Kurt Vile on “Bottle It In” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, June 15th, 2024  

Kurt Vile on “Bottle It In”

Like a Boss

May 23, 2019 Kurt Vile Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

If you only knew him from his music, you’d still have a pretty accurate notion of what it’s like to talk to Kurt Vile. Like his music, he is unassuming and unhurried, immediately engaging but unconcerned with your approval. As his lyrics often skip along tangents and winking asides, he often slips subtle self-effacing jokes into conversation, rarely pausing to see if you’ve noticed. Today he’s in Los Angeles to do some press for his eighth full-length release, Bottle It In, a nearly 80-minute long set that has positioned him as arguably the most critically lauded rock classicist of his generation. In an era where the boundaries between rock and pop have blurred to the point that few relevant distinctions remain, Vile is a happy anachronism, a shaggy-haired guitar slinger who could have been making more or less the same records at any point in the last 40 years. As much as Vile can seem like a head-in-the-clouds rock auteur, he is grounded enough to know success could be fleeting.

“I’ve been putting out records for 10 years, and I can kind of do what I want,” he says. “People keep telling me they play more EDM and pop and hip-hop at all of the festivalsthat’s fine with me. If one day I’m not invited to as many festivals, I’ll just play clubs and come back to the festivals later. But I think I’m lucky, because I’m definitely making a living doing what I want, and I can feel a difference in my dedicated fans. I can feel their excitement to have my record come out.”

In conversation, Vile makes little effort to stick to promotional talking points, allowing his mind to wander to whatever topics assert themselves, whether explaining how J Mascis turned him on to ‘60s country star Charlie Rich (whose “Rollin’ with the Flow” he recorded for the album) or how excited he was to have Kim Gordon drop by to play acoustic guitar on “Mutinies.” But where Vile can get lost in his thoughts in conversation, he has no difficulty maintaining focus in his work. He prefers short recording sessions and first takes when possible, as any more often leads to “too much time to sit and think about what the fuck is going on,” he says. More than getting a perfect studio product, he is in the business of capturing moments of inspiration. This might just be the definitive characteristic of his process, he says, but he knows it’s not an approach that works for everyone.

“It depends what kind of music you’re making,” he says. “Obviously, a respected orchestral composer, like the real Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brechtor a band like Queen or somethingthey are all super tight and there’s all this stuff going on. You can’t not plan ahead a little bit, I imagine. But there’s another type of music. My songs are simple enough. Like Neil Young and Crazy Horsethey are definitely disciplined. Or the early Rolling Stones-you can tell they get off on that. All the old blues guys. They’re just capturing a moment, and it’s a little different all the time. You can play one chord an infinite number of ways.”

With Bottle It In, Vile tests that notion. Simultaneously his most vividly textured and most structurally minimalist release, the album is an exercise in stylistic sleight-of-hand. Few, if any, songwriters could build a two-chord groove-as Vile does on the hypnotically loping “Bassackwards”-and stretch it out over nine minutes without you even noticing. Just as few artists would be able to take a fuzzy drum loop, a delicately plucked harp, and a darkly droning guitar and slowly mold it into a 10-minute album centerpiece, as Vile does with the title track. When Vile mumbles “I’ve always had a soft spot for repetition” on the gently-galloping folk-rock of “One Trick Ponies,” it comes across like an affirmation more than an admission. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should expect Vile to repeat himself every night on stage.

“If it’s the same, it gets boring as hell,” he admits. “It’s depressing karaoke. It’s not music. It’s like pop music. I respect pop music, too. And I understand why people in the audience want to hear something the same way [as it is on the record]. Sometimes I try to stick close. But if I had to play things exactly the same way on guitar every night, I’d probably quit music,” he says with a laugh. “Luckily, I’m the boss.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 65 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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