By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – December 27, 2016) — In the fall of 1990 I moved from San Jose, California to Modesto, California. I took a job at a local Brethren church, leaving a record contract with a post-punk band I was in. I also wanted to finish college (which I did). When I arrived in Modesto there wasn’t much of a music scene. Modesto was known more for farmland, Gallo wines, and Royal Robbins clothing.
But that didn’t stop me from performing around town, particularly at the newly opened J Street Café. I played solo shows — with guitar and harmonica, meeting people along the way, including my wife, Melanie.
Another person I met was Jason Lytle. He appeared to be a quiet fellow, about my age. He’d show up at some of my shows and listen, asking a few questions. He’d even played some music during my sets. I immediately saw that he had talent. And in my mind he was the “Modesto Sound,” a guy that captured something sonically unique about California’s Central Valley — a Western inspired soundscape: open, questioning, and nature-meets-technology infused.
But I never developed a friendship with Jason, consumed as I was by school, starting an art gallery (Poiema), and my future wife. But through a mutual friend, Steve, I’d hear a thing or two about Jason; how he was making music outside of the box, re-introducing the keyboard and synthesizer to the sonic landscape. I happened to be playing in the Americana genre at the time; a confluence of folk and alt-country, so I was intrigued by what Jason was doing as the synthesizer was my first instrument (long live the Juno 106!).
Steve would bring tapes to the art gallery and play me Jason’s music (Jason eventually performed at the gallery). My impression of the music was that of introspection, questioning, and searching, with dry humor placed strategically throughout. The music was encased in a melancholy atmosphere, led by Jason’s high tenor voice. In short, it was fantastic.
Then one day Jason disappeared. I didn’t see or hear from him, and we never connected again. By this time I moved on to playing with bands (Canterbury and Widow’s Mite, later signed to a record deal by the soon to be inducted YES Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Rick Wakeman). I kept an ear to the ground for other talented, local musicians. But without Jason around, the region lost some of its intrigue. Then Steve told me that Jason had signed a record deal with Richard Branson’s V2 records with his band Grandaddy. I was impressed. V2 was a great label. Now I understood why Jason wasn’t around much. Little did I know that Jason — along with several other groups — would be at the cusp of the new Indie-music movement and sound arising in various cities around the U.S.
Though Grandaddy released two albums and several EP’s in the 1990’s, it wasn’t until 2000’s The Sophtware Slump that I took notice. Now don’t get me wrong, the first two albums were good, but The Sophtware Slump was great. And I wasn’t the only one who thought this; the album received critical praise, culminating with the New York Times calling it “a heart-achingly beautiful requiem for a culture in which progress and technology have led to alienation and disposability.” Jason went on tour with Coldplay, Radiohead, and other notable acts during the 2000’s. The Modesto Sound went public.
But, by the mid-2000’s, I wasn’t living in Modesto anymore and had lost track of Grandaddy. The last that I had heard from Steve was that Jason had moved to Montana. After doing recent research it appears that Jason kept busy with solo projects, producing, and working with other record labels. The Modesto Sound went on hiatus.
So when I read in Rolling Stone that Granddaddy was releasing a new album, my ears perked up . And in a recent NPR broadcast, Jason talked further about the new album and the Grandaddy reunion . After hearing the songs, Way We Won’t and Clear Your History, my mind immediately went back to the early 1990’s. I was captivated. The songs, with a cleaner production, were strong, carrying the same mixture of odd imagery boiling with deeper thematic ideas. The Modesto Sound was resurrected.
I was pleased to hear that Jason chose Modesto to release the new music . It’s fitting, since Grandaddy still represents the Modesto Sound to many (and for most people the only band they know from the region). I hope the new album brings new admirers to both the music and Modesto — the modest city in the Central Valley of California.
The new album, Last Place, is scheduled for release in March. You can find out more information here: http://www.grandaddymusic.com/.
Photo captions: 1) The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy. 2) YES, soon to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 3) Grandaddy. 4) Last Place by Grandaddy. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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