The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle are among the contributors to the Mark Linkous tribute album, “Box of Stars – The Last Box of Sparklers”, which is currently being funded via Indiegogo. Here, Lytle talks about his contribution and shares his favorite memories of the late Sparklehorse frontman.
A lot of great artists have come together for a great cause. Several great causes, in fact.
One is to pay tribute to Mark Linkous, the Sparklehorse front man, who tragically left this world in 2010. Another is to support Friends Hospital, the first and oldest operating mental health facility in America, as well as the Scattergood Foundation, which works to improve the conditions faced by the mentally ill.
The resulting tribute album, entitled “Box of Stars – Last Box of Sparklers”, is currently being funded via Indiegogo. Among its contributors you will find The Flaming Lips, Cowboy Junkies, Mark Lanegan, Mercury Rev, and Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle.
Lytle knew Linkous personally and collaborated with him on two songs – “Jaykub” and “Everytime I’m With You” – for the Sparklehorse, Danger Mouse and David Lynch album, “Dark Night Of The Soul”.
For the “Box of Stars” album, Lytle has re-recorded the song “Someday I Will Treat You Good”.
In this interview, he shares his memories of Linkous, reveals how the “Dark Night Of The Soul” songs came about, and talks about his contribution to the tribute album.
Hanging out with Linkous in Modesto
How well did you know Mark Linkous?
– We knew each other okay. We would chat on the phone or email once or twice a year. Usually we were talking about some recording gear we were curious or excited about. And then that would just drift into whatever – movies, music, and so on.
You collaborated with him on the “Dark Night Of The Soul” album, contributing two songs. What’s the story of how those two songs came about and ended up on that album?
– It’s not too complicated of a story on my end. He and Brian (Danger Mouse, ed.) would just be in contact with me now and then, informing me of the progress of this LP they were working on. One day they sent me two songs and said, "do whatever you want to them". I wrote some words, recorded a bunch of vocals, threw on a few guitar and keyboard parts, and sent it back to them. I was happy to know they were pleased with what I came up with. It was enjoyable to work that way, as I am usually burdened with too many other tasks while working on my stuff.
What’s your favorite memory of him?
– He decided he wanted to meet me and the band in person in our private environment. So he flew to San Francisco, and we picked him up and drove him to Modesto for a few days. We all cooked food and drank beers and just sat outside and chatted about life and stuff. We ended up playing a show in a little dive bar in town, and he just sat back behind Aaron (Burtch, Grandaddy drummer, ed.) throughout the whole night. He really seemed to be enjoying himself, and he definitely got to see us in our prime element.
The choice of song
You’ve chosen the song “Someday I Will Treat You Good” for the tribute album. What’s the significance of that particular song?
– All the songs I liked were being recorded by someone else... Just kidding. Actually, it made me revisit all of the Sparklehorse albums. When I heard this one again, I realized I’d forgotten how much I really liked it. While he and I seemed to be fond of softer and delicate productions, we also seemed to have this need for putting some very compressed, nervous, and messy sounding elements on our albums as well. I love the shitty, messy, distorted guitars coming in and out in a random way on the original version of this song. It's like his cat was running on the mixing console randomly stepping on the mute buttons of the guitar tracks. I was in the process of taking down and relocating my studio when I was asked to work on this song, so... It was all a bit hectic and confusing. I just tried to make it interesting and pay homage to the elements of the song I really appreciated. So I left the electric guitars entirely off, because he already made them sound perfect, and I could not improve upon them.
You contributed a signed Casio keyboard to the Indiegogo campaign. The description reads that it was used in the recording of Grandaddy classics. Can you reveal which ones?
– "Grandaddy classics"? Hmmm... Somebody in the publicity department may have taken some liberties with that description. It's pretty difficult for me to ever recall what studio gear has gotten used and for exactly what over the years. I don't take notes or document any of my process. And when recording begins, there is shit flying around, gear in piles, and chaos on many levels. So I just have to assume that because I have held on to that particular keyboard for all of these years, it means that it has most definitely gotten used in some form or another. Plus... I don't give away the real good shit.
Do you know who bought the keyboard and what that person is gonna do with it?
– I don't know much about the lucky winner.
The seven-minute improv in Chicago
What’s your take on the whole crowd funding concept via Indiegogo and Kickstarter and the like? Is it the way of the future, or is it simply a necessary substitute for ways of funding and distribution that are no longer available?
– It seems to be another effective tactic for musicians to scratch, scrape, and scramble together a way to fund their ways of life. And for now it seems popular and somewhat productive. Who knows how long it will be around, and what else will replace it. I don't think I'll ever use it – only because I have never been comfortable asking people for things. Items, cash, help, whatever. It's just how I am. Although I’d have no problem blatantly demanding ridiculous amounts of money from some bloated, faceless corporation. That, too, is just how I am.
Of all the other artists contributing to the album, who are you most excited to hear interpret Sparklehorse?
– I have no idea who else is contributing. I would have contributed my track, even if the only other artists were bad russian techno dj's mashing up songs about kittens, potatoes, and quilt-making.
I know there’s a story about Mark and Steven Drozd (from The Flaming Lips, ed.) seeing Grandaddy play in Chicago on the tour where you guys opened for Pete Yorn. You played a seven-minute improvised tune as opener, which Mark enjoyed very much.
– I’m glad Mark got to see that seven-minute "improv" – from one of the most "un-improv" bands ever. I’m sure it was a wonderfully shitty disaster, and I am certain it was fueled by some sort of disgust for the lame tour we were a part of. We had sadly made it a habit of doing these tours with these weird, unfitting headliners. And then the only way to cope is to drink yourself senseless each night, while playing your beloved songs for crowds of annoyed "chicks and dudes", who just want a good look at the front man from the headlining band. Uh... Yes, that way of life was certainly not ideal for the reluctant ones like Mark and myself.