Origin: Bozeman, Mont., via Modesto, Calif.
Jason Lytle seemed reluctant to leave his Northeast Portland neighborhood to meet me. He likes to stay on the edge of town, near an "escape hatch" back to the wild. Maybe it was no coincidence that we ended up meeting at Wilder bar off Northeast Killingsworth Street.
As the lead singer of Modesto indie band Grandaddy, Lytle, 45, was a staple voice in my teenage musical universe, representing the sound of small-town malaise. He was a sort of mascot for those of us familiar with the doldrums of California's Central Valley, a place that stays both literally and figuratively very dry.
He's traded up to a moister town—and gone through a separation since arriving here last year—but says he has no interest in becoming a permanent part of the local landscape.
WW: What are you doing in Portland?
Jason Lytle: I was in Montana for eight years, with the same girl this whole time. She was there through all the Grandaddy stuff. We finally got married, three years ago. We needed to give living in the city a fair shake. I was just like, "Yeah, Portland. Fuck it, let's do it." I adjusted well, and she kind of went the opposite direction.
Have you felt welcomed by Portlanders?
It helps that I don't give a shit. In Montana, I'd be at some bar and there'd be some old-timers rattling on, six beers deep, like, "These goddamned Californians!" But the place I was living in had this perfect blend of modernization and color and influx of culture, and it was a really well-rounded town—Bozeman, Mont. That's what makes places.
Everyone flocks to the good places. And everyone who lives in the good places, out of pride, likes to complain how everyone's flocking to their good places. Maybe 70 percent of them are just clogging toilets and logjammin' the roads, but there's a good chance 30 percent of them really should be here. A lot of the time the people who are the most nutted up about this stuff just haven't been anywhere else.
I honestly feel that because of my love for the outdoors, because of my in-depth involvement with recording and playing music, and because I'm an avid cyclist, Portland is a good place for me.
Anything you don't like about it?
Wet, soggy, dampness, moisture, mold, and too many great drinking establishments to challenge my willpower.
Do you really have plans to stop playing music?
My life is a lot more enjoyable when I don't play shows. It's really disruptive to all the other stuff that I really love.
Performing in general can be so exhausting for a solitary person.
You're giving your energy away to other people every single night. It's the worst part of it. The Neil Youngs and the Willie Nelsons of the world can play a show, give it to the people, and then be ushered directly onto a tour bus. I would make so much more money if I hung out at the merch booth. I can't. It destroys me.
So if you could feasibly do a Neil Young exit, would you still play shows?
I don't know. All the anxiety and the worry beforehand, that's what does a number on me. Except for that 45 minutes where you're just walking the tightrope, all the stuff that leads up to it is kinda not worth it. My dream situation would have been to make records and not tour, but it's not really a reality.
Now that you're single, you could get into all kinds of freaky shit on tour. Or in Portland, really. I predict that you'll be polyamorous by 2016.
The whole appeal of being married and stable was not having to open those doors. I don't even know what polyamorous means.
It's having multiple partners and multiple significant emotional relationships without exclusivity or traditional labels.
That sounds like a fucking nightmare. So these guys have no lives or what? I feel like I'm trying to save all my power for my work. How do you have anything left if you're just spending it like that? God.
How did your hometown shape your music?
My dad was in the grocery business—produce guy. My mom divorced him when I was 5, and she just kinda went off and went to find herself. She's awesome and I love her, but I ended up with my dad. We lived in all these little Central Valley towns. Typical BMX-riding, soccer-playing culs-de-sac. The key to this whole story, though, is my dad remarried my stepmom. My stepmom used to work at a radio station, and the radio station had just shut down, so all the people who were working there took all the records. Crucial point in my life: I get a new stepmom and she has this collection of like 200 albums. And we lived out in the country, and I was kind of an introverted kid, just sitting around kickin' the can, and then these records came along.
Sounds similar to where you are in your life now. So what's the next box of records, so to speak?
I'm there already. The last two months have been super-intense and really tough. I moved my studio into the house, like a midlife crisis. "I'm puttin' a damn recording studio in my living room!" I'm in the middle of a project I'm really in love with. I'm helping to produce Band of Horses' new record. And as soon as that mellows out a little bit, I'm gonna go headlong into a new Grandaddy record. And it's gonna kinda be my bookend. It's gonna round the whole journey out. And then I think I'm done with the whole public thing. Living in Portland is gonna be my big last statement. Sometimes I see Portland like going to the Antarctic station to collect data and get my focus on. I'll get some good results, and then I'll be done.
Previous New Portlander Interviews: Slices from the Fresh Meat Column