Young Guns: Kurt Vile's Wake-and-Bake Swirl - Rolling Stone
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Kurt Vile’s Wake-and-Bake Swirl

Philly guitarist carries on slacker-rock’s sweet, jagged legacy

Welcome to Young Guns, our series exploring the most notable guitarists from the next generation of six-string legends. For more interviews with the guitarists inspiring us right now, click here.

WHO: Philadelphia-bred 30-something Kurt Vile has made mesmerizing swirls of guitar and deep, lulling vocals his trademarks. His fifth and most recent record, 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze, contains 70 minutes’ worth of sweetly mellow mood music imbued with acid-washed solos and economically melodic hard rock riffs that evolve into trance-inducing jams.


HYPNOSIS OSMOSIS: Vile says he was a “victim of suburbia” growing up – “It’s not like I was super Philadelphia hip,” he admits, but at least the area did have a good modern-rock radio station “for a second.” In the early Nineties, he latched on to Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Beck, Ween and Sonic Youth to complement his appreciation of Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed’s classic rock. “They were all doing things with the guitar that was pretty arty, pretty noisy, jagged, didn’t care if something just squealed, and not just like a Jimi Hendrix, super fancy, around-your-head way,” he says. “It was a really raw, organic way.” He learned the banjo first, which later influenced his writing on guitar. “Finger-picking, in general, is a hypnotic thing,” he explains. “I feel like I’m more A.D.D. all the time, so the music has to be hypnotic.”

YOUNG, AT HEART: Vile took advantage of the opportunity to meet one of his inspirations in 2010 and met a couple of others in the process. Using a friend’s access, he went backstage to try to meet Neil Young but wound up talking to Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, while Young hung out behind a wall of security guards. “I went out back to smoke a cigarette and I saw this really tall guy with a giant hat,” Vile recalls. “So I ran and I think I bumped into Thurston’s back. Neil Young was like, ‘Well, goodbye everybody,’ right when I got there, and I think Thurston was like, ‘Do you know Kurt Vile, up-and-coming songwriter?’ Neil Young was just kind of like, ‘Kurt Vile, huh?’ He was being nice, then I was like, ‘Yup, I got a couple CDs for you.’” Kim Gordon even recommended Childish Prodigy to Young, Vile says. “I’m pretty sure he never listened to it, but what do I know?”

PARISIAN PAIN: On his European tour last summer, Vile turned to a volatile substance to stay motivated: energy drinks. In Paris, he got a bit over-stimulated. “I was getting in the habit of drinking Red Bull to wake up and play a gig, and I think I was way too amped up,” he says. “I pretty much switched guitars every song for different tunings at the gigs, and I’d take my guitar off pretty rough and haphazardly and clumsily. And in Paris I hit myself in the bridge of my nose,” he laughs. “The room spun around, and it hurt with that stinging pain. But it was right in the middle of a set so I had to keep going.”

CITY OF BROTHERLY SHOVE: The show Vile remembers as the worst ever, though, was a last-minute gig opening for the Black Keys in his hometown – in front of a crowd of “white-hat, frat-boy Philly types,” and with no rhythm section to help. “They were like, ‘Yeah! Woo! Yeah!’ You know, really mocking us,” Vile remembers. “We played a five-song set of pretty fried, psychedelic jams, which I’m sure was nothing too spectacular. But they were just ready to say I sucked. I still see comments on message boards: ‘Kurt Vile is the worst. I saw him open for the Black Keys three years ago. And he’s the worst!’ Maybe through time I’ll just be a well-oiled professional robot.”

In This Article: Kurt Vile


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