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Rock band Grandaddy has returned — years after enduring a tragedy

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A rock band has returned years after enduring a tragedy. NPR's Taylor Haney reports a new album from the group Grandaddy was inspired by a car radio.

TAYLOR HANEY, BYLINE: Grandaddy's frontman, Jason Lytle, was rolling down a lonely highway between Oregon and Nevada. The radio sang a warbling number by Patti Page.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TENNESSEE WALTZ")

PATTI PAGE: (Singing) I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee waltz.

HANEY: The song was seven decades old, but brand-new to him.

JASON LYTLE: I was just like, what is that, like, what's happening here? What is this genre? Is this bluegrass? It's, like, slow and sweet and kind of lilting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TENNESSEE WALTZ")

PAGE: (Singing) I remember the night and the Tennessee waltz.

LYTLE: It was in my attempt to hunt down this genre that I realized, why don't I just make it myself?

HANEY: When Grandaddy started in the '90s, their genre felt more like indie rock. But indie rock shakes hands with bluegrass on their new album "Blu Wav."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CABIN IN MY MIND")

GRANDADDY: (Singing) Going to the cabin, going to the cabin, to the cabin in my mind.

HANEY: Jason Lytle always wanted to make an album that was just one thing, one mood - here it's pedal steel guitar nestled into a warm bed of synths. It feels to him like that quiet sense of wonder you get in the foothills of the mountain west.

LYTLE: You have, like, some really wide, dense synthesizers kind of creating the landscape. And the pedal steel could even be considered the weather or the sky, or the changing of the colors in the sky.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRANDADDY SONG, "CABIN IN MY MIND")

HANEY: This is Grandaddy's first album of new music since 2017. Just two months after that album came out, bassist Kevin Garcia died of a stroke. He and Lytle founded the band together. In a statement, Grandaddy said he was, quote, "an actual angel. He navigated life with a grace, a generosity and a kindness that was utterly unique." It's a loss that Lytle is still processing.

LYTLE: You know, we had a lot of things planned up until the actual point of his death, and then everything was just kind of shut down.

HANEY: Their normal creative process didn't work anymore. Lytle says, the way things would usually go, he would feel an instinct every few years, like a migratory bird. Something would tell him to hole up, write and record an album pretty much by himself. Then he and the rest of the band would work out how to play the music live. But with Garcia gone, that collaboration couldn't happen anymore.

LYTLE: Like, a very fond and familiar memory that I have is creating the harmony parts. You know, I can't work on that stuff and not imagine. It's like this moment is being defined by these harmony vocals right now. You know, he's always going to pop into my head.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SADDEST VACANT LOT IN ALL THE WORLD")

GRANDADDY: (Singing) World, world.

HANEY: For this album, Grandaddy has no tour planned. It felt wrong even to consider it.

LYTLE: That to me is, like, the hardest part. You know, what would being in a room and playing without Kevin be like? I don't even like thinking about it. And obviously, you know, everyone has to move on and grow up and - but it's just, I don't know - it's still hard to think about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUCKY, BORIS AND DART")

GRANDADDY: (Singing) Ducky, he actually was a big deal, even being so small and found in a field.

HANEY: In one of his new songs, called "Ducky, Boris And Dart," the singer encounters a cat.

LYTLE: Ducky was a little kitten that I found in an almond orchard on a bike ride out in the hot sun that I tried to save and ended up dying.

HANEY: Later in the song, a bird flies into his truck. He pulls over and tucks the stunned creature into a sage leaf. It's an act of comfort, like the sad songs that have called to him since childhood and comfort him still.

LYTLE: I was just always drawn to the sad ones. Like, there was something richer and deeper. That's where you tend to feel not so alone.

HANEY: Taylor Haney, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUCKY, BORIS AND DART")

GRANDADDY: Well, thank you, my friend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Taylor Haney is a producer and director for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First.