New perspectives flood latest studio effort from Kurt Vile
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Kurt Vile can’t sit still. Even when he’s not on tour supporting his succession of worthy storyteller albums, Vile is milking a new adventure. He likes the physical journey of creating and working with different collaborators and producers in different places over various spans of time — the circuitous pathway reflected in his perfectly paced albums like this year’s “Bottle It In.” Though it has the same effortless vibe as his trademark jeans/T-shirt/Converse shoes and modest blue-collar roots in the suburbs of Philadelphia (an area where he still lives), it’s as polished as the Grammy he should have been nominated for this month.
KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22
Where: Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
Released in October on indie darling Matador Records, “Bottle It In” is the seventh studio album from Vile (yes that’s his real name) that has come out since he departed The War on Drugs. He co-created that acclaimed heartland rock band with Adam Granduciel but left to embark on a solo career that was born with the cheeky home recording album “Constant Hitmaker” in 2008.
Though Vile hasn’t been a “hitmaker” in the traditional sense, he has lived on the fringe of success, a music snob hero influenced by hipster gods like Neil Young, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Stephen Malkmus of Pavement and Tom Petty. In 2015, commercial appeal came knocking with “b’lieve I’m goin down” that produced the uber single “Pretty Pimpin.” The song permitted Vile to top the Billboard Alternative Charts for the first time and prompted TV’s “Jeopardy” to make Vile a clue on one episode. “It was actually ‘College Jeopardy,’” Vile clarifies, while laughing, during a recent chat.
This year’s follow-up takes it a step further — “Bottle It In” is the piece de resistance of Vile’s career thus far, definitely exanding on his repertoire. It includes sanguine 10-minute epochs like buzzy “Bassackwards” and a title track that’s imbued with horns alongside his familiar finger picking. There’s also glockenspiel, synths and harp courtesy of the talented Mary Lattimore across the album, as well as some extra crunchy guitar from label mate Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and a chorus of vocals from the ladies behind indie pop band Lucius.
“I like that there’s all different perspectives, but all the songs are still in the same wheelhouse. It’s not schizophrenic or anything, but still the album has unique viewpoints from various people being involved,” says Vile before sound check for his tour date in Oklahoma City, a jaunt that wraps with a show at the Riviera on December 22, before he heads home to be with his wife and two daughters for the Christmas holiday. “If you do different things in different places, new sounds will come out.”
One person Vile did not work with on “Bottle It In” was Courtney Barnett, the critically revered Australian singer-songwriter who worked alongside Vile on 2017’s collaborative album “Lotta Sea Lice” and subsequent tour. The two are nearly mirror reflections of each other — as explored in their black-and-white music video for “Over Everything,” which features the duo playfully lip-synching the other’s vocals. Both artists have a penchant for writing deadpan humor into their frequently first-person lyrics. See Vile’s new track, “Loading Zones” (about getting to park in his hometown of Philly for free) as one example.
“I was admiring [Courtney] from afar. We had friends in common, and she was approachable and seemed like someone I wanted to be real friends with,” says Vile. “Throughout the process I was definitely getting deeper into her music and I wrote ‘Over Everything’ with her in mind, with lyrics I thought she would sing about, like environmental issues.” At first the idea was just to do a song together, but Vile adds, “[Courtney] said I’ll do a song, too, and we’ll have a 7-inch. And I was like it’s too good to be 7-inch, it should at least be a 12-inch so it doesn’t get lost in record store, you know. … It was a very special and unique scenario, but that’s what I strive for, to make connections like that.”
There’s still “a million people” on Vile’s bucket list he’d like to work down the road. Of course Prine and Young (both of whom he’s met briefly) but also a Canadian country-western band called The Sadies, with whom he’s toured. There’s also been recent studio time with his neighbor Deen Ween (of Ween) and Stephen Malkmus (Pavement). “[Stephen] is probably my number-one teenage hero. I’d like to do some more weird recordings with him, stuffed with guitars and synth, don’t even worry about vocals, and see where it goes.”
Though up next could be a more country-tinged album. On “Bottle It In,” Vile and his band The Violators do a cover of Charlie Rich’s 1977 hit “Rollin’ with the Flow,” and the band also performed at the Stagecoach outdoor country fest earlier this year.
“[Country] is my deepest, biggest obsession, especially since ‘b’lieve I’m goin down’ ‘til now,” says Vile. “I did record some country songs in Nashville, and you know I’ll never make a blatant country album but my music is close enough to Americana that some version of that will come out at some point. … But for now it’s cool to be sitting on all these recordings. I don’t realistically know when I’ll go back into the studio again. I like the idea of striking while it’s hot, but I also cherish relaxing and not worrying about it and waiting ‘til inspiration strikes.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.