Photo by John Bartol
Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, the latest from Philadelphia psych-songwriter Kurt Vile, has generated international acclaim since its March release on Matador Records. And rightfully so; it’s an ambitious double album exploring a plethora of ideas, and doing them all masterfully. It’s expressive and expansive, but also tight and poppy. It’s deeply personal – “Too Hard,” Vile’s reaction to experiencing fatherhood, has him promising to “do my duty for god and my country,” a vow Boy Scouts know well – but elsewhere, you’ll find clever wordplay equating codeine with Springsteen in a manner both playful and universal. His backing band the Violators – guitarist Jesse Trbovich, bassist Rob Laakso and drummer Vince Nudo – craft layers of gripping instrumental interplay, stretching near ten minutes on the title track (and over on closer “Goldtone”); but the record also makes use of haunting minimal space and experimental textures. In short, it’s Vile’s strongest work to date, and tomorrow night he headlines a sold-out hometown show at Union Transfer with Angel Olsen and Steve Gunn opening after a lengthy spring tour. I got a chance to sit down with Vile before tour kicked off, and we discussed the record, its monumental artwork, and making music of epic proportions.
The Key: Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze sounds great, there’s so much going on. But song that really jumped out at me from the get-go was “Two Hard,” the one where you incorporate the Scouts Promise into the lyrics. Were you a Boy Scout when you were growing up?
Kurt Vile: Yeah. I mean, barely. My dad bribed me. I said I wasn’t gonna go into Boy Scouts and he said -like later that night, real smooth – he said if I joined Boy Scouts, he’ll get me a Swiss army knife. [laughs] So I don’t know, I was at the impressionable age. But yeah,that’s sort of just like a childhood reference. It’s such a dorky reference in a way too.
TK: Well the way it plays out in the lyrics, it kinda feels like you’re an adult looking back on this thing that you had to recite as a child in Boy Scouts, and seeing how it plays out in adult life.
KV: Yeah totally, that’s basically what it is. And then you basically just brush it off. I’m the king of brushing off exactly what I just said. [ laughs] You say you’re just human, so basically you’re just making an excuse for why you’re gonna screw up.
TK: It’s a great song. I love how expansive it is, and how expansive a lot of the record is.
KV: Yeah it’s definitely expansive.
TK: How did you come to like delve into that side of your songwriting again this time?
KV: I guess just cause that’s a natural thing to do, to just get lost in what you’re playing. Obviously there’s set verses and set, you know, sections, there’s all kinds of meticulous…it’s not jammy but if you can just let something go, the chords are simple enough to have that controlled improv in there. Not improv like jam band music, you know. More like jamming in the Velvet Underground sense. Continue reading