Kurt Vile: Guitar Hero

Philly’s "Childish Prodigy" brings his woozy constant hitmaking to the masses.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Sep. 29, 2009

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Photo by Michael Persico

In the overgrown back alleys of Fishtown, two unfortunate souls in skintight Lycra are trying to inline skate over cobblestones. Stumbling and bumbling their fruit boots along sideways at a snails pace, they teeter about, circling their arms to-and-fro like tightrope walkers on the verge of a life-ending plummet.

Philadelphia songwriting wunderkind Kurt Vile barely even notices. He’s got his mind on something else.

“Where’s the graveyard?” he asks to no one in particular before whipping a U-turn in his wife’s Toyota Echo that would’ve ended the skaters’ lives had they not had the presence of mind to take their high wire act to a smoothly paved sidewalk.


Vile’s scouting locations for a video he’ll be shooting the next day, “Freak Train,” the first single off his highly anticipated Oct. 6 Matador release, Childish Prodigy. Vile got several pitches for the video’s direction from the label, but ultimately decided to give his own idea a go under the direction of Philly-based artist Danny Perez, whose vids with Animal Collective Vile quite enjoyed. “They’re trippy,” he grins approvingly.


Richie Charles, Richie Records/TestosterTunes label honch and Vile’s good friend, is in the passenger seat. Charles put out one of Vile’s releases this year, The Hunchback EP —his first with Vile’s band, the Violators—and will be playing the lead role in the video. “I’m the train,” he deadpans.


After a few minutes quoting Beavis and Butt-head and passing just beyond the reach of the “perfectly preserved Italian ruins” known as the Piazza at Schmidts (another Charles deadpan), Vile spots what he’s looking for: a gated gravel lot under the Girard/Lehigh exit of I-95 littered with the corpses of industrial machines, gigantic circuitry and monster electronics, all secured by barbed wire. This is where transformers go to die. Literally.


Vile hops out of the Echo and begins looking for entry points that won’t rouse too much suspicion, soon finding a hole big enough to squeeze his trunk-full of props through. He’s got a guitar and a keyboard, a horn, a microphone and a case that contains an 8-track player, a tape recorder, a reflective traffic light and a few other odds and ends. 


His props strewn across the street, the 29-year-old hesher looks like the Carrot Top of psych-folk. Only “psych-folk” doesn’t quite cut it. Vile’s too much of both to be either, and the disparate influences he’s hoarded over the years are now truly, uniquely, his own.


Pleased with the site, Vile skitters around a bit, and figures out what he needs to figure out, then pops back into the vehicle in search of more locales. Time is precious. In just over a week he’ll be on the road through year’s end, and with his new release a week away, he’s deep in the throes of a full-on music business orgy and all it entails: interviews, show offers (Mission of Burma in Boston, New Year’s Eve with the Black Keys in Chicago, etc) video- and photoshoots (some more painful than others … he declined Spin magazine’s request that he “play dress up” by putting on feathers and a vest made of crystals). 


Once the ball of success starts rolling—
and his young mug is plastered all over every blog and magazine, and he’s on the road for weeks and weeks—Kurt Vile will seem to most like an overnight success. Not quite.


Childish Prodigy is Kurt Vile’s “statement.” It’s taken an awful long time. 


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1. boog said... on Oct 5, 2009 at 12:10AM

“if you like kurt (like i do), how about you check me out. i'm nineteen, have four less tracks on my tape recorder, and seem to get overlooked by everybody in this city. i've been playing with hezekiah jones, the sweetheart parade, and all the other philly folk acts since i was a sophomore in high school.
i'm boog, with a lowercase 'b.'
look me up on facebook and myspace
thanks

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2. Shaily said... on Oct 6, 2009 at 12:50AM

“Kurt is so incredibly talented... this was long due...”

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