Jason Lytle is the man behind the Modesto, Calif., band Grandaddy. The band released its debut in 1997, but it was Grandaddy's second album — The Sophtware Slump — that broke through with critics and fans. Even David Bowie called himself a fan when he approached the band members after seeing them play.
"That was about as good as it got, though, you know," Lytle says. "And things would go up and down, and then we'd get through this current crisis on and on to this next magical moment. And that happened pretty regularly throughout the history of the band. And then it finally got to the point where it had kind of maxed out. And I knew it."
With Grandaddy poised on the edge of mainstream success, Lytle called it quits in 2006.
"I didn't like music anymore. My connection to music had just become obligation and exhaustion," he says. "It had gotten too far away from where it started, which was basically me loving music so much that I had to write songs and I had to make recordings. I needed a big lifestyle change, and that required getting away from Modesto and just starting fresh, with an emphasis on getting a little healthier and living around mountains and being outdoors."
Soon after, he moved to Bozeman, Mont., a college town surrounded by mountains — a far cry from Modesto.
"I still laugh about the fact that this thing I do, which is writing songs and recording and spending lots of time in the studio ... goes completely against this other thing which I'm really passionate about: spending as much time as I can outside."
Lytle's new solo album, Dept. of Disappearance, is out this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're hearing music of Grandaddy, a band that reached legendary status in indie circles and even counted David Bowie as a fan. It's a band but it's also a solo effort by one man, Jason Lytle. He's from California's Central Valley in the hot, dusty city of Modesto where, in his home studio, he wrote and recorded, all by himself, Grandaddy's albums, a process Lytle describes as torturous.
JASON LYTLE: I'm like in my boxers; my hair is messed up and bags under my eyes.
MONTAGNE: And he allows drugs were part of that creative process.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNDER THE WESTERN FREEWAY")
LYTLE: (Singing) But I'd be fine wasting our time, not doing anything here...
MONTAGNE: Grandaddy's albums were by prized critics, some calling them among the greatest of the last decade.
LYTLE: That was about as good as it got though, you know. And there was - things would go up and down. And then we'd get through this current crisis and on and on to this next magical moment. And that happened pretty regularly throughout the history of the band. And then it finally got to the point where it was like, it kind of maxed out. And I knew it.
MONTAGNE: So, on the very edge of mainstream success, Lytle called it off, ending Grandaddy six years ago.
LYTLE: I didn't like music anymore. I was like my connection with music was - had just become, you know, obligation and exhaustion.
MONTAGNE: He left his hometown of Modesto and moved to Montana where he wrote a new solo album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET UP AND GO")
LYTLE: (Singing) Get up and go, you can do it. Everything's going to be alright. You can do it. You can do it...
MONTAGNE: Now in Montana, Jason Lytle says he's healthier. He figures he spends half his life in the studio and half outdoors. He still skateboards on concrete but he's also taken up running on trails.
LYTLE: I like the solitude and I like the long distances and the kind of the weird mental places that you - I mean it's obviously a lot of physical stuff. But it's just as much or even more, you know, digging deep and hitting these roadblocks and just, kind of, powering through them and seeing what you're made of.
MONTAGNE: A process he likens to his songwriting. Jason Lytle's new album is out today. It's streaming now at NPRMusic.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.