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Kurt Vile: Interview

Kurt Vile was my musical discovery of 2009. Sure, I'd fleetingly listened to the prior year's Constant Hitmaker, but it was last year's performance with the Violators, coupled with my merch-table purchase of one of the last remaining copies of God Is Saying This To You, that sealed the deal. The album channels classic FM rock radio and Ditch Trilogy-era Neil Young, and I was hungry for more. In this post-whatever era we're currently living in, it's nice to find someone who doesn't abandon solid songwriting skills and technique at the expense of texture, experimentation or aimless navel-gazing. Not to say that Vile's cut straight out of the Brill Building template -- he's no stranger to reverb, multi-tracking, unconventional tuning, and silicone-based rhythm tracks. But he applies these attributes in measured degree, all the while keeping the inner flame of the song burning brightly. After a recent show in Boston with Real Estate, we talked with Vile about the night's show, the various festivals and shows he's played this year, and the pitfalls of believing Wikipedia.

 

You guys had a little bit of trouble from the get-go with the mix tonight.

Yeah, we were kind of on fire ever since I don’t know when. We were real stoked about our set, but it was so messed up, and it was really killing our mojo. But people were nice; they said they liked it, but it was our worst show on the tour, for sure.

 

Is this the first time you have had a harp in the band on tour?

I toured with Mary [Lattimore] a few shows last summer, and we did a few shows with Espers. She’s a good friend of mine. The first time she played with me was on this radio show in Princeton. Then she played on that tour, and then she played on my new record -- which is not out yet -- and so then I brought her on tour.

 

Did she play in the Valerie Project?

Yes.

 

I saw them when they played Boston a couple years ago.

Oh, cool.

 

That was pretty cool. Good movie, too.

She’s kind of in demand now, more and more. Thurston Moore likes her, and I think she is gonna play on Thurston’s new record.

 

Is the new record you just mentioned a full band record or kind of a mix of just you solo and band?

It’s at least multi-track and a lot of full band. Maybe a couple of tracks with just me, but for the most part there will be other accompanists and a lot of time with the Violators -- the full band.

 

So are you on hiatus or are you done with the War On Drugs?

I have been playing with the War On Drugs really since the record first came out. I went with them to Europe; me and Adam [Granduciel] have been playing together since 2003, backing each other up equally. But he still plays with me in the Violators, which I am super grateful for. It’s just kind of a different thing nowadays. I can really only focus on my thing. Not to say that I would never play on a track or so and down the road. But he’s working. He will have stuff coming out the same time as I do, and he really gets into it. He’s such a tone master, so I am sure his stuff is incredible. I have heard one song so far. 

 

When you guys played last time in Boston you had a guy playing guitar and sax.

Jesse is a member of the Violators, but he couldn’t make this tour. I knew Mary really wanted to go. She wanted to come to Pitchfork and all that. She's been awesome. She sells my merch every night. She’s great.

 

You guys have done some pretty wide-ranging gigs this year. You did the Big Sur thing with Woodsist, and Pitchfork, and supported Fucked Up for that tour.

Yeah, we played with Fucked Up, we toured with Dinosaur Jr., we opened for Big Star in what turned out to be their last show -- that was crazy. We will be back here again in Boston with Deerhunter.

 

Oh, you are on that bill?

That’s funny -- some people said they didn’t know.

 

You were on the listing originally, and then you disappeared.

Oh, yeah, I think they took it down just because of this gig, so they would not compete.

 

Any interesting tour stories?

There are so many. It’s so fun touring. 

 

What was your best moment about the Woodsist thing out at Big Sur?

Hanging out with my friend Rob [Enbom] from Eat Skull. He’s hilarious. It's hard to explain, but he is just kind of a maniac, and he is really funny. We were just partying in Big Sur. I love his music, too. Are you familiar with them at all?

 

I’ve got the 10-inch on Siltbreeze, maybe.

No, that’s Skull something.

 

Oh yeah, Skulls Without Borders.

But they do have two full-lengths on Siltbreeze.

 

Siltbreeze is a great label. 

You should check out Wild And Inside, which is their second. They are both cool, but there are some super great noisy pop songs on Wild And Inside.

 

Did you know Jack Rose at all?

Yeah.

 

That was a great loss.

He was a great friend to all of us, it was a big shock. He was definitely the greatest guitar player that any of my friends knew. He was a really great guy, really supportive of Philly and really supportive of our music in particular and of a lot of people. That’s real sad.

 

When you play acoustic, do you play any open or alternate tuning, or do you just play standard?

Definitely, I love playing open tuning. Hence all the guitars, and hence sometimes the dead air without a guitar tech.

 

Why re-record “Hunchback” for Childish Prodigy?

Actually on Childish Prodigy, that’s the original version.

 

Oh, it is?

We had a practice-room vibe of “Hunchback” that we wanted to capture. Richie wanted to put out “Hunchback” on the single, and I wanted to put it on Childish Prodigy, so we re-recorded it.

 

You have been on a bunch of different labels: Mexican Summer, Gulcher, and now Matador. How did those different record deals come through?

I am always trying to “make it” and do my music, not waiting around for someone to put me out, just keep doing my thing. I would send my demos to the bigger labels, or maybe give it to somebody who is kind of established. But then I realized that you just have to start punk rock, so my buddy Richie--

 

That’s the guy from Clockcleaner?

Yup. And Gulcher, which is like the smallest label you can find.

 

I think I have an MX-80 sound record on Gulcher.

And then I knew it would get reviewed, which was something I needed. And then in the underground I got offers. I think the first person to ask me was Skull Tones, which put out a 7-inch. You just got to put out vinyl because people go to the underground first. I had such a wealth of material at that point. Mexican Summer asked; we will put that record out on vinyl. So all these records came out, and even before they came out I was getting a buzz. I was talking up Childish Prodigy, my studio record, which I was working on and funding. Even before the Richie record and the Mexican Summer record [which was just reissued on vinyl], I basically had the Matador deal sealed.

 

How many records is that?

Three. Hopefully more.

 

On Wikipedia, it claims you sound like Bob Seger and you drove a forklift.

Yeah, I don’t know who writes that. I did drive a fork lift. Who sits down and decides to write your Wikipedia? There’s no one I know. And it’s not right, and you know people just cut and paste that: "Kurt Vile is currently the lead guitar player for the War On Drugs." It's funny. That’s the blogosphere for you.

 

Are you looking forward to seeing any bands in Vegas that you haven’t seen before?

I am looking forward to seeing and hopefully meeting Cat Power. Chan Marshall. Looking forward to seeing Chavez. Looking forward to hanging out with Sonic Youth.  

 

I am pretty psyched to see Come play once again. I have lived in Boston for a while and I saw them a bunch of times.

It’s hilarious, even Liz Phair is playing now. It’s gonna be awesome. I just found out on this tour that I got invited by Jim Jarmusch to play in All Tomorrow’s Parties, because he’s curating that. I have never played an ATP, and I love Jim Jarmusch.

 

They are so much fun.

And then the next day basically we are opening for Pavement so-

 

The “Losing Momentum (For Jim Jarmusch)” song kind of evokes that kind of a dreamy state that --

Yeah, it’s like a slowed-down version of another instrumental I have ["Losing It" from the Hunchback 12"], and when I listened to it slowed down I said it belongs in a Jim Jarmusch movie and then you know, he will read that, and I guess he did! Maybe he will put it in a movie.

 

I have been to the last two ATP's. They're really fun. It’s kind of like indie-rock nerd camp. Everybody is there for the same reason.

You get to see Hope Sandoval.

 

Yup, never seen her play. I’ll be psyched to see Sunn O))) and Boris.

Yeah, me too.

 

Boris last year played Feedbacker, which was unbelievable.

Yeah, I really like Boris.

 

They are a pretty versatile band. Have you ever heard your music randomly, in a bar or on the radio or some place you hadn’t expected?

I remember I was still working and on college radio you would hear it. People text me now: They’re playing your music now.

 

Have you done many tours in Europe? You have been over once or twice?

I have been over there three times. Twice with just Kurt Vile stuff, and then once with the War On Drugs and then opening for Panda Bear.

 

Any differences between American audiences and European audiences?

Every state, every country -- they are a little different. I mean, maybe Europe as a whole, because they are foreign; once you go there you can probably notice slight differences. Europe in general is very supportive, which is very cool. In Canada they are stoked, at least in Toronto and Montréal. In Chicago they are stoked, and in San Francisco. But a lot of people are so stoked, and then you play a place and they are so quiet.  

 

Boston tends to be a bit more reserved than most places, kind of our Yankee stoicism.

Good for Real Estate, then, because the crowd was loving that.

 

Yeah, they brought the kids out.

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Great work Tim! Always a pleasure to read.

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