Americana UK Interview

OCTOBER 21, 2015: AMERICANA UK by Rudie Humphrey 

Having spent much of his life in a supporting role for various musicians as a harmony singer and upright bass player, Alec Lytle began his solo music career at the urging of fellow musicians who convinced him that his personal songs deserved to be heard by an audience. Since then, he has played his nuanced acoustic music in clubs and bars from Los Angeles to San Francisco, in cafes in Thailand, public squares in Brazil and on any field or mountaintop where he can tell his stories to a few empathetic listeners or simply the wide open spaces… often with just his intimate voice, heartbreaking words, and the sound of his little Martin guitar.

Tell us about yourself and what you do?

I was born and raised in Northern California and I live up in the Santa Cruz mountains, which is right on the Pacific coast, with my wife and our 2 year-old son in a house we built.  It’s a pretty rural existence up in the hills, surrounded by big redwood trees and the fog coming in off the Pacific Ocean.  I guess I would consider myself a songwriter first and foremost.  I love singing and playing as well, but it’s secondary to the writing.  I end up doing a lot of other things in addition to my music…I build things, I design things, I write things…I'm really never able to only focus on one thing exclusively.   Ultimately, I think all these different experiences that come into my life help inspire me to write better songs.  

How did you start out?

I’ve always had music in my life.  I have older sisters who listened to great music, sang and played.  My mother was a cellist and a pianist.  Music was always in our house, so it was never really a decision to play music…I just did.  I have done a lot of different things with music, upright bass was my instrument of choice for many years, along with harmony singing, singing in choirs, etc…I played in jazz groups, in some small symphonies, some rock bands, a few experimental groups…but then one day I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying making music.  The music I really wanted to write and play didn’t fit into the “serious music” that I was involved with at the time.  It took me quitting music to eventually find the music that really spoke to me and that I felt comfortable with… and that music is heavily influenced by the music I grew up with.  Writing songs that are honest and direct, that focus on the simplicity of chords, melody and words…in the musician circles I was running in, those things were often thought of as pedestrian.  But for me, I realized that making music and writing music was mostly about communicating, and the best communication is usually not the most complicated, loudest, fastest or most intricate. 

What is your current release?

My debut album as a solo artist is a record of 11 songs called “The End of Ours”.  It comes out on October 16.  This is a collection of songs that is tied together around a theme of loss.  Losing people, or parts of your identity, or youth… there are a lot of themes in the record…but they all come back to that center of loss.  I worked with a great friend of mine named Tony Berg on this record.  He produced it and helped me see though a bunch of songs I had written and choose these for the record.  It’s really amazing when someone takes a look at your writing from a distance and can help you see a theme that ties everything together.  I had a lot of great musicians play with me on the record.  Some are part of my live band, some are folks that I have met doing other musical endeavors over the years… it really came together nicely.  For the most part we recorded this album as a band… I sang most of my vocals live…all of us in a big warehouse studio that belongs to my friend Bob Clearmountain who engineered and mixed the record.

What is the best part of being in a singer/song writer?

I honestly don’t know.  It’s all great and it all sucks at the same time.  I think most musicians will tell you that it’s not a choice…you MUST do it.  So, it’s nice to have something so central to your soul when things are going well, when you don’t have writers block, when you have shows to play, when things are sounding good.  But, when you MUST do it and things are going poorly, it can get very frustrating, very depressing.  Things are going well for me today… but I have spent a lot of my life very depressed about music and my inability to stop playing and writing even when nothing seemed to be working, and the whole process was simply a source of massive frustration and disappointment.  But in the end, I am happy I didn’t quit… I have no idea what I would do without my music.

What is your most significant moment yet?

That’s easy…the birth of my son.   Nothing has ever come CLOSE to giving me as much perspective on life as that little boy has.

What are your biggest musical influences?

This is always such a tough question for me, because it’s always changing…but there are some that stand out across some varied genres.  Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Radiohead, Charles Mingus come to mind tonight… it would be different tomorrow... and then there are all these new artists I am listening to, but I don’t really know how much they influence me at this point.  There are a lot of other things that influence my writing too, I like to read novels, poetry, non-fiction.  Those things are big influences on my music as well.

What venue/gig do you most want to play?

Any place where a few people are enjoying what I am playing, where the sound is good but not too loud... I like playing small places and outdoors.  There is a place in San Francisco called The Great American Music Hall that has always struck me as a place I can realistically aspire to play, even if only in a supporting role.  Being a realist maybe isn’t that interesting, but I really mostly enjoy playing for people who want to hear what I’m playing…it’s amazing how often that is not the case when you are out playing shows.  

What is your best/favourite song you have written?

Oh man, I have no idea.  I am always focused on the two or three songs that I am working on at the moment…I’ve got about three that I am focusing on right now, so I guess those are my favorite today…but they aren’t done yet… so they might suck… or they might be good.  I love the process of creating things, so a song in process is always my favorite over anything that is ‘done’.  People always tell me that they really like my songs North, CA and Train Long Gone.  The first time I saw a good friend of mine cry when I played Train Long Gone, well, that was pretty impactful.

What is your favourite album of this year?

'Heigh Ho’ by a friend of mine named Blake Mills.  I think that was technically released last year…but it is so good, it transcends.  If you don’t know this record or this artist, you MUST check it out.  I got to hang out with Blake a few days ago in the studio where he is producing a new Laura Marling record… that would be my second favorite record this year, but it’s not released, and I don’t know when it will be…but it sounded SO good.

What does the next six months have in store for you?

Releasing this record in a few weeks… a lot of energy goes into that process, and we are starting to play a bunch of dates in support of the record.  I will be playing some solo shows supporting another solo artist named Jaymay across the western parts of the US, and then we will do some more dates with my band later in the year and early next year.  My wife and I are also expecting our second child at the end of February, so that can’t be overlooked.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Right where I am today, living on a mountain in Northern California, playing small shows, writing songs.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

What is the best thing about Americana-UK?

I love Americana UK because it feels like what’s important to you guys is the music…not the hype.  There is WAY too much hype in the world today.  The fact that an artist like me gets coverage along with Dylan or Neil Young…I mean that is crazy great.