Philadelphia's Kurt Vile writes hits, takes shit
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With album titles such as Childish Prodigy and Constant Hitmaker, it’s pretty safe to say that Philadelphia-based guitarist and songwriter Kurt Vile doesn’t suffer from low self-esteem. Fortunately for him, he’s got the talent to back up his grandiose claims, as his effortless blending of '70s rock with lo-fi psych-folk has garnered him some well-deserved fanfare. Prior to his performance Thursday, Nov. 5, at The Black Cat, Vile spoke to The A.V. Club about being signed to his dream label, the trappings of success, and finally tracking down that one elusive Neil Young live record.
The A.V. Club: What are the advantages to having Philadelphia as a home base?
Kurt Vile: Maybe I'm biased because I'm from there. It's close enough to New York but it's not swallowed up by New York's hustle and bustle. Philly's busy enough. There are tons of record stores and record-head friends and plenty of D.I.Y. shows. It's a place where people pass through and bands don't usually skip on tour. There are lots of music resources but it's not too over the top. I also have the support of lots of cool friends. I'm friends with lots of bands like Clockcleaner, which is now defunct. Richie Charles [Jr.], the drummer from Clockcleaner, has his label Richie Records and he's a big supporter. There are other bands like Espers, Birds Of Maya, and Jack Rose. It's not too big so everybody knows everybody and it is really fun.
AVC: You once referred to Childish Prodigy as your Loveless. What did you mean by that?
KV: I said that mainly to hype it up because I was really anxious to get it out there—so I had to say something. It was more involved than anything I had done and it was the first time I worked on something as a whole actual album, as a single piece. The other ones were compiled. It's not like shoegaze at all but at the same time it's definitely processed a little bit with effects, but more in an analog way. I mean, I don't know what My Bloody Valentine did in the studio; they probably did a lot of everything. This was on a slightly more slackery scale, a more raw scale, but there was definitely studio tweakage and all that stuff.
AVC: Was it difficult to transition to a full recording studio after dealing with bare bones recording efforts?
KV: Not really. I did record with Brian McTear. Even back in the day I recorded in the studio with Adam Granduciel's band The War On Drugs. By the time I went into the studio with Jeff [Zeigler], I knew he was into more far-out stuff and kind of crazy gear. It was also more laid back. I didn't have a label knocking on the door to get it done or anything like that, and so we got to know each other and our styles.
AVC: You grew up listening to Pavement obsessively. How does it feel to be on their label?
KV: It's definitely the main band I was into back then. It's very exciting. When I was a kid, it was like a dream, now I'm a grown man. If I had known I'd be on Matador back then in my childhood, it would have blown my mind. My mind is still pretty blown.
AVC: How are things different now that you are on Matador?
KV: It's not that different yet. Obviously there's more touring, more press and more hype which I won't say is not deserved. There's like a faction of people, too, who like to talk shit, which is kind of new. When I was more independent, there were people who got really excited and there still are but once I got more press people started to comment on blogs. People like to talk shit.
AVC: Were there any comments that particularly affected you?
KV: I don't even know. Not that Matador is a major label, but its major enough for me. I'm sure when certain musicians get comfortable, they start sucking and maybe the shit talk is deserved. We've been on tour and there are tons of kinks that still need to be worked out and maybe night after night it starts to show. On one level we're on Matador, but our amps still might explode on stage or they'll be an echo in the mic. It's like climbing a ladder. I like to climb it really slowly. I could probably get really professional right away, but I like to take baby steps and find my own way.
AVC: In an interview in L.A. Record, you mentioned that you were obsessed with tracking down the rare Neil Young live album, Time Fades Away. Were you successful in finding it?
KV: You know what? Because of that interview I have three copies of that record. A friend got me a mint condition copy of Time Fades Away for like fifty bucks on eBay. I'll give some of my friends in Philadelphia some of the worse copies.
AVC: How do you divide your time between your solo stuff and The War On Drugs?
KV: Well, to be honest at the moment I'm really busy so I'm just focusing on my stuff.
AVC: Do you encounter people who think Kurt Vile is a stage name?
KV: Yeah, all the time, every single time. Some people think they are such geniuses and just thought of that. They think they are so smart, like they say "All this talk about Kurt Vile and no one asks him where he got his stupid name from," or, "No one asks where he stole his name from." And I'm like, "Oh, you're a genius."