Many see traveling as a welcome distraction, a departure from the day-to-day shuffling, and a means of reenergizing the spirit. But for Kurt Vile, travel is simply a logical extension of himself and his work. On his latest release, Bottle It In — which was recorded over two years at various studios around the country — the Philadelphia singer-songwriter finds himself in electrifying new musical territory, producing an album that is stylistically far-ranging, much like the journey taken to make it. “I’m just used to traveling,” says Vile. “I wouldn’t say the record is about traveling, but it’s just what I do naturally. For example, I like to go out to L.A. when I can to work with people out there — it’s sort of my opposite coast.”
“In making this record,” he continues, “we’d go straight from a show to the studio, or we’d drive across [the] country and end up at Willie Nelson’s ranch and play another show. All these things combined went into making the album. The alternative would be to come home from tour and start a record from scratch. But, at this point in my life, it’s a little exhausting to think about making a record from scratch after a couple of years of touring.”
Since the release of Constant Hitmaker, his first solo offering released in 2008, Vile has been building steam with each subsequent record he has made. In 2015, he released b’lieve I’m goin’ down to critical and commercial acclaim, and while Vile’s work in many ways sounds familiar to the ear, its unique flare is what draws the listener in immediately. He lands somewhere on the rock ‘n’ roll spectrum between prolific star and hidden poet, writing crystalline prose with just a little bit of Philly attitude. Like a late ‘70s Dylan, Vile is sometimes hard to pin down. But heavy traces of Sonic Youth and Pavement run through 38-year-old Vile’s artistic lifeblood, with a vitality in songcraft that is superb. As for his influences, Vile notes that “Sonic Youth is in my subliminal, nostalgic DNA. Growing up in my teens and into my twenties, their influence kind of grew. I kind of go in and out of nostalgia, and then into genuine inspiration, with the things I grew up on. But, I was so into all the Drag City bands, as well as Sonic Youth and Pavement.”
Traces of these influences can be heard in Vile’s guitar playing. While not exactly a virtuoso, he utilizes the instrument in a way that emits soundscapes that have no limit, effectively translating the musical photographs that he carries around in his mind. That said, Vile says that no one singular guitarist had an influence on his style. “Tons of people,” he says, “but I don’t think that much about guitar players lately, that’s because when I listen to music, I like a lot of different aspects. For example, I love Waylon Jennings — I love his voice, I love his guitar playing. But then there’s people like Jerry Lee Lewis, who doesn’t even play guitar, but still watches over me somehow. At different points of my life, I’ve been inspired by different people.”
For Bottle It In, Vile struck fine balance between the catchy pop tunes which he can so wonderfully compose, and the more sprawling, jammy numbers for which he is perhaps better known. “That’s just sort of the two places I like to go — expansive, but then poppy in other ways,” he says. “It’s just sort of a conclusion I’ve come to.” The album’s second single, “Bassackwards,” is one of the more expansive, psychedelic selections from the album. “I didn’t know it was going to be nine minutes,” Vile says of the track. “As I played, I figured, ‘Well, maybe we’ll cut it down,’ but then I started getting lost in the strumming, and after a few basic ad-libs, it was just one of those songs that naturally evolved.”
Natural evolution seems to be a reoccurring theme throughout Vile’s songwriting, as over time, his songs have begun to take on a life of their own — something Vile seems relatively comfortable with. “I’ve gotten less and less stressed about that over time. I like the idea of writing a pop song, or a folk number, with a beginning, middle, and end. But over time, there’s always been this part of me that has this extended dimension.” That dimension is perhaps best illustrated on the title-track of Bottle It In — which happens to be his favorite track on the album. Vile’s vocals echo over a dusty electronic drum sample and a gentle, hypnotic piece of music performed by Los Angeles-based harpist, Mary Lattimore — who in addition to her own work, has worked with Thurston Moore, and previously with Vile on his Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze album in 2013. “I’m always wanting to push the music a little farther. But [Bottle It In] definitely became another destination type of song, there’s like a way of life in there.”
As for life in the future, Vile will continue to tour through the rest of this year, and deep into the spring of 2019 — crisscrossing across the U.S., as well as playing several dates in Australia. Though, as for what comes next musically, Vile has a rather surprising concept — especially for a man who’s always on the move.
“I like the idea of doing a whole record at home in Philly. It’s been a while since I’ve done that. But even those early records, I felt like they were all done in one spot, even though I would bounce around different studios within Philly. But, I think the more natural it becomes to move around, it’s almost like your world gets a little bigger.”