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FEATURE: Kurt Vile

KURT VILE

KURT Vile is no mug.

The Philadelphian singer, songwriter, producer, and purveyor of delectably laid-back indie-folk tunes has been a guest in our country a smattering of times, but he’s got his audience pretty well sussed.

“I think Australians, in general, really feel music,” he says. “It’s a record nerd, gut-level or emotional thing; maybe an obsessive thing, which is very similar to the way I am. But there’s also a ball-busting, bullshit artist type of thing they can tap into, and [they] can have a good laugh. I feel they are really serious about music but also they can just bullshit and bust balls; they’re both equal. You know how to fuck with somebody to show that you love them. I feel a lot of Australians have those kinds of humour and emotions, you know?”

The 36 year-old will tour Australia solo for the first time in February and March, leaving his band The Violators at home. Successful previous sojourns and a recent surge in popularity here mean the idea of playing venues and shows the size of Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Taronga Zoo and Golden Plains Festival doesn’t faze him.

“I’ve been to Australia enough – this will be the fourth time coming up – to feel like it won’t make a difference,” he says. “I’ll be zoning out; kind of in my comfort zone. I’m sort of comfortable over there because, I don’t know, I’m just used to it over there. With The Violators we try to mix it up with keyboards and stuff like that, but [this time] I’ll just be by myself and my acoustic. I’m sure I’ll bring a banjo. Maybe one day I’ll have more of band with more instruments than a four-piece. I like to just go out, zone out, and not try to recreate the record.”

After leaving The War on Drugs, which he founded with long-term friend Adam Granduciel, and releasing his debut record in 2008, Vile has released six solo records and a collection of EPs of top-drawer folk, rock and psychedelia, with each record marking a musical and thematic progression from the last.

“I’m usually most proud of my newest album,” he says. “But that wears off once I start working on a new record. I look back and am proud of them all, but I would say maybe most of all ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’; all those songs have a similar melancholia in the lyrics – there was a good theme going on there. The next few records obviously had themes going on too, but there is an interesting melancholic tone to ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’; I can go back and listen to that one. There’s something about it. I wouldn’t say I’m most proud of it, but it’s some kind of statement.”

Not keen to rest on his laurels, and despite 2015’s ‘b’lieve I’m goin down’ not having been played in Australia yet, the hard-working Vile has already started on its follow-up.

“I’ve been in and out of the studio throughout this touring cycle because I feel like the last two records, in particular, took so long out of the touring cycle,” he says. “I don’t want to just get lost in this dark, black cocoon world in the studio. So I’ve been going in and out of the studio between touring for that reason. I probably have about half of the songs for the next record in some form. I think [fans] will recognise the sound; it’s not like it’s a drastically different record, but there’s always evolution. I think there’s a steady American roots thing going on in my music, and I don’t mean that it’s going to come out like ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ or something too country, but it’ll be some kind of roots scenario. I’ve always been into country and have been getting more into it lately. I read Jerry Lee Lewis’s biography – ‘Hellfire’ by Nick Tosches and George Jones’ autobiography. Since then I’ve basically been out of control reading about nerdy music things; especially Nick Tosches. I guess I’ve been a bit obsessed since my record came out.”

With talk of music nerdiness and an obvious knowledge of music history and lineage, Vile could be assumed to be a hardcore musicologist and collector. The truth is more interesting, however.

“I prefer to not have too many obscure records,” he says. “I have old country, blues and soul records. The stuff I get into is usually popular at one time or another. These days, if I go to the record store the records I want only cost two dollars or something anyways; ‘Country’s Greatest Hits’ or something. I usually space out and don’t even know what comes out in a particular year, but my buddy Luke Roberts put out a record which was great. Heron Oblivion’s record was great. I’ve had my head in the clouds listening to a lot of old music.”

Despite constant touring and having critically-acclaimed albums on his resume, the amiable Vile keeps his feet on the ground. As recently as 2009 he was working in a brewery while recording his third album.

“The constants are my two little daughters and my wife,” he says. “We just moved to a bigger house. It’s not a mansion, although it feels like it because I’ve never had any room my whole life. We’re also keeping our little house so I can go back to my roots and record there. So my everyday life lately has been carting things between these two houses and driving around. I’m pretty comfortable driving around in general, listening to music and zoning out. I’ve also done some little side projects. I did some songs with Courtney Barnett when I was in Australia last time; I’m not sure when they’ll come out or anything. I recorded in Nashville with a bunch of legendary old dudes. I’ve been in the studio with the Violators and I’ve been getting my home studio together, so I’ve kind of got my hands on a lot of different things and it’s all coming along.”

With 2017 mere days away, February comes quickly for Kurt Vile fans.

“The Violators are playing New Year’s at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, and a couple more shows in New York and Boston,” he says. “We have one more tour around Florida late January, then that lines me up to go solo and see you guys.”

Kurt Vile plays Taronga Zoo on Friday 3rd March and QPAC on Thursday 9th March

For Scenestr

High rotation: 2015 in 50 tracks

Taylor Swift 2015
Taylor Swift: completely irrelevant to this article

It has been another tip-top year for tuneage. These are some of the tracks I have enjoyed most.

Bad//Dreems
‘Bogan Pride’
(Ivy League Records)
Where: Adelaide
What: Disenchanted pub-rock from a bunch of Bastards of Young

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Baro
‘Resume’
(Teamtrick)
Where: Melbourne
What: Hip Hop/electronic with a raised middle finger

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Beach House
‘Sparks’
(Subpop)
Where: Baltimore
What: The dreamiest and depressing-est of depressing dream-pop

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Beach Slang
‘I Break Guitars’
(Tiny Engines)
Where: Philadelphia
What: Carefree indie/college-rock drained through the sock of ’90s punk-pop

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Big White
‘You Know I Love You’
(Caroline Australia)
Where: Sydney
What: Angst-y, urgent jangle-rock with a sugary glaze

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Blank Realm
‘River of Longing’
(Bedroom Suck)
Where: Brisbane
What: Layers of lovelorn indie-rock and messy melodies from Queensland’s finest

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Bully
‘Trying’
(StarTime International)
Where: Philadelphia
What: A punk-pop breath of formidable, fresh air with razor sharp lyrics

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Car Seat Headrest
‘Something Soon’
(Matador)
Where: Leesburg
What: Experimental rock from an outsider who has finally found a home

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Cian
‘Extend’
(Entertainment Systems)
Where: Unknown
What: The sound of a ZX Spectrum loading, underwater

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Communions
‘Forget It’s a Dream’
(Tough Love Records)
Where: Copenhagen
What: A band to fill a Stone Roses-shaped hole, if only the Roses hadn’t reformed

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Destroyer
‘Dream Lover’
(Merge)
Where: Vancouver
What: Big sounds and celebratory sax; that moment when you decide you like the party after all

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Dick Diver
‘Tearing the Posters Down’
(Chapter Music)
Where: Melbourne
What: Top-of-the-pile Australian indie-pop

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DIIV
‘Dopamine’
(Captured Tracks)
Where: New York
What: A triumphant return for troubled shoegaze/dream-rock genius, Zachary Cole Smith

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Dorsal Fins
‘Monday Tuesday’
(Gripless Records)
Where: Melbourne
What: ’80s-esque good-time pop from Melbourne’s funnest collective

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Ferla
‘Breakups are Hard for Everybody’
(Independent)
Where: Melbourne
What: Off-kilter oddball does battered and bruised break-up rock

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Flyying Colours
‘Running Late’
(Club AC30)
Where: Melbourne
What: Charge-leading roogaze/psych-rock with a conscience

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Gang of Youths
‘Knuckles White Dry’
(Mosy Recordings)
Where: Sydney
What: All the heart-wrenching misery of a loved one dying from cancer. Happy Christmas!

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GL
‘Number One’
(Plastic World & Midnight Feature)
Where: Melbourne
What: Electronic duo featuring members of the Bamboos; a vehicle for the supremely talented Ella Thompson

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Gold Class
‘Bite Down’
(Spunk Records)
Where: Melbourne
What: Major emerging post-punk talent that caused a big stir in industry circles in 2015

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Guantanamo Baywatch
‘Too Late’
(Suicide Squeeze)
Where: Portland
What: Ramshackle semi-serious soul that charms its way in

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The Internet
‘Just Sayin/I Tried’
(Odd Future)
Where: Los Angeles
What: Impossible-to-Google soul/Hip hop smoothness

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IV League
‘Lit Screen’
(Independent)
Where: Melbourne
What: Heartfelt indie-pop from promising Victorian upstarts

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Jaala
‘Salt Shaker’
(Wondercore Island)
Where: Melbourne
What: There’s magic in a unique voice singing lines like “I was pouring pints for fuckheads” in a rambling, art-pop mash

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Jacco Gardner
‘Find Yourself’
(Excelsior)
Where: Hoorn
What: Neo-baroque psych with shades of Kevin Ayers and the floors of a thousand Dutch coffee shops after dusk

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Kurt Vile
‘Pretty Pimpin’
(Matador)
Where: Philadelphia
What: The cool AF stoner/psych master is as good as ever on new album, b’lieve i’m goin down…

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Mangelwurzel
‘Fishy Fry’
(Independent)
Where: Melbourne
What: Fucking bizarre, unclassifiable brilliance from Jaala vocalist Cosima Jaala’s other band

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Methyl Ethel
‘Twilight Driving’
(Dot Dash/Remote Control)
Where: Perth
What: Scruffy psych-pop with a heavy helping of Australian sunshine

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Mexican Knives
‘Beach Song’
(Independent)
Where: Detroit
What: Loose and laconic garage/indie rock

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Mikael Seifu
‘The Lost Drum Beat’
(RVNG Intl.)
Where: Addis Ababa
What: Ethiopiyawi electronic musician ready to conquer the world in 2016

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Mild High Club
‘Undeniable’
(Stones Throw)
Where: Chicago/Los Angeles
What: Delightfully weird; equal parts Dr. Dog and the Beatles’ circa Magical Mystery Tour

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MUNA
‘Promise’
(Independent)
Where: Los Angeles
What: All the ’80s big-pop influences, but most prominently Cyndi Lauper, with swearing

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The Ocean Party
‘Guesswork’
(Spunk)
Where: Wagga Wagga
What: Sweet-as indie-rock/pop from NSW youngsters

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Palm
‘Ankles’
(Independent)
Where: New York
What: the fuck did I just listen to

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PINS
‘Young Girls’
(Bella Union)
Where: Manchester
What: Young Girls doing it (primo indie-pop) for themselves

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Potty Mouth
‘Cherry Picking’
(Independent)
Where: Northampton, Massachusetts
What: Cool pop-rock

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The Pretty’s
‘Angry Horizon’
(Split-Tape Records)
Where: Vancouver
What: Garage/garbage rock that may need a change of underpants

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PWR BTTM
‘Ugly Cherries’
(Father/Daughter Records)
Where: New York
What: Camped-up cross between The Troggs and Thin Lizzy

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Ratatat
‘Abrasive’
(XL Recordings)
Where: New York
What: Rockatronica à la Daft Punk circa 2001, with better guitars

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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
‘Tender is the Neck’
(Ivy League)
Where: Melbourne
What: Laidback Australian rock for dusty roads and frosty beers

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Ronnie Stone and the Lonely Riders
‘<3 Race. Cold Sweat. Nu Dance. Do It.’
(Independent)
Where: New York
What: Ridiculous retro-futuristic ’80s synth nonsense that’s a heap of fun

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Savages
‘The Answer’
(Matador)
Where: London
What: Brutal post-punk first taste of new album, out January 2016

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Sheer Mag
‘Button Up’
(Katorga Works)
Where: Philadelphia
What: Healthy mix of ’70s classic rock (Thin Lizzy) and punk (X-Ray Spex)

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Shlohmo
‘Buried’
(WEDIDIT)
Where: Los Angeles
What: Ominous-as-fuck electronica will have you checking under the bed

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Sleater-Kinney
‘No Cities to Love’
(Sub Pop)
Where: Portland
What: Gimme a break

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Slonk Donkerson
‘Build Something/Break Even’
(Black Bells)
Where: New York
What: Shit name, great track. Nothing is perfect

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra
‘Multi-Love’
(Jagjaguwar)
Where: Auckland/Portland
What: Psychedelic depression-funk dadwave

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Viet Cong
‘March of Progress’
(Jagjaguwar)
Where: Calgary
What: Cutting industrial noise in the controversially-named Canadians’ trademark style

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Wax Idols
‘Lonely You’
(Suicide Squeeze)
Where: Oakland
What: Triumphant break-up ode performed in late ’80s pop/rock fashion

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Westkust
‘Swirl’
(Run For Cover)
Where: Gothenburg
What: Shoegaze/rock delights for for the indie kid in all of us

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Yung
‘Blanket’
(Mastermind Records)
Where: Aarhus
What: If The Replacements came from Denmark

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Record review: Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down (2015, LP)

kurt vile b'lieve im goin down

Just like certain actors being cast in a film almost guarantees it’ll a good one, there are a small number of musicians whose albums you won’t ever have to worry about being sub-par. Kurt Vile is one: he has released five solo albums of the most tip-top indie-rock and folk since co-founding, and subsequently leaving, the War on Drugs in 2008. The 35 year-old Philadelphian’s problem, then, is maintaining the almost impossibly high standards he has set for himself, but it’s a task he sets about with typically laidback ease on this solid 12-track effort. While no wheels are reinvented or new ground broken, the warm and hazy embrace of Vile’s gently-rolling indie-Americana is as welcoming as ever, and it’s a very good thing that he hasn’t done a Kevin Parker and gone electro-pop. First single ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is just that, while ‘I’m an Outlaw’ is banjo-pickin’ good. Vile’s melancholia is never far off, and it raises its heavy eyelids first in ‘That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say)’; in which he sings of “taking pills to take the edge off”, while the equally downbeat ‘All in a Daze Work’ features the obligatory day/daze pun long-time fans will recognise. A perennially underrated guitar player, Vile is more often praised for the high standard of craftsmanship of his songs and indie-stoner vibe, but there’s magic in these licks that demands respect. Six albums in and Kurt Vile is still somewhat of a cult figure; can we keep him that way, please?

For Beat

Record review: The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream (2014, LP)

the war on drugs lost in the dream

The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of recognition he deserves. The Philadelphia native’s visionary songwriting over the course of his band’s three albums is the perfect example of a musician single-mindedly ploughing his own furrow, with the finished product benefiting as a consequence.

2011’s Slave Ambient was a momentous and enthralling release which spawned over two years of touring for Granduciel and his three bandmates; out of which sprung this follow-up. Like Slave Ambient, the indie-rockers’ third album repeatedly slip in and out of focus, while maintaining the yearning for forward momentum present in all of his work, as on nine-minute opener ‘Under The Pressure’. Six minutes of unashamedly expansive guitar rock evoke images of the open road in the vein of Bob Seger or Jackson Browne, before over three minutes of shimmering, hazy instrumental psychedelia leaves the road altogether and drifts along in the breeze; making the clearest reference to the album title thus far.

Given the album took two years to record, the pace inevitably shifts; as on melancholy piano ballad ‘Suffering’, while – like a dream sequence in a sci-fi film – chilling instrumental track ‘The Haunting Idle’ divides the layers of hazy textures spread over the road-weary ‘Eyes To The Wind’ and the point at which the muscular momentum is picked up again on the excellent ‘Burning’. You get the feeling that Granduciel could probably bust out a solo with the best of them, but he’s too clever to let something as showy as that detract from the mood and rolling rhythms that make this such an absorbing release from beginning to end. (Secretly Canadian)

Record review: Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze (2013, LP)

Kurt-Vile-Walkin-On-A-Pretty-Daze_sm

Since his 2008 debut Constant Hitmaker, Kurt Vile has been making the type of music that many other musicians would trade their biggest hit for. Critically acclaimed and loved by fans the world over, since Vile left The War On Drugs and went solo he has become almost a cult figure to those in the know, and has consistently improved his recorded output through 2009’s Childish Prodigy and God Is Saying This To You, and 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo.

Sometimes an album title is an oblique reference to some part of the band’s music or artistic outlook, but Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze almost perfectly describes what can be found on album number five from the 33 year-old Philadelphia native. Vile’s music in the past has had more than a hint of stoner rock; not in a fuzzed-out Dinosaur Jr. kind of way, but more like a free-spirited spiritual guru kind of way – he’s going to help you turn on and tune in rather than drop out.

Nine-minute opener ‘Wakin On A Pretty Day’ is a chilled opening track by anyone’s standards. Part Jackson Browne circa 1978, part mid-summer daze, part laid-back stoner warmth, it carries a message that features in much of Vile’s work: bad shit happens all the time, but whatcha gonna do? With excellent guitar work that is an overlooked part of Vile’s arsenal, it shows this album to be his most spacious and laid-back effort to date.

Some of Vile’s riffs on Smoke Ring For My Halo were heavily Clapton-influenced, and the same could be said for the rock-y ‘KV Crimes’, while ‘Was All Talk’ is not dissimilar to the excellent ‘Freak Train’ from Childish Prodigy. Take a quick look at the running times of the songs on the album and you’ll notice the extended jams on ‘Too Hard’ (8:04), ‘Air Bud’ (6:30), and closer ‘Goldtone’ (10:26) make this Vile’s longest album to date, and also one of his best. The only point that could be made in the negative is that there isn’t a stand-out or obvious hit here, but Vile doesn’t seem to be the sort of musician to be bothered by such trivialities. This is an excellent album. (Matador)