Kurt Vile: “I’ve always been kind of elusive to technology”

Posted November 21

Kurt Vile’s music evokes a kind of feeling out-of-time — a world of dusty roads and silent rooms and shadows — so it’s no surprise that the musician isn’t the most plugged-in of singers. Regardless of his Howard Hughsian approach to social media, however, Vile topped the MTV Music Meter for a good portion of last week, earning him a slot in this week’s Music Meter Monday — a column where we highlight a musician blazing through our social chart.

Vile, who is sure to be popping up on many “Best Of” lists for his 2011 album Smoke Ring For My Halo, recently dropped a new EP, So Outta Reach, featuring music recorded during the same time as the aforementioned disc.

He took some time out before hitting the road again to chat with the O Music Blog about touring, his online presence (or lack thereof) and emerging from the underground.

So you’re going on tour in a couple of weeks?

Yeah, we go on tour right after Thanksgiving to Australia, 10 days, and we’ve never been there. They would always be trying to get me to go there. I still haven’t been. It’s been since 2008 that people have been trying to get me over there. The vibe is super awesome over there. All the shows are selling out and they’re adding extra shows. I kind of fantasize that it’s going to be like an underground Rolling Stones concert. [laughs]

So will you have any time to check out the country?

We’re in Melbourne for two nights and Sydney for two nights, so granted we have shows both nights, but I don’t mind — that’s the way I like to hang out anyway, playing shows. It’s like Mike Watt said: ‘You’re not playing, you’re paying.’ What I said was: ‘It’s best to be the center of attention whenever humanly possible.’ [laughs]

It looks like you’ll be back in time to see all the ‘Best of the Year’ lists come out. I imagine that your album will be on a few of those.

Yeah, there are some that I have heard about and I’m really excited for that. People want me to do Top 10 lists. I’m really slow on email and I build a simple thing up in my head and it kind of weighs down on me mentally. But also, I have a lot of friends now in bands and I hate to exclude people. So I don’t know how many lists I’m going to be making. Maybe I’ll make a giant list or something.

Do you have a favorite album of the year?

I don’t have number-ones. I can’t say. There are so many different ones that I like. I really do love the Panda Bear Tomboy record, I like the Cass McCombs Wit’s End album. I like that Low album. Granted, it’s family, but I love the War on Drugs record. Stuff like that. The new Woods album.

Sounds like you’re into chill music.

Chill music… Well, let’s think. I don’t only like the chill music. I’m trying to think of what was heavy that I liked that came out this year. I do know I saw this band Obits play in Austin, Texas, and they were super no-bullsh*t punk. I’m not just a chill guy, you know.

So we write about social media and technology and music here, and it seems like you’re kind of a ghost on the Internet. You don’t do a lot of social media stuff. Why is that?

I’m grateful that at the time I needed it Myspace was very useful. I actually wish that Myspace didn’t get freaked out by Facebook and change everything, because I would still use it. But, yeah, at this point in my life, I’ve got too much other stuff to do than sit around and let people think that everybody’s going to take every stupid tweet that I write seriously. Sometimes I want to go on Twitter, but I don’t really feel like it right now.

So you like to be shrouded in mystery?

I don’t think I’m that shrouded in mystery. I think that it’s just a common thing to tweet and be on Facebook. I’m glad the label helps run my Facebook. I know it’s useful, but I’ve always been kind of elusive to technology, anyway. I act like I don’t know how to do something simple, even like organize my iTunes. I guess the reality is that I just choose to not figure it out [laughs]. I’m good at getting people to help me do the most basic of things [laughs].

So not be salacious or anything, but I’ve noticed you’ve only tweeted four times, and three of them were directed at Titus Andronicus after Patrick Stickles tweeted about your song being in a Bank of America commercial. Why did you decide to come out of Twitter silence to answer him?

Because why would I not? Because of what he said. I’ve always said that these are different times and [licensing] is how people make their money. And also I should say that people who are anti- — I’m more anti- than anybody. I didn’t even know that people had a problem with Bank of America. I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I just live my life. So I didn’t think twice. Now that I do know, do I regret it? Not really, because all I do is take their money. I’m not writing a jingle. It doesn’t mean anything to me. It doesn’t change that song at all.

Taking that money is not going to change anything one way or another. It’s totally different times. I’m not floating on a sea of platinum records.

Despite not floating on a sea of platinum records, it’s been kind of a big year for you. Why do you think this album caught on so much?

It’s my first professionally produced album and I had help making to cohesive. But I think there’s a few reasons. If you just want to talk about the straight product and the music, I think it’s just a real solid, heartfelt record. A lot of it’s pretty — more musical, less weird. It’s the strongest that I had to offer. Me with lots more touring under my belt, time to think, not working a day job, really honing in. It was a big effort.

I had encouragement from the label to really make a statement, which was convenient because I don’t know what I would have thought if someone was like, ‘OK, just make your next record.’ It could have ended up a lot weirder. It’s got its classic pop sensibility and American songwriter sensibility — or just songwriter in general.

[Leading up to this record] I was just able to put out all these releases that caused people to be excited in the underground and I understood how the underground worked. So I just created a small, slow buzz so that it was like walking up steps. So people were anticipating the record.

I know that some of the earlier fans who liked the weirder stuff at first didn’t know what to make of it, because, as Neil Young said, ‘Your past is your own worst enemy.’ So they’re expecting something a little bit more far-out. But I think all my music kind of just — I didn’t know this, but from getting feedback — the music just grows at first and might not sound like much or it might go through you, but once you pay attention, there’s all kinds of obsessive detail. That’s what I do.

I guess the main reason [it caught on] is that it has more mass appeal. But I’m proud of the historical part of coming out of the DIY, more psychedelic thing. It’s not like this album came out of nowhere and this is my only record.

I joke that it has its adult contemporary undertones, but I think the fact that it was kind of acoustic and heartfelt — I think people go for that more these days than, say, if I went out there and totally just rocked. Testosterone kind of music or something. I don’t think it would have gone as well.

You think testosterone music is over?

No, I don’t think it’s over. I mean, I love to rock. I’ve been playing lot’s more electric guitar — I’m going to combine the two in the next record. It’s not going to be as straight acoustic, for sure. I just think I’m always subtlety changing developing my sound.

So have you started working on your next record yet?

I’m working on it in my head. I’m going to take my time with the next one. It’s nice…. I’m going to start demoing my record in between [touring]. I don’t know when it’s going to come out. It’s not going to be three years from now or something, but I’m definitely going to take my time. My whole musical career has kind of been rushed with everything. And now I feel like I’m finally able improve myself, so I can slow down a bit. And I like that feeling.

By Brenna Ehrlich