“Kurt does his own myth making; a boy/man with an old soul voice in the age of digital everything becoming something else, which is why this focused, brilliantly clear and seemingly candid record is a breath of fresh air.”
Kim Gordon has it clear. Even in his hometown is a very well renowned artist. August 28 was named Kurt Vile Day and the musician has been distinguished with the Liberty Bell Award, the highest honor in Philadelphia. But flattery aside, Kurt is a family man with his feet on the ground. Introverted rather than shy, the guy behind an endless mane has pretty clear ideas. His music is at the service of his imagination and his lyrics are more autobiographical than he want us to believe. On “B’lieve Me I’m Going Down” we find a restless and unique artist who’s probably in the best moment of his career.
We met Vile in the cafe of a downtown hotel in Madrid. The autobiography of Miles Davis is on the table and Kurt looks a bit tired after a whole day of promotion. He looks calmed and quite, probably looking forward the mini concert he’s playing for the press in a nearby record store called “Bajo El Volcán”.
So “B’lieve Me I’m Goin Down”. It doesn’t feel like going down in a literal way, or pessimistic way, but on the other hand, it does feel a bit calmer than your previous two albums.
Yeah, it’s not like, it’s supposed to be too much but just like a slight melancholy situation going on but that’s my favourite kind of music to listen to even if it’s not mine, really. It’s sort of the heart melters.
Is this your most personal album?
People have asked that a lot. I think they are all personal but it probably is just because maybe it’s more articulate. Like I said, I think I’ll go for that referral. Yeah, I wasn’t afraid to say pretty much anything I wanted or something without thinking I had to mask it.
You have introduced a lot of piano this time.
I’ve always been into piano but I’ve never like recorded a straight up piano song with singing. Actually “Bad Omens”, parts of that at least I wrote that piano song so long ago like 1998 or something. As a kid, it’s the first thing I wrote on piano, parts of it but then I’ve been using all kinds of instruments on and off my whole life.
“I got a wild imagination, give it some time”, so is there a secret message in this last song? Because there’s also a sentence which says “but what’s the meaning of that last line?” on the previous song (“Kidding Around”). Are you asking the listener time? Do you really think that your music and this album specially, needs a bit of time in order to appreciate the different shades or aspects of the whole record?
No, I’m not asking. That’s funny. Somebody else said that one actually like saying to the person. I’m just talking more generally and not sort of like missing somebody or give it some time.
The thing is, is tough to request time to people these days especially when it comes to listening to whole albums.
It’s also open so you could interpret that from it and that’s success for me because it’s also supposed to be open a little bit too. Maybe I was thinking a little bit more about missing somebody that I don’t see right then but interpretation is open.
“I wouldn’t release my records in any other decade”
Have you ever thought about the age of the people listening out there? Is it really possible to make music that satisfies to young people as much as older ones?
Satisfy the teenagers and the adults. I think my music, I think I should be every age hopefully but I understand you but ultimately I don’t, like for instance, remember that band, Bright Eyes, all his audience is like a bunch of 16-year-olds gone crazy. I wouldn’t want just that but I wouldn’t want just old then. I would like to have everyone. I don’t think about what age is. I like to have more.
What about the song “Life Like This”? Is it about yourself?
No, it’s open. It’s not so specific. Part of it sure is music. Part of it is my life bouncing around like crazy, having sort of a dichotomy life, like all kinds. Getting exhausted but also I’m like the luckiest person in the world. That’s part of it like the people you love. It’s just kind of bouncing around like a pinball machine but again, it’s sort of open. I like to keep it open. I like to keep it open.
Have you produced yourself the whole album? What’s the difference between having someone there and doing it your own?
Me and my band mate, Rob Laakso, produced a lot of it. Our drummer, Kyle Spence, helped with certain songs. Rob Schnapf helped at the end and Peter Katis really helped at the end too.
Is it very different to have a producer rather than produce it yourself?
I think it is. I think it was because ultimately, we did produce this album ourselves even if we had some help towards the end. Nobody was taking charge of the whole situation outside like, “Okay boys, we got this.” Nobody getting too emotionally involved in the record that didn’t directly wasn’t in the band and then even Rob Schnapf, we were sure, he got a little emotionally involved but just for a second. It wasn’t like, this guy was there the whole time and that’s too much.
I think that there’s sometimes this lack of compromise, or sense of reality in the music nowadays, but when I listen to your music, it sounds honest, like you kind of musicalize your thoughts, like the soundtrack of your own thoughts. So, being personal is the key to make people trust you? So would you think, that to be truly honest as an artist you have to rely on yourself to succeed?
I don’t know. Yeah, I think you should be. I appreciate too like, I feel like you could be honest, you could be a true artist and have a weird show. Say somebody like David Burn, stop making sense, obviously, it’s like a lot of weird concept but you could still say his music is honest even though he’s got this giant suit on and stuff. I guess however you can be honest with yourself; I guess in my case, it’s like relatable in a human level so it feels…. That’s cool that you think that.
So you don’t conceive the music in any other way?
I guess that’s what I look for in other music like when it’s soul bearing like John Coltrane or something like spiritual, or Bill Fay. He made these really beautiful pop songs. He worked in a factory and nobody could see because he had a bad deal and nobody understood and nobody pushed him, but he did it from his heart. It was really sad and beautiful. Stuff like that. I like music like that.
What’s the meaning of success for you?
Success is just to make a living, doing what you want to do. Obviously, I want to make music and put out records, and I have achieved all those goals and I’m making a living. I hope this gets a little better all the time. I already feel successful but I like the idea of becoming more successful. I welcome that. That’s part of the reason you keep playing, I keep playing, but if all of a sudden it’s sort of levels or drops off, I would deal with that.
“Adam Granduciel has invented such a sound… he doesn’t really need me in The War On Drugs”
When I listen to your records, I get to think that you’re such a good observer of life and people -although I might be wrong-. Do you recognize the feelings or obsessions in people or friends that you have somehow captured in your songs? Do you have an emotional connection through people somehow?
Well, I feel a lot of them and I could see around me. I guess I know so many people. I feel like I can relate to people. There are certain persons I can relate to and then I assume a lot of people out there feel the way I do too. Not everyone but like I feel like I’m pretty intuitive. If somebody comes by, I could feel like I can know at least some of what they are thinking or feeling.
I’ve read that you compose most of your music during the night time. Why do you think there’s a better vibe in the night that you can’t get during the day?
I think what it really is we’re recording a lot at night. I do compose a lot at night. It just comes. In the past, certain songs stand out as being like, they come to me at night, but more so, it was the recording process. With this record, a lot of it was nighttime partly because we didn’t have a producer and partly because I like to take it slow. The next thing you know, it’s dark and that’s when I started to wake up when it’s dark. It’s rock and roll hours.
Would you think that you were born in the wrong decade? Would you choose a different decade to release your records?
No. the reason I wouldn’t is because around now, there’s plenty of music that I’ve seen, that I can look back on and I’m glad it all exists and I’m glad I could listen to it and be influenced by it. I don’t want to go back. Obviously the 70s sound awesome but also there are a lot of bloated egos, hippies thinking they could change the world more than they really could and primitive times but with lots of money. Young people getting so filthy rich, which obviously sounds fun but it also sounds like there are probably a lot of loneliness at the same time like deep down.
What if you had to start all over again? In this time and age.
With the internet thing? 10 years ago, there was still like MySpace and stuff, right? That was convenient but now it’s even more speedy. I don’t know. That’s a tough one. I don’t want to think about having to start my career because I’ve been making this since I was 17 and now I’m 35 so I don’t know what I’d do. I probably wouldn’t make it.
Would you change something in your career?
No because I’m too attached to like reality, what happened. It would be weird to change it.
Is this the album your most proud of?
Yeah, I think I’m most proud of this album but I’m most proud like just reaching a point, but I listen back to my other records. I’m proud of them too and they are different times, but I’m always proud of progression and whatever the next batch of songs is going to be and all that stuff. I’m definitely proud.
Kurt and The War On Drugs
You did reunite with your old mates of The War On Drugs, what do you think of their last album? Ever considered getting back with them?
Yeah we randomly play but he’s so busy. He stood on his own. He just signed a major label. He gets so immersed in his own music and now he’s got the tool, a rare tool, like a machine behind him and making this go for this big thing that I don’t get to see him so much, but anytime I see him, it’s cool. He seems to be really involved in his own life. He’s got a girlfriend who seems really cool but she’s like an actress I’ve never met. I haven’t seen him outside of behind backstage of one of his shows in a while or anything like that, but I know I will one day but I haven’t in a while.
Have you ever considered recording something together?
Yeah. I know we’ll do that one day. I don’t know how. Sure, I’ll play on a War On Drugs thing. In a way, I’m happy to do that but that’s just like playing guitar on something. I would do it if he wanted me to but he doesn’t really need me to do that for the War on Drugs. It’s such a sound that he’s invented at this point. Sure I could do it but I think we could just get together and do something and not really name it.
Are you happy?