[Photo by WAYNE COYNE]
“Society is my friend: he makes me lie down in a cool bloodbath” — KURT VILE
BY TONY ABRAHAM Listening to Fishtown indie hero Kurt Vile’s new So Outta Reach EP is like walking through the Smithsonian Institute of American Music For People Who Wear Classic Pumas. Vile has alchemized the wizardly fretboard musings of John Fahey and the quasi-whispered lethargy of Townes Van Zandt and the whole thing is shot through with a lull-inducing slow train energy that is is positively mesmerizing. Having gradually abandoned the thin-skinned lo-fi textures that were the hallmarks of his early success, Vile delivers rich, full-bodied songcraft on So Outta Reach. On the opening track, “The Creature,” Vile channels a darkening Poe-esque ambience and splices it with the twangy fingerplay of Piedmont Bluesniks like Blind Willie McTell and Elizabeth Cotton. Vile summons a pulsing, dark skies energy on his angst-ridden cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train.” So Outta Reach is really an extension of Smoke Ring For My Halo, Vile’s fourth full-length released back in January, and that is not a bad thing at all. Sure, he may look like a walking caricature of a high school stoner with his inky locks stretching down to his butt, but appearances can be deceiving. Vile is quick to point out that he just doesn’t have the disposable hours for roasting bowls that he used to. Between recording, touring, and spending time with his wife and daughter, he’s a very busy man. Fresh off of a three-show run with the Flaming Lips, Phawker got the chance to talk to Kurt.
PHAWKER: What is the first album you ever bought with your own money?
KURT VILE: Um, let me think. It would probably be a cassette, you know? I think the first, I’m almost positive the first thing I bought was – I’m from a small suburb called Lansdowne that’s just outside of Philadelphia and they opened this store called C.R. CDs, so yeah they had cassettes. I’m almost positive I bought the Smashing Pumpkins Lull EP ON cassette.
PHAWKER: If you had to do it over, would you buy something else?
KURT VILE: To be honest, I think that’s a pretty great EP. I don’t wanna change my childhood. But you know, there’s a small chance it could have been U2 or something. Maybe I secretly changed it anyway.
PHAWKER: Hypothetical situation – your house is on fire and you only have time to save one album, which is it?
KURT VILE: That would be such a bummer. Let me think. If I could even just start by grabbing the album I bought today, at least I wouldn’t lose that. I just bought the John Fahey boxset reissue today, so if I could at least take the thing I bought today, that’d be fine.
PHAWKER: Have you ever gotten a cease and desist from Kurt Weil’s estate?
KURT VILE: No, conveniently the names are spelled differently. And you’re right, it is my real name but I wouldn’t be able to use it probably if it was spelled the same way. Even though it’s my own name. So thank God for that.
PHAWKER: If you could go back in time and collaborate with any musical figure in the last 100 years, who would it be and why?
KURT VILE: The last 100 years? Let’s just say for respectful reasons, though I doubt he’d want to play with me, Charlie Patton. Go right to the source. You know what I mean?
PHAWKER: What about today? If you could collaborate with anyone around today who would it be and why?
KURT VILE: Well, there are a lot and certain people I really wanted to play with, Jennifer Herrema and RTX and I got to do that. I got to jam with J Mascis solo. I usually aim for something that’s feasible. I did just tour with the Flaming Lips and I did say that I hope I could collaborate with them someday. [Wayne Coyne] played a phone app mellotron on “Peeping Tomboy,” he played that live. But even so, I’d still like to have him in the studio, and his drummer as well. That’s just something I aim for in the future.
PHAWKER: Speaking of the Flaming Lips, what was the worst thing about opening for them? And what about the best thing?
KURT VILE: The worst thing? I’d say the only – it was great opening for them, but I think the worst thing is opening for anybody. Not everybody is there to see you, there are still some people in the audience. You gotta win ’em over, we have kind of a raw sound. To be honest, I thought our first two gigs weren’t that great but we had three shows with them, the third show was really good but I wasn’t stoked about the first two shows, I mean you can just blame yourself. But the best thing, aside from them inviting me and acknowledging that they’re fans, I’ve been a fan since I was younger. Just being able to watch them side stage every night it gives you the chills. Granted, it was only three shows, but I was just happy to be in the thick of that whole crazy stage set up. The right side stage, I mean they have those dancers on the side, I didn’t dress up as anything but it didn’t stop me from standing exactly where they were.
PHAWKER: What do you think of OccupyPhilly?
KURT VILE: You know what, I don’t know what I think. I think Occupy is all over the place, it’s not just Philly. I think that it sounds like this crazy growing thing that I’m not gonna try to get too deep into. To be honest, it took me a little bit to realize what was going on and it’s still a little unclear but I know people are upset about how one percent of the world is super rich and people don’t have jobs and they want some handouts or whatever – I don’t wanna call it handouts, but, you know what I mean? I think no matter what there are some people behind it who have good intentions and looking for ways to help people, but also it brings people out there that are total delinquents, you know? So, I don’t know, there’s like a good and a bad almost anything, unless it’s straight up bad, you know? I think it’s a mess, I guess I could say. Maybe I shouldn’t even say that, I don’t even wanna say that. It sounds intense, I think it’s intense.
PHAWKER: Do you try to keep your distance from politics and social issues?
KURT VILE: I don’t but when I hear that something’s really corrupt I say ‘That’s fucked up!’ and I’m definitely not apathetic, but at this time in particular where I’m so busy doing my own thing and not in a selfish way, I have a wife and a young daughter. It took me a few weeks until I knew what was even happening, because I go on tour and I come home and it’s not like I even go out and hang out with friends, I’m at home with my family and when I’m on the road I’m listening to music, listening to music on my headphones and stuff and thinking about the next gig. I know there’s tons and tons of different levels of fucked up things out there. I personally think certain people have lots of feelings on politics and they follow it every day. There’s only so much time in the day, and I honestly get depressed when something’s really bad. I don’t wanna say I can’t make a difference because that’s not true, everyone can make a difference, but I don’t know. It’s a lot of stuff. The world has issues and so do we. But no, I don’t write political songs or anything like that, I’m not saying one day I wouldn’t all of a sudden hear of something that totally bums me out and all of a sudden I want to take a stand or something, but I don’t think my music is political – I know it’s not political.
PHAWKER: When was the last time you cried and how come?
KURT VILE: The last time I cried, I don’t know. I wanna cry all the time, I think I cried a little bit when I was on tour listening to John Lennon. Just a little bit, cause I was like exhausted. Not even a lot. I’m sure people should probably cry more, people should be more in touch with their feelings, you know, like crying down the street. Any major reason I cry I wouldn’t want to have you put up on the internet. It’s probably because I was sad, you know?
PHAWKER: What’s the last good joke you heard?
KURT VILE: Let me think here.
PHAWKER: Take your time.
KURT VILE: That one about Willie Nelson.
PHAWKER: Which one is that?
KURT VILE: Nevermind, I’m not gonna say it.