Kurt Vile’s music is wise beyond its years. by Brian McManus Kurt Vile is a former stoner with a perpetual grin and a severe cackle. So severe, in fact, the first time you hear it, you’ll be convinced he’s putting you on. He isn’t. Chances are you won’t be able to induce the cackle out of him. You’ll get a giggle, maybe, but when (there’s no “if” here) he explodes into a fit of overwhelming joy, draws back his lips, exposes his teeth, looks skyward and lets forth his infectious, guttural guffaw, its source will more often than not be something he said himself. Example: Vile has worked for Philadelphia Brewing Company (formerly Yards) for five years. I ask him what he does there. His answer is straightforward, matter of fact. “I drive a forklift.” And then, “That’s what my song ‘Space Forklift’ is about. No, not really.” Bhwhahahaha. It’s adorable. “Forklift” is the third track from Vile’s new album Constant Hitmaker on DIY stalwart Gulcher Records. Vile’s recorded countless CD-R demos over the years, becoming a home-recording guru in the process, but Hitmaker is his first proper solo release on a label, and it’s impressive. Beautiful, clever, endearing, genius—the songs on it are both instantly catchy and atmospheric. Imagine the pop sensibilities of “The Needle and the Damage Done”-era Neil Young sung in the voice of an underage Lou Reed over music supplied by Suicide. A terrible description, I know, but Vile’s music is stupefying, psychedelic folk that’s too much of both to be either. Discuss. Here’s a more apt description cribbed directly from Vile’s MySpace under the “Sounds Like” tab: “when u wake from a long and glorious slumber, then u realize u don’t have to go to work, then u fall back into long and glorious slumber … ” That sums up standout Hitmaker opening track “Freeway” perfectly. Recorded by go-to Philly audio whiz-kid Brian McTear, “Freeway” is a fuller, more fleshed-out Kurt Vile. On it he’s joined by his War on Drugs bandmate Adam Granduciel. It’s two minutes and 41 seconds of pure pop bliss. The rest of Hitmaker is a more subdued and cerebral affair, Vile working solo, drenching his voice in delay backed by a soundtrack steeped in echo and loops of fuzz that lap over the listener in distorted waves. It doesn’t so much sound like waking from a glorious slumber as it does those dazed and confused early morning hours after you’ve been up all night. It’s mature beyond its years. Vile’s 28, but doesn’t look a day over 16. He has long hair and looks like Dave Mustaine during his brief stint in Metallica. Vile has nine siblings (Robin, Rachel, Luke, Paul, Sam, Liz, Dorothy, Wes and Madeline). At 14 his father, an avid fan of bluegrass, bought him a banjo. He began playing it in a band with his cousin who lived up the street. Vile graduated high school and moved from Lansdowne into the city for a spell. Soon after that he packed his bags and followed his then-girlfriend/now-wife Suzanne to Boston. While she attended grad school at Emerson, Vile took a job operating his first forklift at “some shithole” (bwhahaha) and began to make decent money for the first time in his life. “I spent it all on gear. A digital eight-track, guitars, pedals,” he says smiling. Always smiling. Vile began recording at home in earnest around this time, even using that now-decade-old banjo on occasion. “Delay and echo can make anything sound cool,” he says. (You can find a banjo tune on an early CD-R currently playing in the PBC tasting room jukebox. Track six: “The Eternal Flight.”) After two years in Beantown Vile and his wife trucked it back to Philly where he met Granduciel. The two quickly bonded over their love of Dylan. “We’d read all the same books about him. I love books about music. Stones books, Talking Heads books, Springsteen books, Syd Barrett’s biography. Have you ever read Shakey? It’s Neil Young’s biography. It’s great too.” Vile describes himself as a musical sponge. He’s prone to getting obsessed with one band at a time, and then mimicking them, taking a slice from each and adding his own influence. “I think everyone does that, you know? You take what you like and you make it your own. That’s what makes it original.” Ah, there’s a description for Vile that works. Original.
oom to live, love to burn, street hassle, street legal, beat street, bully of the bayou, heartland feeling, yellow schwinn stingray, roots train number 1 (extended mix), cocaine in my brain, juicy juicy juice, strawberry wine, violent students, richie records, ag tonez, tusk, ccr, neil young, crazyhorse, suicide, the dead c, charlie patton, bertha lee, blind lemon jefferson, mississippi john hurt, blind willie johnson, furry lewis, fred mcdowell, harry smith anthology, american primitives, etc, robert johnson, lightnin hopkins, john fahey, doc watson, hank williams, townse van zandt, bob dylan, bobby neuwirth, eat the document, the vu, lou, the stooges, iggy, the ramones, the stones, the kinks, cluster, morton subotnick, isoa tomita, the fall, kurt's garage, blue kangaroo and the rest of wattle & daub.