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Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile

Interviewed by
Ben Coley
Monday 5th October, 2015 11:15AM

Kurt Vile has slowly and steadily built a solid reputation for himself over the past 10 years with his brand of country tinged indie-rock, firstly as member of The War on Drugs and nowadays as a solo artist. Well-loved in his hometown of Philadelphia, which gifted him with the keys to the city and declared August 28th as Kurt Vile Day, the musician is generally known as a family man with a shy and humble persona. However, Vile's new album B’lieve I’m Going Down… gives us a glimpse into his private life and thoughts  - much more than 2013's breezy Wakin On A Pretty Daze. 

With Vile returning to New Zealand with his backing band The Violators to take part in the inaugural McLaren Valley Festival in the new year, UnderTheRadar took the opportunity to speak to Vile about the new album, expectations and the success of families...

Hey Kurt, How are you?

I’m good thanks, just in Paris at the moment.

Nice. You must be glad that your new album is finally done and that everyone can hear it?

I’m stoked for the album to be out. The vibes are all good and I’m in a good headspace. I don’t expect the album to explode disproportionately to my last record. I think ideally it will be a steady one step up at a time.

The album has a different feel from Wakin On A Pretty Daze. It feels more insular in an earnest and focused way. The songs come across as personal stories. Is this the case?

Yeah, it’s definitely more insular. I was more focused and concentrated on my psyche and how I was feeling at the time. There are varying emotions in the album and they all come out in a concentrated way. It’s not just my real, mental emotions but also my musical emotions too. So whatever music was coming out had feelings of it’s own.

There is a lot of banjo and piano in the album and on first couple of listens those are the tracks that stand out to me. Was it a concerted effort to mix it up or did it just come about naturally?

I grew up playing the banjo and I always return to it. I have tried to capture a banjo song on the last couple of records and they just weren’t quite ready. I wrote the song ‘I’m An Outlaw’, which is on this record a couple of years ago now and I always had big plans for it. I bought a new handmade banjo and it really did inspire me and make me want to capture the banjo in a recorded setting. I actually thought there would be more banjo songs on this record.

The piano thing also isn’t exactly new, I have always been into keyboards, piano and knew basic chords. There is some piano in pretty much every recording I have done. I haven’t really done songs led by piano though. I was definitely thinking about it all the time. I was listening to the piano in my favourite jazz songs or certain songwriters like Randy Newman, Bill Fay or even parts of Donald Fagan. I wanted it to be another outlet and not just me stuck riffing on the guitar my whole life, which I have done plenty of.

Is that something you want to incorporate into the live show?

Yeah! I definitely want to incorporate it into the live show. I’d like to incorporate most of the new record into the live show. Playing the banjo with a full band will be tough and I think there will be some trial and error in that, but I’m up for the task. It’s the same with the piano. I don’t want to play a Nord keyboard. which is one of those red ones that has all the sounds and everyone plays them. It sounds pretty digi to me, even if they say it sounds real. I am thinking a Wurlitzer cranked through an amp and eventually if I play certain shows I will have an upright piano. I definitely want to get those sounds going for the show, for the same reason I put them on the album, which is to mix it up.

So the album title B’Lieve I’m Going Down… comes from a song which didn’t make it onto the album. What does the title mean to you?

Well, the title covers a lot of vibes of the record. You could say “Going Down” is positive and psychedelic or it could be that you are feeling low or accepting that you are gonna die. The one syllable delivery of “b’lieve” is a total blues delivery thing too. I really like the title-track a lot, I still love it. It’s just the same lyric over and over like a mantra I guess. It sounds really pretty and soulful but it’s about six minutes long and I didn’t want to cut it down just so it would fit on the album. It was one too many songs. The song came out so good and the mantra fit so well though that I wanted to make it the title. It’s on the deluxe edition, plus it’s the digital age so it’s not like someone can’t find it immediately online.

In an interview with the AV Club you said in relation to the new album that you will succeed one day? what did you mean by that?

Oh, I said ultimately I will succeed one day, I just meant in some way that I am going to succeed with the new record. It’s actually already a success for me. I’m just doing what I want to do. In theory everyone could not like it, but I don’t think it’s on the cards. It’s a confidence thing, so I feel like I have already succeeded.

I was wondering if you had high expectations of success… you come from a large family and have 10 siblings. Was there a competitiveness between you all when growing up?

I think there was a little bit, or maybe it was just being stir crazy. It’s like being on a ship, everyone was losing their minds all the time because there was no space. I’m sure there was some competition. I don’t really think of it as being competition though. I just think of it as fighting with your older and younger siblings ‘cos that’s what you do when you’re 10 people in a small house. I am competitive though, I definitely have that in me.

Some of your family are musical aren’t they? Do you play with them much and did you growing up?

Not really, we played a little bit. I have jammed with pretty much all of my siblings at some point. Not necessarily growing up, because that’s when you are sort of… fighting for your own self or something, Once we moved out we have jammed here and there. I would honestly like to jam with my brothers more and I’m sure we will one day.

You’re coming back to New Zealand at the start of the next year for the McLaren Valley Festival and some festival dates in Australia. Also the last time you were here was for Laneway. Are the festival shows something you really enjoy doing?

Sure, I enjoy the festivals but I also enjoy club shows. The festivals can be crazy and hectic and sometimes they will just hurry you up and make you play, but I enjoy that and am always up for that challenge.

You’ve got a lot of material to fall back on now and many of your songs are around the 5-6 minute mark, do you find it hard deciding what to play and put in the setlist, especially at festivals with the shorter set times?

Yeah, maybe with the last record we couldn’t play that many songs. I think I am stepping outside the box now though. Except for the song ‘Gold Tone’ which we are playing better than ever, we just see where that one takes us, it’s loose and can be quite long. I’m not too worried about the length though. We don’t have to play the songs as long as they are, or at all for that matter.

Cool! Thanks for chatting. Look forward to seeing you here in the new year and good luck with the new album.

Thanks heaps. bye.

Kurt Vile will be appearing at the inaugural McLaren Valley Festival in the new year, head over here for more information.


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