Jason Lytle on 'The Sophtware Slump' turning 20 and Grandaddy's End
Of the many things Jason Lytle hadn’t counted on doing in this bizarre year, talking about an album of his that turns 20 was certainly one of them. But here we are, discussing Grandaddy’s second album, The Sophtware Slump, one of the most acclaimed albums of 2000 and to most of the band’s fans, their finest work.
“The fact that it’s even happening and there’s enough interest in it is pretty cool,” Lytle tells SPIN. “You couldn’t have gotten me to predict 20 years ago that I would be sitting here talking about it. It’s flattering, satisfying and cool anyone even gives a shit. But there is so much uncertainty. I didn’t know that album was going to stand the test of time.”
Grandaddy are set to release a lavish, 20th-anniversary box set containing a remastered version of The Sophtware Slump, two extra LPs of rarities (including the Signal to Snow Ratio and Through a Frosty Plate Glass EPs) and a brand new recording of The Sophtware Slump arranged by Lytle on the piano.
To commemorate the occasion, SPIN called up Lytle from his current home in Los Angeles to revisit his lo-fi masterpiece and how he chose to celebrate the big 2-0.
SPIN: There was a lot of focus on the songs and the turn of the millennium. Were you feeling any Y2K-based anxiety at the time?
Jason Lytle: I wasn’t really. My take on it was more of an uneducated, uninformed, everyman’s take. But also, at that point, it became very clear what the internet was and what a part of our lives, and even the world it was going to be. At the same time, I was also watching how people chose to use it. With all of the infinite possibilities and mind-blowing resources available, people were still playing Solitaire and watching goofy, farm animal videos or just getting really good at porn. It just felt like it was more of an emphasis on the dumbed-down, idiocracy of what you could get out of the Internet. It was more humorous to me than anything. Just sitting back, watching the show.
People referred to it as this “anti-technology” album. Did you see it that way?
Oh God no. And I was always mystified when people read into it being that. I think I had a big problem with “stuff.” There was a lot of reference to this problem in Modesto, and many small towns on the rural side that are struggling with the sprawl, where they just dump their trash all over the place. There is a huge problem with that, just dumping it on beautiful farmland. If somebody gets evicted, old computers, fridges, beds, washers, dryers, just end up there. You get older and realize how much you contribute, and just tweak your own life accordingly. I try not to be part of the problem, as much as I can. I walk through my house on a bi-weekly basis doing a big sweep to see if there’s anything that isn’t essential to my life that I can get rid of. I’m constantly trying to scale down however much I can.
Do you think this album’s themes are just as relevant now as they were back in 2000? It’s remarkable just how prescient it is in places.
The Sophtware Slump definitely has this spooky, kind of Orwellian thing that carries over to these days. It’s not terribly far off in vibe. Not specifics, but the vibe is still there. Like there’s a song called “Miner at the Dial-a-View” that completely pre-dated Google Street View. The idea for the song was this guy lives on this planet in a mining colony, a job where you go to the outskirts, work long hours, make a lot of money and then come home. So he goes into a bar and they have these tabletop machines that you put money into and then dial in coordinates on a screen and it shows you anywhere on Earth. And so he looks at his house and sees that this guy has come over to visit his wife while he’s up on this planet. That’s kind of what Google Street View is!
For the anniversary you’ve re-recorded the album on a wooden piano. What challenges did you face trying to re-arrange these songs?
I had all sorts of noise issues in this apartment I’m staying at. At some point, I had all of these studios lined up to record in, and I wasn’t able to get in for obvious pandemic reasons. I would have liked to be sitting there playing the piano while the engineer could oversee all of the technical stuff. It was a little tricky too because the only way I could work in my house was to have the air conditioner blasting. But it’s one of those wall units so it’s really loud. So I had to turn the AC off, and one day it was so scorching but I said, “Fuck it.” One song I was working on was “Broken Household Appliance National Forest” and I thought, “If I can let the air conditioner run during any song this is the one to do it.” So whoever listens to the album, there is an obvious mechanical groaning throughout the whole song and that’s the air conditioner right up above the piano.
Was there originally a tour planned for the anniversary?
I think we had talked about it, but then I realized it wasn’t feasible. I was supposed to be in France right now. I befriended this small orchestra there, and we were going to do a round of Grandaddy shows, but that got shut down. We didn’t have a big thing planned though. We are doing the box set though. I’m just glad that’s happening.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a solo record that has a very specific sound I’m excited about. Right after that I am going to make a big, possibly final, exciting Grandaddy record that will be putting the cap on it. I’m conceptualizing it right now. Good to have those things to look forward to so I can stay focused.