Because he knows he can come off like a freak, Jason Lytle hesitates before deciding to open up on the subject of nature and how much it means to him. But when he does, it becomes readily apparent that the 40-year-old indie-rock veteran has no regrets about giving up life as he once knew it in Modesto, California.
After making some seismic life changes in 2005—including dissolving long-running Cali critical darlings Grandaddy, a band he fronted for almost a decade and a half—Lytle packed up and moved to Montana. Today, he lives in a farmhouse where he recorded his stellar solo debut, Yours Truly, the Commuter. To get a sense of how much he loves his new life, simply take a spin through the album’s 12 tracks, which range from the ethereal space country of “Rollin’ Home Alone” to the retro power pop of “It’s the Weekend”. From the song titles on down, standouts like “Flying Thru Canyons” and “Brand New Sun” suggest that Lytle couldn’t be happier being removed from city life. His final line on the record—coming in the swaddled-in-synths lullaby “Here for Good”—finds him singing contentedly, “I’m here for good.”
“I’ve set myself in a situation where I don’t have to drive days in the dark and make this big weekend trip to be in the middle of nowhere. I can be there in 20 minutes, all lost and confused but in a really good way.”
What gets him frustrated is when people have no idea what the fuck he’s talking about. It’s only when I tell him that, over the years, I’ve spent time recharging in a cabin on an isolated lake in British Columbia, that he reveals why he doesn’t like talking about his relationship with nature.
“I come to this point of frustration often when I’m talking to journalists,” he says. “A lot of times, they live in these totally metropolitan areas and they are in this line of work where they are always having to deal with deadlines. They’ll go [assumes a booming voice], ”˜Soooo, why do you like nature?’ or some asinine question like that. I’ll have a good comprehensive answer, but halfway through I’ll realize that I sound like I’m full of bullshit. I end up sounding like some fucking Bonnaroo hippie drifting along, looking for a drum circle.”
Lytle continues, “What happens, though, when you are out on your own—and you just touched on this—is that something else takes over. You just have to give it a chance to seep in. If you do, you’ll start figuring stuff out.”
Lytle had plenty of shit to figure out after Grandaddy. Critical gushing doesn’t translate into six-figure royalty cheques, and he was tired of living on a diet of Top Ramen. He also realized that there’s only so long you can self-medicate with drugs and alcohol before you go from recreational user to full-on abuser.
What he likes best about Montana, then, is that he’s been able to clear his head and—as much as it might make him sound like a Bonnaroo hippie in search of a drum circle—get high on the great outdoors. The downside is that, more than ever, life on the road is a struggle. When he’s on the tour bus, the only place he wants to be is back home.
“It’s funny—it doesn’t take that long until I get whittled down on these trips,” he says. “It’s a struggle for me. Right now, I’m in pep-talk mode with myself. I get out of my element to where I feel like I’ve got a lack of control. My only way to handle things on the road is to drink way too much.”
Jason Lytle opens for Neko Case at the Vogue on Wednesday (June 3).