Kurt Vile

By
Photography Sebastian Kim

Published April 26, 2013

ABOVE: KURT VILE STYLED BY VANESSA CHOW

Kurt Vile has been reading a lot lately. The 33-year-old musician is the father of two children and, until recently, has spent much of his time at home in Philadelphia. “I’m enjoying chilling out and reading,” he says. “I still zone out, but it’s no longer in that tortured-artist way. I don’t have anything to get off my chest. I’m not itching to prove myself anymore.” Mostly, Vile has been taking in musician biographies and the entire catalog of writer Bret Easton Ellis. At a Cuban diner in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, he points to a copy of Glamorama in his bag. “I started reading [Ellis] again and remembered, ‘Man, this stuff is smut. I forgot!’ But I can’t put it down. I told my wife, ‘This has got to be my last book,’ and she said, ‘I agree, you don’t play enough anymore.’ ”

In 2005, Vile and fellow songwriter Adam Granduciel founded the Philly-based band the War on Drugs, and in both that band and now Vile’s solo project, with backing band the Violators (which Granduciel also plays in), the two have been fashioning a new strain of roots rock ever since. Vile’s style is characterized by the casual speak-singing of Dylan or Lou Reed floating atop a drone of stretched-out chords, pillowy synthesizers, and steady, rolling rhythms. His most recent album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador), released in April, is a continuation of the sound he’s been developing for years, first with a series of self-released CDs, and more recently with two full-lengths from Matador. His music, including the new record, recalls a broad range of ’90s alternative rock, each lyric wrapped in Vile’s unexpectedly beautiful melodies—the kind of music you can, as Vile says, “put your head down and just vibe out to.”

Vile is a mesmerizing performer; his long, curly brown mane sways in front of his eyes as he finesses his guitar in a way few have done since the end of guitar rock. “Sometimes when I get in my zone,” he sings on his new track “Goldtone,” “you’d think I was stoned / But I never, as they say, touch the stuff.” Surprisingly, Vile is prone to a kind of stage fright, or what he describes as “paranoia that he might not destroy on stage.” To get back in the playing mindset after months of being at home, he carries around a miniature guitar amp—a gift from producer John Agnello, who worked on Vile’s last two records as well as classics by Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Vile keeps the amp in his backpack and blasts “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode or “Whiskey Woman” by the Flamin’ Groovies when he wants to get pumped for a show. “I’m the kind of performer who gets lost on stage,” he says. “I can tap into this soulful haze. Even when I haven’t played in a while, I can sit down and start with a chord and just drop into it. It’s like this tunnel I go into. The zone is where I want to live.”