Philadelphia native Kurt Vile has been one of the biggest breakout stars of the city’s recent boom, alongside his close friends The War on Drugs. His evocative and winding guitar songs are the perfect framing for his lethargic vocals with his previous two albums (2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo and 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze) picking up huge critical praise, and bringing a slightly reluctant star to a much wider audience. Kurt was in the UK playing a few dates ahead of his fifth album ‘b'lieve i'm goin down…’ and he managed to take a few minutes out. As you’d expect, he’s a mellow guy.
Deluxe: Your new album lands imminently and you’re touring pretty hard for the remainder of the year, are you looking forward to playing the new set of songs live?
Kurt Vile: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it but there’s plenty of anxiety because honestly we still have a lot of tackling to do. We’ll definitely get together and work it all out.
D: Have you tweaked the line up of the Violators?
KV: Well, my steady touring band is Rob (Laakso) and Jesse (Trbovich) who have been with me for a while, and now Kyle Spence is playing drums live. He lives down in Athens and we recorded a good chunk of the record with him down at his home studio, which is really awesome. I played a bunch with my friends Farmer Dave and Stella (Mozgawa of Warpaint) on the West Coast, so the styles are pretty different leading into this new LP. There is still stuff to work out, we’ll mix it up… It’s good times.
D: With the live show are you looking to emulate the record or are you looking to go somewhere else?
KV: No, I really want to find new space. I don’t want to Karaoke it. It’s a balance because I also don’t want to bash away at it. I feel like too often the Violators have bashed things into oblivion and my ears are just shot from that. It’s still work in progress, but I feel like we’re getting closer all the time.
D: Have you got your chops back? Can you play all the solos right?
KV: (laughing) Yeah, getting my chops back. I’m playing all the time at the moment, it really helps.
D: In terms of recording the new LP, you moved around a lot. Do you feel like it has a transient vibe across the songs?
KV: It has a travelling vibe for sure, I think maybe the songs sound that way anyway, but I can see the whole trip when I listen to it. I had been travelling around a lot before we recorded but this period was way more laid back, less gruelling. No major rush, bouncing around.
D: I was reading about recording at Rancho De La Luna and in particular, finding time to jam with Tinariwen
KV: It was awesome. Their manager had been getting in touch for a while and it all just fell into place. We’d been trying to hook up at all these little festivals and it just never quite fell into place. They were booked to jam at Rancho and it tied in with our session. David Catching, who lives there, had me booked in the week after Tinariwen so I thought it had all fallen through, but when I got there he was like ‘nah, it’s cool, that’s all still happening’ and it was really awesome to play with them.
D: We interviewed Other in NYC a few issues back and they were saying that Tinariwen playing instore was an amazing experience for them. Their English isn’t particularly strong is it?
KV: No, not at all, that’s the thing their English really isn’t strong at all. They speak French a lot but I don’t, so we couldn’t really speak. I was nervous at first, I totally ate shit on the first day. I got it together. You could tell they were all quiet, waiting for me to finally play, but I was nervous and totally blew it. The next song, I was playing along with it all day on the couch and it was definitely more in my vibe of playing. The first track was too fast for me to keep up with. But the second one, I nailed it (laughing)… they loved it.
D: (laughing) So you made them more mellow?
KV: I guess so, yeah, I slowed them down.
D: So looking back at first getting into music. You have a lot of siblings, how much of an impact on your own musical enlightenment were your family?
KV: I think people have asked me this kind of thing in the past and I probably didn’t notice much, but I think the constant static and movement and noise of people in and out, and in close quarters, all sunk in. We all developed a knack so that we tuned each other out. I guess I got lost in music that way. I can also sleep through anything… that’s another skill I’ve developed.
D: Do you remember the first time you regarded yourself as someone that was ‘into music’?
KV: I was really into music at a young age, but not in that kind of aware way. I got my first string instrument at about 14 or something and that really moved it on. I guess I was about 16 or something I made my first recordings, my friends brother recorded me and helped me make a cassette… hearing that back really blew my mind and I knew right away that was what I wanted to do. I was going to do it.
D: How about buying music, do you remember what you bought first?
KV: I guess…. For myself, it would have been a cassette and my dad would have bought it for me. I think honestly it was a U2 tape, which, you know… U2 are perfectly respectable but I do not find myself playing that tape today (laughing)
D: (laughing) Thanks for being honest. I’m always amazed that people are so honest about that question… I am always expecting them to make out like they were into Bauhaus or Conrad Schnitzler or something… these hyper cool teenagers.
KV: (laughing) Oh…. mine was the Velvet Underground then… a cool guy.
D: On the last record I saw you doing promo where you played back a cut from the album from your living room. I am guessing that was your collection right there in the background?
KV: Yeah, and I have even way more than you can see there in that clip. I just didn’t have my (laughing) ‘custom made’ racks up yet. Our house is kinda small so that whole wall is nowadays a wall of music. I filled it right up.
D: So physical music is a big part of it for you?
KV: Yeah, totally, I am totally into physical music.
D: I was tipped off that there are some unexpected avenues in your collection. You’re pretty into traditional music right?
KV: Sure, I was brought up on that sort of thing. My Dad was into Bluegrass and traditional and stuff and he gave me the folk anthology, and I definitely went in the primitive American music direction. That’s one of many avenues, John Fahey by extension, but the early primitives and all that style was my biggest influence early on.
D: Do you remember seeing Constant Hitmaker or God Is Saying This to You in a record store for the first time? How did that feel?
KV: Well, I did but I don’t remember where it was exactly. Those early records I was probably hustling them myself. I am sure they made it in there, but I was often taking them in on early tours and trading them for records. I can’t recall the first time I saw them at my local store, AKA Music in Philly, but once the Matador record came out in 2009 I would see all of the releases around.
D: So AKA is your local. They know what you’re into? They’re good guys?
KV: They were… they actually just closed.
D: Damn… that sucks
KV: They were a really good store, I knew all my friends from there.
D: Where else in Philly is good to shop?
KV: Philadelphia Record Exchange and Bull Records are my couple of favourites.
D: How about on your travels, where has really stood out?
KV: There is a really cool store in Phoenix Arizona called Revolver Records and I would obviously love to check out your store… that’s probably a favourite too…
D: (laughing) Yeah, stop by.
Okay, so last question. I know you are a family man, so with your kids, have you had to do any censoring yet?
KV: I feel like, honestly, the curses they don’t hear them. Maybe one day they will, they don’t repeat them anyway. We kinda just don’t say anything if one slips by, we obviously don’t play anything too graphic like some dark rap.
D: How about Frozen…has the Frozen soundtrack happened to you guys?
KV: Yeah, Frozen. Those songs are so annoying but they do really like them. I like Brave though.
D: Yeah, Brave is pretty good, it’s got some good drumming going on.
KV: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.