"You guys are awesome," mutters vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Jason Lytle, in wonder at the end of last Monday night's Grandaddy gig in Dublin's Olympia Theatre. A warmly enthusiastic and appreciative Irish audience seemed to humble the tired Grandaddy boys on the last leg of their European summer tour. Having been on the road for most of the last 15 months, according to drummer Aaron Burtch they're more than a little tired of it all and want to go home.
Grandaddy have always ploughed their own furrow from their early days in Modesto, California when they released their own seven inch singles to their second album, last year's 'The Sophtware Slump', released on a major record label V2 but recorded in their own studio in "this little sh***y house".
Produced by Lytle, the album captures the pre-millennium tension between man and machine, across a dreamy and intricately textured soundscape. Recorded during the summer of 1999 during the height of the Internet revolution, it spoke of technology being blindly embraced while people were left behind along the way. "At the time it was even a little more insistent because the whole Y2K thing hadn't fizzled...yet," say Burtch. "I'm not saying that had anything to do with anything but I'm sure there was a little bit of it in the end – people not being in touch with each other any more and replacing real communication with typing. All that stuff is weird and it can be good too, depending on what direction you take it. There's a lot of that kind of stuff floating around on the record."
Far from Luddites themselves, Grandaddy have embraced technology surrounded on stage by synths, keyboards and giant projections of F1 crashes. "It's balance," says Burtch. "It's finding a balance using that stuff that's going to do good and rejecting the stuff that's going to f**k you up." Balance is also a word that could be applied to Grandaddy's career. The balance between being signed to a major label and yet having the freedom to produce themselves, avoiding getting swept off into a studio where someone else takes over. "We wouldn't know how to do it any other way," says Burtch.
"We tried doing stuff in studios before. Maybe every now and then something is going to work out but it's not going to be what it could be if Jason has enough time to just sit there and tweak for a couple of months and get it exactly where it needs to be rather than forcing it into a two week period. There's no reason to do it like that if you don't need to. We're lucky in that Jason took it upon himself early on that he was going to record and, lucky for us, he got OK at it."
On the subject of working with a producer other than Lytle, Burtch is endearingly unassuming: "We'd feel too embarrassed with someone who really knew what they were doing just sitting there and watching over the whole thing, looking at us and shaking their head, going 'what are you guys doing? That's not how you do it!' We're not going to make the best sounding record ever, we don't have the best musicians and stuff but we're ok at what we do."
Any band that writes psychedelic ballads about exiled spacemen, drunken poetry-writing robots and the fairy tale-like 'Broken Household Appliance National Forest' are more than OK in my book. Toss this with pop nuggets such as 'A.M. 180', 'Summer Here Kids' (both from first album 'Under the Western Freeway') and 'The Crystal Lake' and you've got a band who, together with Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips and Sparklehorse, are blazing new trails in American rock for the twenty-first century. Treasure them.