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Destined: Kurt Vile

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Dusted’s Jake O’Connell profiles Philadelphia guitarist and Destined selection Kurt Vile.

Destined: Kurt Vile

  • Download "Freeway" by Kurt Vile

    Kurt Vile’s constant hitmaking started around age 14. That’s when his father, an avid bluegrass fan, gave him a banjo. Vile would play the instrument as a guitar and “semi-primitively” sketch out songs, shaped by years of John Denver and Doc Watson records. “My dad would blast records that I remember blowing my mind as early as the age of two or three,” Vile writes in an e-mail. “That Rusty & Doug Kershaw record was a huge favorite (and still is). And he’d play Denver and stuff, which I really liked back then.”

    Vile inherited his father’s fanaticism for music, but he went beyond just absorbing it. He spit it back out, too. To date, the Philadelphia guitarist has six CD-Rs under his real name (and, yes, Kurt Vile is his real name), which in his words “all have their moments, I guess.” And that’s not including countless tapes and other CD-Rs with other musicians. A lot of his songs evolved over time, with different variations showing up on various releases, but it wasn’t until last year’s Constant Hitmaker – one of Dusted’s favorite records from last year – that Vile attracted national attention. Vile wrote those songs from 2003-2007, and the title isn’t meant to be ironic. Compiled by Gulcher Records, the album is “sort of a ‘best of’ those CD-Rs,” Vile says.

    Growing up in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, right outside of Philly, Vile was a short trolley ride away from the city’s record stores, where his tastes matured from the acoustic stylings of Dylan and Leonard Cohen to include Wire’s Pink Flag, Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity and Spacemen 3’s The Perfect Prescription. He also points out a special affinity for Neil Young’s black sheep, Trans. Vile’s since relocated to Fishtown, the art haven just northeast of the City Center. He calls it “the part of Philly where all the ‘hipsters’ and/or musicians are. That’s the stereotype anyway. Kind of like Williamsburg but obviously much smaller. Except I really do like this area best to live in. And it’s convenient to have all the musicians and record nerds nearby.”

    Vile’s glut of recent music was mostly recorded in his home studio on a “little digital 8-track” or a Tascam 16-track reel-to-reel. Constant Hitmaker‘s lead track and sure-bet single “Freeway” is the exception; he saved up all summer of ‘06 for a session helmed by Brian McTear, who also mixed Espers’ first record. In Vile’s mind, the investment paid off: “I really love the way that tune turned out.”

    So did A&R agents at a number of independent labels, including Sub Pop, Matador and Domino. Vile declined to give specifics or name names, but Dusted learned through other channels that the three indie goliaths have each shown interest in his next record, Childish Prodigy, which Vile calls his “ultimate” full-length. The album, recorded with Jeff Zeigler (of Clockcleaner’s Babylon Rules) at Uniform Recording, has drawn rave reviews from those lucky enough to have heard it.

    Vile describes the new album as having “a lot more layers. More fuzzed out at times. More like [My Bloody Valentine’s] Loveless in the way that I kept working on a track and going back to it and trashing parts and adding more and taking my time until it was ‘perfect.’” He’s quick to clarify that it doesn’t sound anything like Loveless but that “we definitely put a lot into it.”

    The songs on Childish Prodigy feature Vile in a full-band setting, a sound he recently displayed in New York on a bill with Detroit’s Tyvek and Columbus’ Psychedelic Horseshit. Vile and his Violators (Adam Granduciel on guitars and electronics, Mike Zeng on drums and Jesse Trbovich on guitars and “much fuzz”) ripped through a short set, including “Freeway,” a new epic called “Freak Train” and a fragile rendition of Hitmaker‘s “Classic Rock in Spring.”

    When talking about his method for writing songs, Vile says it usually starts with an acoustic guitar. “A lot of times I’ll just strum a chord and a melody will come out, a certain weird line comes out,” he says. “Then you build around it.” When the talk turns to guitarists he mentions Charley Patton, Velvet Underground (“particularly on the Bob Quine bootleg series tapes”) and Fahey. “My uncle gave me all his original John Fahey records,” he adds. “That’s pretty amazing just in itself. They all just take me out there.”

    Vile also immersed himself in electronics over the past few years, as evidenced by the digital flecks that flourish many of Constant Hitmaker‘s songs. “When you’re improvising on a synth or making a loop or something, then all of a sudden, this dreamy thing may come together that you didn’t really have to think about. Just an accident. Then you write words overtop and you have a whole new tune that you didn’t expect, whereas with a guitar, you have to work at it a different way. Both are rewarding.”

    While Childish Prodigy may or may not see release this year, 2009 still stands to be full of Vile projects. He has a Skulltones 7” and full-length slotted for the next few months, an LP on Mexican Summer in March, and some more vinyl releases on TestosterTunes and Woodsist later in the year (the latter is issuing Constant Hitmaker on vinyl next month). And he hopes to start recording a whole new record with Jeff Ziegler soon. “I’ve got a lot of new acoustic tunes I want to get down,” Vile says. “But tracks will most likely end up filling up at times, I bet.” As if that’s not enough, he’s playing on the new Blues Control album with Jesse Trbovich from the Violators, an album he says “will kick ass.” In terms of touring, he’ll play the Kraak festival in Belgium, SXSW and a bunch of West Coast dates with fellow Philly performer Meg Baird.

    By Jake O'Connell

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