Jason Lytle: The Return of the Lost Machine

The Grandaddy frontman is almost done with live performances.

Jason Lytle

“You’re talking to somebody who never goes to shows,” Jason Lytle says. “The last show I went to, the only reason I went to it was because it was within bicycling distance from my house, and it was an early show, and it was a good friend of mine who was playing.”

If even one of those conditions hadn’t been met, the Grandaddy frontman wouldn’t have even considered it. He doesn’t have a high threshold for chit-chat or standing around, and he doesn’t like crowds or going to bed late.

In a sense, none of this benign curmudgeonliness should be surprising. Lytle’s songs — and, consequently, Grandaddy’s songs — include homemade robots with existential angst, and people whose seeming reluctance to get a new smartphone leave them semi-happily alienated. Followers of the Modesto native’s Instagram page will see an introvert with a love of the Eastern Sierra town of Bishop and U.S. 395. On records like 2000’s The Sophtware Slump and 2017’s Last Place, Lytle’s breathy tenor imbues already-sad songs like “So You’ll Aim Toward the Sky” with a sense of terminal disappointment and a capacity for finding beauty in the wreckage of the mundane. If he climbs a mountain to find a giant expanse filled with trash, he’ll lean to rest against a refrigerator that’s missing its door and breathe in the air.

As such, over the last few years, Lytle has played fewer shows and become more of a behind-the-scenes guy, which he likes for the freedom to take a road trip or go on a hike. Grandaddy’s story, of the band that almost made it huge, sounds eerily like the protagonist in one of its songs. But after the upbeat, 8-bit-esque “A.M. 180” appeared in a tension-relieving scene in the 2003 zombie thriller 28 Days Later, Grandaddy never penetrated further into the cultural consciousness.

The pressures of the touring life mounted. After releasing four LPs and several EPs, the band broke up in 2006, only to reunite a decade later for Last Place. Released just days after Grandaddy’s show at Noise Pop 2017, it predated bassist Kevin Garcia’s death by a stroke by only two months. Lytle had recorded several solo albums by then, working with the likes of Danger Mouse and Band of Horses, so his career has a viability independent of Grandaddy’s existence, and the band seems to be on more or less permanent hiatus. Asked if Grandaddy is truly over, Lytle coyly says he has one big album left in him — he intends to release it in 2021 because the year sounds futuristic and cool — but declines to specify whether that would be a group or solo effort.

His show on Feb. 28 at Swedish American Hall will be a mix of Grandaddy songs and his own work, with maybe a cover thrown in. He and opener Sea of Bees split a seven-inch with covers of each other’s songs in 2012, so they might do a “collaboration-y thing” on stage, he says.

“I get to immerse myself in the piano and play some songs that people might know, and maybe ones that they don’t know,” Lytle adds. “It’s something that’s going to feel natural to me, that I haven’t gotten enough of a chance to do for various reasons.”

Longtime fans might associate him most strongly with obscure synths and arpeggiated boops, so an all-acoustic set requires some rejiggering. He admits that of his 100 or so songs, at least 30 or 40 aren’t going to work at all, but the ones with stronger melodies and evocative lyrics should translate.

“I don’t want people to be bored and bummed out,” he says. “I’m doing my best to make this as entertaining for myself and for whoever’s watching as possible. Hopefully, I’m picking the right songs and the ones that don’t have 300 synthesizer riffs and distinct sounds that the songs were designed upon.”

Having moved from Modesto to Montana in 2006, and later to Portland “for some godforsaken reason,” Lytle briefly returned to his hometown to make his elderly dog comfortable. He’s now an inhabitant of the East Bay, with a home studio that’s a “bottomless pit” in terms of sound libraries and vintage keyboards — although he’s culled a lot of the gear he’d accumulated in the past.

“I’ve really trimmed all the fat away,” he says. “It’s a sort of hybrid, super-charged badass little setup that exists in my living room right now, and it’s everything I need. If I want to track drums, there’s a studio in Oakland that I’ll go to, because I like to track things to tape still.”

When Noise Pop’s offer came in, Lytle asked to schedule an appointment at Swedish American, which the venue agreed to. After a 20-minute, blind “Tinder date” with the piano, he realized the show was ideal because he wouldn’t have to haul any gear on BART. And rather than creating all-new T-shirts, he teamed up with Muttville Senior Dog Rescue on an idea.

“Instead of me doing merch, I recorded this exclusive, 11-minute-long song that’s a dedication to my dog that passed away, and it’s only available through the download code which is taped to a picture that I printed out,” he says. “All these copies of a picture of me and my dog, so if you donate money, any amount you want, you get access to this song I made.

“The whole thing is tied to senior dogs, and I’m going to donate all the money to the shelter,” he adds. “That’s going to be my merch table.”

And this Noise Pop show might almost be it.

Jason Lytle with Sea of Bees, Thursday, Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m., at Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St. $30-$35, swedishamericanhall.com

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