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Q&A: Smoke Rings With Kurt Vile

By Adam Valeiras on September 14, 2011


Q&A: Smoke Rings With Kurt Vile

Ever since the release of his 2011 standout record, Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile has reached a new level of success. For the last few months, the long-haired, grungy looking guy with a heart full of gold has become a well-deserved staple for media attention (or at least music-blog attention). Well, we are following up on our end of the deal and caught a few words with the childish prodigy himself. Check it out right below, and give the awesome "Baby's Arms" a listen while you read.

A couple years back you did an interview with Scrapple TV where you said Childish Prodigy was your "masterpiece thus far." Has Smoke Ring For My Halo now adopted that title, at least in your opinion?

Kurt Vile: Yeah, I would say so. Sure. Yes.

How do you think you've changed since Childish Prodigy?

Well I've changed a lot. I mean Childish Prodigy was me when I was still very punk rock. I was working on my old, quote un-quote, studio record, still on my own, still working a day job -- working to make something great with my buddy Jeff Zeigler. It was all really fun. I shopped it around with the labels, so I got signed basically through that record. Maybe, arguably, also through the few things that I had out, a small buzz created. I finally made a name for myself, so by the time Childish Prodigy came out I was only doing music for a living. It was a very conventional way of making records, like we are all that much better at our instruments, and I should add that the songs off Childish Prodigy were two or three years old before it came out, so they had lots of time to grow. And I've had time to accumulate songs, become more confident, and all that stuff. Childish Prodigy is pretty raw, whereas [Smoke Ring For My Halo] was a conventionally produced record - really clean and polished.

Had the songs off Smoke Ring For My Halo been written for a while, or did you write those after Childish Prodigy?

Most of them... let me think. "Jesus Fever," I wrote before. I actually started recording "Jesus Fever" in the same session that I recorded "He's Alright," which is on Childish Prodigy, and I had written it years and years before that. Let's see what else... "Baby's Arms" was written, I guess after Childish Prodigy was recorded, but before it came out. Other songs like "On Tour" and "Puppet To the Man," they were new songs, so it depends. There are at least sketches of a lot of them. 

Do you have a favorite track off Smoke Rings?

Nah. I think one of my favorite tracks to play live is "On Tour." That's one of my favorite songs on the record, but I'm proud of [Smoke Ring] as a whole. I think it's one of those kind of records that is meant to be heard all together, not like the way I listen to Tom Petty records where I jam to "Won't Back Down," and wait around a little bit -- not that it's bad, but I'm so used to how great those hits are. I feel like this kind of record, it doesn't exactly have a standout hit, you know what I mean? I'm just proud of them all in their own way.

You now play with a backing band at the majority of your live shows. Do you still consider yourself a singer/songwriter or have you become a band's frontman?

I do still consider myself a singer/songwriter because I'm writing the songs at home all the time. It's like a different thing. We figure out the live show. There's certain songs that I do plan to practice more with the band, but yeah, I think I’m always gonna be a singer/songwriter. That's just my mentality.

Comparisons have been made between you and certain older acts like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Seger. What's your opinion on these comparisons?

Well, I hear that a lot and I guess I see... first of all they say I've got a Bob Seger heartland type thing, but also I mention Bob Seger in a song about listening to classic rock radio, so that's really where that came from. But the Tom Petty thing is the singles, like I was talking about. "Learning To Fly" for instance, was one of my favorite songs growing up, and "Freeway" sort of reminds me of "Learning To Fly." It's like this subconscious thing. You achieve that through osmosis - a subtle osmosis without even thinking about it. Bruce Springsteen. I listen to whole Bruce Springsteen records all the time. I've gone through intense Springsteen phases, but the other two guys, I'd say if there were a contest, it would be Bob Seger, then Tom Petty, then Bruce Springsteen. That's my ladder of love [laughs]. I think it's just kind of an American Heartland kind of thing. That's why they say it. The music comes off as American or blue collar or whatever.

Can you pinpoint the artist/musician that has had the most influence on you?

No, because it's different at different points in my life. I'd get heavy into Bob Dylan, read tons of books, listen to his music non-stop, so back then it would be Bob Dylan.  And then you go to somebody else, and then maybe back to Bob Dylan. Neil Young, all the time. Velvet Underground, whatever. There's so many and now I'm 31 years old and we've all been record heads our whole lives, so I can't pinpoint the one most influential artist in my life.

How was it touring with Thurston Moore?

It was great. We were fortunate enough to open for Sonic Youth already and through our recording at J Mascis's house, being on J's record, and different shows we played with Sonic Youth like ATP and Matador 21, I've seen Thurston and Tim and all those people a fair amount of times. So we knew them well enough that when we went on tour it wasn't like, "Nice to meet you," but it was all really exciting. I've aimed for that kind of gig since I was young.

Do you have any hobbies outside of music? If so, which one are you most proud of?

My hobbies are usually attached with music, like record collecting. I'm also into movies. Right now I'm watching Twin Peaks, first season.

Nice, I just watched that.

Oh, you just watched it? I've been watching that on the laptop. That dawned on me. All of a sudden I've been on tour enough that once in a while in the van I'll get bored, or like stir-crazy. That's never happened before because I was like, "Tour! Yeah, this is what I've always wanted to do," which I still am stoked about, but anyway. It was this revelation: "Oh, I can watch DVDs on my laptop," and it's funny too cause my wife hates Twin Peaks, so I just watch them on the road. I can just get real obsessed [laughs].

Definitely, the music in that show is so good.

So good! That's why it's so cool. I love David Lynch. I watched Fire, Walk With Me in the beginning of our last extensive European tour and at first, the way it ended, I was so depressed, but then I couldn't stop thinking about it. I love lots of David Lynch movies, most of them, so I thought I should get this season, but I love how you are seeing an episode and then it ends all of a sudden, and then you have the soundtrack, like the show's opening song come in, and it's in headphones and it's so pretty. You see the slow motion of those waterfalls in Twin Peaks and I'm just bobbing my head every time, getting ready for the next episode. I bought the soundtrack just a little after I saw Fire, Walk With Me, and I was listening to it a lot. What's her name? Julee Cruise. I've gotta find some of her music.

What records have you been into lately?

Well, let's see. My label buddy has turned me onto Calvary Cross by Richard Thompson, so I've been listening to some Richard Thompson. I always blank when I'm being interviewed. I just got records the other day. I got that Yoko Ono Plastic Ono band where she's on the back with John Lennon. I got a Robyn Hitchcock. I also just got a Train vinyl in Nashville. Oh, I actually got some Camper Van Beethoven records, which I never listened to them. I've been on sort of a nostalgic kick lately. I like the first two Cracker albums a lot. I have friends who work for David Lowery in Athens and they gave me his new solo record, and it's actually really pretty and nostalgic. It just reminded me of growing up and listening to him. So all over the place, basically.


Download Smoke Rings For My Halo via Matador Records.


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