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In a Fast-Paced World, Kurt Vile Takes it Slow

Kurt Vile answers the phone while driving through his hometown of Philadelphia, a city he will soon leave for an extended tour across North America and abroad. For someone who has made a career of singing slowly, drawing out his words to match his enthralling guitar playing, Vile speaks rapidly. But despite a quick wit and sentences that begin before the last has ended, the songwriter’s outlook on his rigorous tour schedule and career to come is as easygoing as his music would have you believe. 

Much of what Vile packs for tour, he says, is to keep his mind occupied while he’s away from home. Among his necessities are Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, a sizeable chunk of Randy Newman’s music (which he confesses is a current obsession), his guitars and “various levels of minions.” His preparations are otherwise minimal.

“Honestly, you usually just get together what you can, and then the van gets there, and you get in and you leave everything else by the wayside,” Vile says.

Despite dates that take him across the globe, Vile never spends exceeding lengths of time away without returning to Philly. The noted family man will often return home for weeks at a time in between major segments of each tour. Still, he says, it’s not easy to leave home. “I try to mentally prepare myself, but you get a little backed up. Playing the music is the easy part.”

He makes it look that way. Onstage, with his head down and long hair swaying, covering all but a sliver of his face, it’s obvious that the music comes naturally. The mesmerizing nature of Vile’s music is what moves him and his listeners, it seems, to elude the normal pressures of time. 

Six of 11 tracks on Vile’s most recent LP, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, exceed six minutes, an unusual feat for a modern-day musician. Not everyone could get away with songs that eclipse the average attention span, but this is one of many ways that Vile sets himself apart. Yet he doesn’t do it with breaking the mold in mind. It’s not about making a statement directed at an ADD-afflicted audience; it’s intuitive. 

“There are endless possibilities playing a song or a chord progression,” says Vile. When recording his latest album, he explains, “Certain riffs would be hypnotic to me and put me in a trance and be sort of pretty and ethereal, and I would get lost in it. It’s hypnotic and therapeutic. I figured we’d keep going and fade out.”

Vile says that on these longer recordings he played with the thought of editing out sections to shorten the tracks, but instead, “I just heard them, and it felt right,” he says. “You just keep bobbing your head.”

Even shorter tracks like “Never Run Away” and “Snowflakes are Dancing” cycle and repeat in the same relaxed fashion as the record’s more epic songs, some of which are three times their length. Vile’s lyrics also manage to be both unassuming and prophetic. He expresses truisms without pretension, making the music all the more accessible and dreamy. Even in the face of life, love, death and reality, “I guess” is a recurring phrase in his songs, dispelling the notion that he’s any kind of expert on the matter.

Vile approaches the matter of getting back into the studio to record what will be his sixth solo album with an equally casual mindset. 

“I’ve been writing a lot of lyrics and music, and I’m thinking about [recording],” he says. “I don’t know when we’ll officially go into the studio. We’ll be thinking about different spaces to get into in New York and Philly, but it’s pretty laid-back, not trying to plan some big official thing with top-notch studios and top producers—just kind of woodshedding.”

For the time being, Vile looks forward to the shows to come and finding different things to enjoy about each stop on his tour.

“I’m excited to go to Athens,” he says. “I guess it’s a city, but it’s like a beautiful country suburb with big porches, and I feel like I could sit on one of those porches for three days.”

WHO: Kurt Vile and the Violators, Beach Fossils, VBA
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 29, 8 p.m.