Injury-prone Grandaddy heralds 'Sumday'

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Special to the Journal-World

California's Grandaddy tackles issues of mortality and alienation on its new record, "Sumday."

If VH1 were to do a show on the top 100 rock 'n' roll injuries, Jim Fairchild of Grandaddy would certainly place in the Top 10.

Partying on Pete Yorn's tour bus late one night after a show, Fairchild stumbled down the steps of the vehicle into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler.

Luckily for him, he only caught the 18th wheel.

"I had to roll out of the way to escape imminent death," says Fairchild, who escaped with a couple of broken bones in his shoulder. "I seriously was within three inches of having my skull crushed. I've been trying to work hard on being more optimistic for the past few years and I think that contributed to an increased sense of that."

Optimism could be the word of the year for Grandaddy, a hard-working indie rock band from Modesto, Calif., that recently released its third full-length album, "Sumday," and followed it up with a worldwide tour that put the band onstage in front of 30,000-plus people at England's Glastonbury and Leeds Festivals.

Past Event

Grandaddy / Starlight Mints / Elbow

  • Sunday, October 12, 2003, 9 p.m.
  • Liberty Hall Cinema, 644 Massachussets Street, Lawrence
  • All ages / $13.50

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If not for his optimism, Fairchild could at least be commended for his resiliency. One week after the accident, he was back onstage in a right-arm sling.

"It was just too painful to sit and watch the band play without me," he says. "I had to develop this system of playing guitar sitting down and holding it upright pointing the headstock of the guitar at the audience like the guy in Iron Maiden."

No sad sacks, please

Listening to "Sumday" sometimes feels like being caught in the middle of a science fiction novel. Singer Jason Lytle ruminates on robots working in the factory when the operators are away, all in an earnest voice that sounds like it could warm even the meanest killer robot's heart.

Simple songs are dressed in lush, pocket-symphony arrangements thanks to a variety of keyboards that blurp and soar around Lytle and Fairchild's simple guitar phrasings.

"We want Grandaddy to be music as departure," Fairchild says. "We don't want it to bog you down with problems. We want it to be kind of transportive."

Like Flaming Lips (who the band has often been compared to), Lytle is not afraid to tackle fragile subjects like his own mortality and alienation. On "Sumday," however, even the saddest songs take comfort in lovely arrangements and dreamy harmonies.

"We always try to make sure that there's enough balance so that people know that we're not just sad sacks," Fairchild says. "A lot of people think that we're just these miserable bastards and that's just not the case."

Robot escorts

Thanks to MTV2 (the band's video for "Now It's On" has gotten steady play) and high-profile magazines such as Spin and Rolling Stone, Grandaddy has become a fairly well-known name in underground rock. Few people, however, are familiar with the band's humble beginnings in 1992 as a noisy lo-fi home-recording unit. Back then, Lytle, bassist Kevin Garcia and drummer Aaron Burtch recorded songs in their bedrooms and parents' houses, distributing homemade tapes at shows and in local record stores.

Though the band now records for a large independent label (Virgin Records offshoot V2), Grandaddy's home-cooked approach to recording remains. Lytle has two studios set up in his Modesto house which allow the act ample time to fine-tune its recordings.

"I think Jason had the foresight to realize that it would probably be best for the band's development if we were kind of separated from the music biz," Fairchild says. "It's been really beneficial for us to just shut off and do our work when it comes time to do so."

In fact, the group may have too much time to waste in the studio, as evidenced by a recent prank the ensemble pulled on its record company. While preparing demos of the "Sumday" material, the band recorded a whole album's worth of toilet humor joke songs and sent them to V2 pretending it was the new album.

"It was absolute crap that we had made for the specific purpose to confuse them and just have a little bit of fun," Fairchild says. "It was like, 'Don't tell us how to do stuff, because if you do this is going to be the result.'"

At the request of friends and fans, the alternate album is now available on the band's Web site (www.grandaddylandscape.com) under the name "Arm of Roger."

Taking it to the people

Thankfully, the real Grandaddy will be the one performing on the current tour, which has already cruised across the U.S. with Wales band Super Furry Animals and will conclude with a month in Europe. Long stretches on the road are nothing new for the band, which spent 18 months touring in support of its last record, "The Sophtware Slump."

"It feels good to know the successes that have been achieved have been through hard work," Fairchild says. "We try to bring as much of home on the road as we can. Everybody on the crew has to be our good friends and do normal stuff like go for walks and ride bikes and ride skateboards."

Fairchild also attributes the band's recent success to a turning of the tides in mainstream tastes.

"Commercial music isn't what it was a few years ago," he says. "That's not to say that it's improved a hundred percent or anything, but when you have The White Stripes getting played on the radio, that's not bad."

And if Grandaddy ever did break through like The White Stripes?

"We've never been one of those bands who are completely resistant to the idea of playing in front of more and more people," Fairchild says. "It's populist music."

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