until a snowed-in winter spent at the grand piano and peering out the window triggered these tunes. Majestic space balladry ("I Am Lost [And the Moment Cannot Last]"), echo chamber rock ("It's the Weekend"), Kraut meditations ("Fürget It"), bittersweet summons to the temple of Neil Young ("Here for Good"), and stately Brian Wilson-levitating-on-Air elegies ("Flying Thru Canyons") flowed forth. "I love the idea of putting together a little body of work," Lytle says, "whether it be a mix tape for my friends or just a collection of Christmas songs that I've recorded for relatives or in this case, a group of songs that I thought were strong enough to call an album."
When Lytle comes through town with a group including ex-Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch and Rusty Miller of SF's Jackpot, he'll be fielding another question: When is the musical commuter coming home? "I would have loved to have stayed in California," drawls Lytle. "But the types of places that I want to live don't really exist in California anymore.