“What band is that?”
Kurt Vile abruptly stands, upstairs at One Shot Coffee in Northern Liberties, peering at bookshelves that wrap around the room. He walks toward an erect, stand-alone book that appears to picture a group on the cover. Vile’s more than just Philadelphia’s curious poster boy of indie rock. He’s a family man, and in more than one sense: Yes, he’s got two daughters—a five-month-old and a beautiful, bubbly toddler, Awilda, whose precocious play lights up the Matador YouTube video for his single “Never Run Away”—but he’s also a member of Philly’s rock tribe. He sees his rise in the ranks as a good thing for everyone with whom he’s ever played, recorded or jammed.
Vile’s fifth album, Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, is basically already a success, despite the fact that it doesn’t come out until April 9. It’s featured on NPR’s “First Listen,” and any pre-release critical buzz is pretty dazzling. It’ll most likely garner a Best New Music nod from Pitchfork; his last, 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, did, but, oddly, Childish Prodigy, Vile’s brilliant Matador debut two years prior, didn’t. I ask him about it. “It’s kind of weird how they can ruin a band,” he says. “They’re definitely not on the mark all the time.” Essentially, no one else in Philadelphia is catching up to Vile in his lane, and he plans to take that momentum and run with it.
At this point in his career, he’s allowing himself to be picky. He can turn down shows or spread tours out so that he can bounce back to Philly to hang with his wife and baby girls, but one doesn’t say no to Coachella. Vile heads to California in a bit to warm up in San Diego before playing the big Indio festival. Only a few days after the release of Wakin’, and he’ll be performing it before thousands of exuberant indie heads. They’re sweet gigs, Vile says—and they keep comin.’ “Those pay, playing to big crowds of stoked music fans. And there are certain festivals that can be prestigious: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Primavera Sound. We’re doing Primavera for the second time.” He’s come a long way, baby, from sneaking out to play on South Street at 15.
Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze is a sunny, slightly lo-fi affair. If Childish was psychedelic groove punk and Smoke Ring was far-out folk, Wakin’ is the perfect accompaniment to our pending spring and summer. It’s full of Vile’s signature slightly mumbly but subtly brilliant lyricism and anchored by his outstanding, complex guitar work. It was recorded all over the country with friends from Warpaint, Beachwood Sparks and Royal Trux. And while he has some awesome musician friends, Vile also has some heavy-hitting musician fans: Bradford Cox, J. Mascis and Kim Gordon are avowed admirers, and it’s mutual. His last vivid concert-going experience: seeing Dinosaur Jr. at Union Transfer. “It was like seeing Neil Young,” he says.
When Vile’s tour hits Union Transfer on May 18, his fans will no doubt feel the same.
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014