Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 21st November, 2011 9:20AM

Kurt Vile released Smoke Ring for my Halo on Matador earlier this year, proceeding to become internationally recognised for his unique brand of hazy, timeless folk-rock. We caught up with Vile ahead of his one-off New Zealand show to discuss the new record, the year he's had, and what his plans for the future are.

Hey Kurt, what are you up to?

Nothing much I’m just at my house, just got back from three tours in one. A month, a month, and then two weeks which is I guess pretty normal for some people but it’s the first time I’ve done anything like that. It was a lot of insanity but ultimately good.

Was it a tour around the states or were you elsewhere?

There was a month in the States, and it was fun because they were all different kinds of tours. It was a month in the States where we toured from Philadelphia to Chicago for Pitchfork Festival with Woods and then after Pitchfork Festival we met up with Thurston Moore and toured with him down the West Coast. Then we toured back as our own headliners and then went straight to Europe for a month and we spent two more weeks there and then here I am, back home.

You’ve had some pretty amazing tour experiences this year; touring with Thurston Moore and being handpicked by Animal Collective to play All Tomorrow's Parties. How does it feel to tour with these artists?

It's awesome, I’ve definitely had lots of my wish list fulfilled this year.

Do you learn a lot from these artists while you’re on tour with them?

I mean it depends. Since you named Thurston and Animal Collective I listened to them a lot a while back and I learned a lot from listening to them. I also toured with J Mascis and he’d play every night just solo with his guitar and he just blew me away. He had these heartbreaker-type songs that are very Neil Young-esque and I’d just be backstage and I’d be playing guitar along to his set so that really did help me out.

You mentioned J Mascis having some Neil Young-esque songs. You’ve been compared to people like Young too. Is this the kind of music you're naturally drawn to?

I mean I think a big part of that kind of heartfelt thing appeals to me. It's not even a conscious thing, I guess it just strikes a chord with me. I feel like every song I have has a little bit of prettiness in it, even tracks like 'Hunchback' which is kind of a hammy song has something in there. I wrote it on acoustic guitar and if you hear certain guitar parts you’d be like 'oh yeah, that’s pretty', even though overall it sounds kind of edgy. I think that balance is a good thing.

Tell me about writing and recording the latest album, Smoke Ring for my Halo.

Well it was my first record was a real quote-unquote 'professionally' produced album and the first time I went in to make a record for a label. I made my first record for Matador before they signed me; while I was making it it was just all me. Then I did a lot of touring on that record and I became a better player and I had all these songs. I just went in there and gave it my all with the whole produced kind of vibe and I think there’s more rock and psychedelic undertones where I would say some of my older music has more psychedelic overtones.

Did you feel pressure going into the studio for Smoke Ring for my Halo?

I definitely felt pressure on myself before I started making this record. I knew the songs were good but I had no idea how the songs were going to come out on the other end. I also knew that if I was going to make any kind of statement with my music that that this would be the record to do it on. I like Childish Prodigy - it’s psychdelic and it caused a buzz in the underground and I’m totally proud of it – but as far as mass appeal Smoke Ring for my Halo was the one I had to do it with because if I didn’t who knows where I’d be right now.

You obviously did it though, are you happy with the results?

Yeah I’m totally happy. I’m super proud of it. I haven’t listened to it in a while. When I first record something I'll isten to it all the time and I get really excited and then all of a sudden I stop listening to it and actually start to imagine it having more flaws, and start taking bad reviews to heart because there’s plenty of shit slinging in this kind of business - I’m a paranoid person by nature. But I went back and listened to it yesterday and I still love it but I’m thinking ahead. I know what I want to do different for the next record and I’m excited to slowly write these songs I’m working on and take a little more time to slowly record it.

Would you use a producer again? Was that experience good?

I’m totally gonna use John (Agnello) again, he’s one of my best friends now and we work well together. I like him because he's an old head you know; he’s in his forties or fifties or something and as a teenager he worked on Born in the USA and has done Sonic Youth and all kinds of stuff. He knows classic rock, he’s not just some hip indie producer young-type or something. I like someone who has music knowledge from all over the place because I’m not necessarily going for an indie rock thing I’m going for a more classic thing.

You just mentioned you’re writing new songs and looking forward. Are the experiences of the last year affecting the kind of music you want to write?

Not really, I think my sound is always evolving. It never changes that drastically, especially now. I think this record just captured the way I sound when I’m playing on my couch or playing guitar, whereas the other ones were recorded on little digital eight tracks with cheap effects, which was cool, but I’m playing all the time now. I'm touring and getting better at guitar and I’m not working a day job anymore so I have time to think about it and be a musician, which I’ve always been but now I can really think about it and truly be one - full time thinking about it. It’s what I’ve always loved and I’m just fine tuning it now.

You said you thought this album was a depiction of you playing on your couch and you get compared to these honest, earnest artists. Is that an important part of the process for you – being honest? Writing sentimentally?

I’m not trying to anything I’m just trying be myself. It’s never straight autobiographical, it’s always got my personality in there but screwed up a little bit. I guess it doesn’t come out that skewed which is something I didn’t even think about but people say. I think it’s like the music head or the music lover people who can pick up all the things that are going on...I just think there’s something more going on than that literal translation, something deep in there…sorry I’m totally exhausted right now.

Do you write in terms of a full album or is it more organic than that?

I don’t think about that at all. I think sonically as I’m working on it in terms of what works an doesn’t work, but I think it all fell into place with this one lyrically. I've just been playing for as long as I have and this is just me in my most realised form so far.