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"I kind of look at it like calling somebody before you go over to their house, instead of just showing up," joked Lytle.
Which is good, because this place we call earth is a mess and not fit for unannounced company. We've got cities like Lytle's hometown of Modesto, California, that are nothing but festering cesspools of capitalism, full of mini-malls and convenience stores but void of any heart or soul.
"It is very working class," said Lytle, now beardless, "but it's suffering from a lack of identity. It's a commuter town. Lots of people live here, but there's not a lot to do. People don't know each other. There are no music venues, nothing to do with the arts. There's lots of alcoholism. I've been to sleepy little towns in the Midwest that had more to offer."
Due out September 27th, Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla addresses the downfall of the place Lytle calls home, a city he says that used to have a certain charm about it. In the song "Fuck The Valley Fudge," Lytle lists his grievances and talks of the repercussions of adding a new convenience store to the already commerce-congested landscape of the community. And he does all this while playing stately, plaintive piano chords that seem to yearn for simpler times.
As it progresses, feelings of nostalgia give way to frustration on Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla, a compilation of sort that mixes new songs with older, unreleased ones Lytle's had lying around for awhile.
"One of them is eight years old," commented Lytle about one of the EP's tracks. "A lot of what I'm doing all the time is going back and assessing, and when I have time, I'm able to go a little more in depth with a song. I'm always aspiring to achieve better sonic quality. And with this EP, it's sort of like I was rummaging around and cleaning house, sort of going through the closets and getting rid of things."
At the same time that Todd Zilla was coming together, Lytle was also working on material for a new full-length album. "I have this method of starting an album and an EP, where I sort of try to trick myself into thinking that something like the EP is no big deal. From a distance, you can see it as a noble cause, trying to do 10 things at once. But when you start getting involved in it, you start to care about more and more, and it becomes frustrating for me because when I'm working on an album, everything that's standing between me and working on the album is my enemy. It could be relationships, it could be moving boxes around at home, it could shaving, it could be paying bills - everything."
That obsession keeps Lytle awake some nights.
"Throughout the years, I've sort of done whatever needs to be done to get the songs recorded," said Lytle, who recorded the Todd Zilla EP in four months, mostly on his own, in the bedroom of his home studio in Ceres, a former stand-alone town just a few miles south of Modesto on the I-5 that has been engulfed in its northerly big brother's sprawl. "The recording process for us has always been shrouded in secrecy. With the EP, I'd work on it whenever I got bored. I'd be the guy standing around in his boxer shorts at 3 a.m. slaving away on a banjo part."
Not surprisingly, there is a palpable tension to the EP, which is more synthesizer driven than Grandaddy's last full-length, Sumday. Lytle lets a few expletives fly from his mouth and on the hyperactive, bouncy power-pop number "Florida," his normally mellow vocals turn into angry screams as a rush of guitars hits warp speed. A mini-suite of slow, quiet, bittersweet keyboard-based songs forms the core of Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla, but then there's the swooning, sugary single "Pull The Curtains," a twisted take on California pop that is what the Beach Boys would sound like if they were left to die on an uninhabited planet beyond our galaxy.
"I tried to make the first song as weird as I could, while still adhering to the Grandaddy formula," explained Lytle. "I keep telling myself I'm going to sit down and try to make something commercial, but commercial and accessible is not that interesting."
The story behind the title is, though. While vacationing in Lake Tahoe a couple of years ago, Lytle was stuck behind a behemoth of a monster truck that had a vanity license place with the name "Todd Zilla." To Lytle, it represented something "big, loud and awkward" - which, for Lytle, describes the commercialism that has gripped America in general and is particularly rampant in Modesto.
"I'm a big fan of subtlety and that license plate was like a big, stupid tattoo," said Lytle. "I was that way even when I was younger, so it's not a grumpy old man thing. But that's why I enjoy the company of animals more than humans. I like things that are more mysterious."
Mystery, it seems, is an area in which Lytle excels, especially regarding the circumstances surrounding the new, as of yet unnamed album. Lytle revealed a little of what to expect from the record.
"I think we use a lot more cuss words, and there's a feeling of just not giving a shit," said Lytle. "It's just all that stuff that comes from being a misunderstood punk rocker, where you're walking down the street and getting insults hurled at you. I'm just looking forward to the day when I can live in an environment I want to be in. When it's done, I'm hoping it'll be kind of the end of an era for a body of work."
To that end, Lytle does promise that the upcoming full-length is going "...to blow the EP away. It's actually kind of frustrating having to talk about the EP because the album is so much bigger."
Like a certain truck owned by one Todd Zilla. SEE ALSO: www.grandaddylandscape.com
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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