March was a busy month for Kurt Vile. He wrapped up a tour that stopped in record stores all along the East Coast; his new Matador album, Smoke Ring For My Halo, dropped March 8; and on March 10, he returned to the road with Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis. Vile’s an avid collector of vinyl, so The A.V. Club sat down with him on the eve of his in-store tour and asked about—what else—records.
The A.V. Club: Are you keeping an eye out for any particular prizes at the stores you’re playing?
Kurt Vile: On the last tour, I wanted Carpenters records. I played an in-store in Toledo, Ohio, and they had not only the double vinyl singles collection but also the cassette. I bought them both because my van has a tape deck (laughs). The Rolling Stones are my favorite right now. I’m reading my eighth book on the Stones, so now I want Love You Live and Steel Wheels.
I don’t really look for obscure shit anymore. I’ve been collecting for so long that that high level of sought-after vinyl, like Neil Young’s On The Beach or Time Fades Away, is gone. I pretty much have all of them.
AVC: Your tour hits record stores in a bunch of East Coast cities—Boston, New York, D.C., Baltimore. What records and bands come to mind when you think of those cities?
Philadelphia: The Strapping Fieldhands’ Wattle and Daub
There’s a song called “Blue Kangaroo” that tears my head off.
Boston: “Academy Fight Song” from Mission Of Burma’s Signals, Calls and Marches
That record just blew me away. It’s got such energy. It’s art punk. When I got signed to Matador, that was the first thing I picked up—because they give you CDs, you know—and I was so stoked on that.
New York: Blues Control
The record on Holy Mountain was the first one I got. They really supported us when we got our first shows in New York; they’re good friends of ours. They’re like the gods of that crazy, weirdo record-nerd scene, but it’s beyond that. It’s truly great and arty. You just can’t say they sound like anyone else.
Baltimore: The New Flesh
They remind me in a way of Mission Of Burma, but more like young kids putting noise with punk. They got some severe energy going on. Kinda hateful, but not really. There’s something very cryptic for you. [Laughs.]
Baltimore II: Beach House
They were early supporters as well. I just saw them at Trocadero. They gave me their Teen Dream CD. It’s undeniably beautiful music.
AVC: What’s the crown jewel of your collection?
KV: My wife’s uncle got all the John Fahey records when they were coming out on Takoma. He gave them to me. At one point he wanted them back, so I burned them all […] I brought them back to him after burning all day, and he said I could just give him the burns and keep the records! I have pretty much all the Fahey records.
AVC: Since you’re touring with J. Mascis, what’s your favorite Dinosaur Jr. record?
KV: I love the early ones, like You’re Living All Over Me and Bug, but my favorite is Without A Sound—probably because at my age, in my teens, I liked “Feel The Pain.” It’s got the soft songs like “Out of Hand,” then there’s that song, um… fuck… “Even You.”
(To clear things up, the riff he’s talking about can be found around 1:25.)
Just listen to those guitars! He’s got these certain riff-hooks, like [sings, enthused], “Ba-na-na-na—ba-na-na-na—nooooooow!” And then, like, “Da-nar-nar-na!” It’s a classic-rock masterpiece.
I got to play on his new solo record. I don’t know how many songs I’m on, but I think I’m on a lot.
AVC: What’s the perfect companion album to Smoke Ring For My Halo?
KV: It’s an epic folk record… so, Bert Jansch’s Birthday Blues. It’s got that song “Poison” on it.
When I first heard it, I thought it was about drugs; but then you listen again and it’s, like, “I know I might die from poison, invisible, hanging in the sunlight, don’t you know your creator is running out of ideas.” “Your creator is out of ideas” is the most fucked-up thing in the world.
AVC: So Halo’s an epic folk record with hints of the most fucked-up thing in the world?
KV: It could give the mistake that I’m all bummed out, but there’s humor in there. When I write, I tend to tap into this human wondering vibe that could come off negative, but it’s really not. There are a couple sides to my sound, but this focuses on the epic-folk spectrum.
I’m gonna tour for a year, so when I come back, I’m sure I’ll be making a rock ’n’ roll record. Not rock ’n’ roll like, “Yeeaaah!,” but I assume the band is gonna be so tight that we’ll just go in there and track these rock songs live.
Kurt Vile plays Subterranean tonight, April 1, with J. Mascis.