Q&A: Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile has been steadily building a following the old-fashioned way since his 2008 solo debut Constant Hitmaker. The singer-songwriter is touring in support of his fourth album for hallowed indie label Matador Records, the evocative and introspective B'lieve I'm Goin Down, which weaves the stylistic directions he’s explored during his career into a musical masterwork. He performs at Brooklyn Bowl on Aug. 15. He spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen on a trans-Atlantic call from Europe, where he and his band The Violators just played Italy’s Mojotic Festival 2016 the night before.
You’re spending most of July in Europe before coming back over to this side of the Atlantic. How have the shows been over there?
They’ve been pretty good. I think we get a little tighter with time, but I think you can hit a wall. To be honest, last night some people, to the band, were just grumpy, and it kind of brought me down a little bit. Other than that I think we’re tighter than ever now.
I little jet-lagged maybe?
A little. A little worn out.
Which songs from B’lieve I’m Going Down are audiences responding to the most over there?
Of the newest material? I actually wish we played a whole block of them, but we’ll probably add them in there. Songs like “Lost My Head,” for instance, we could do it but there’s a piano jam that’s kind of a monster that’s hard to reproduce. As far as responses we did cool versions of “Dust Bunnies” and “Outlaw.” I play “Stand Inside.” I will say that a lot of songs from (2013 album) Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze sound better live than on record in a way, better than they did when we toured them during that session. Songs like “Goldtone.” I think the songs are like spiritual jazz. When you play live non-stop you can either play them the same or you can mix it up.
Yeah, some of those songs seem like they can become more seasoned with time. They’re great recordings, but the nature of their structure and the mesmerizing feeling they create allows you to take them to further places the more you play live with these musicians you’re so close with.
Yeah, that’s what ‘s cool on that sort of playing with a lot of the songs. I don’t like repetition. I like improvisation but I don’t like overindulgence either. Ultimately I think we’re kind of a spirited balance. Not too tight, but pretty f*cking tight, you know?
Your songs, especially in the direction you continue to go in, have unorthodox song structures, but you know how to not take it too far, which is intuitive. You have to do it enough to get the feel you’re trying to get across, but not so much that it becomes redundant. I imagine that’s a subconscious thing you develop after a while.
I think that … that’s funny, because people have asked me that question before in a way that showed they haven’t analyzed like you did, so (you did) pretty well. They’re like, “Well how do you know that a song’s done?” like the moment to stop pops in my head. I know that part needs to be cut out or fixed somehow, you know? (Laughs) Or maybe it’s over once my heads not moving and my eyes aren’t closed.
Do you think the way you continue to approach composition comes out of learning to play finger-style guitar, like practicing patterns repetitively?
My style of fingerpicking is little effortless, but the hypnotic thing … I don’t think I learn new styles of fingerpicking so much. It might evolve, but I think I do have specific fingerpicking things I do—hammer-on, hammer-off or go up and down the fretboard. I can start playing lead then be playing chords or whatever. (Fingerpicking)’s one outlet for me. They’re all sort of blending together. I just have to even out the styles and evolve all the time, and then I am influenced by other music. I feel like things come by osmosis. I don’t like look into this whole new style or jump too far from what I’ve been doing. It kind of all evolves on it’s own, you know?
That’s one thing that hits you right away when you listen to this music: There’s an authenticity to it. This is the result of a very organic path and it doesn’t feel calculated at all. I think you’ve called it “the subconscious domino effect.” Did you ever used to overthink songs?
Sure, I could be guilty of doing the same thing. Studios can be really frustrating because a lot of the music, especially when you’re on a roll … there are times when you get stuck on a song. Ultimately you step back and you’ll know if you’ve been thinking too much or you’ve just gone too far.