Kurt Vile on His Ever-Evolving Style and Love of the Jaguar
Did you know the prolific artist actually started out on a banjo?
By Mike Duffy
From an early age, Kurt Vile possessed a prolific and determined approach to creating music.
Not long after he received a banjo from his father at the age of 14, Vile began releasing cassettes of his home recordings influenced by the likes of Pavement and Beck. The Philadelphia native kept writing songs even when he took a brief sojourn to Boston from 2000-02 (where he worked as a forklift driver) before moving back to his hometown and hooked up with musician Adam Granduciel.
The fruitful duo eventually became the fully realized band the War on Drugs, even as Vile continued to work on his own material. In fact, Vile's debut album, Constant Hitmaker was actually released about the same time as the War on Drugs' debut, Wagonwheel Blues.
But determined to pursue his solo career, Vile amicably left the War on Drugs in 2008 and began to release a steady stream of albums, each one more well-received than the last.
The latest in Vile's already extensive catalog is Lotta Sea Lice, an acclaimed collaboration with Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett that landed on several music outlets' Best of 2017 lists.
Recorded in Melbourne, Australia, in just two sessions spaced nearly a year apart, Lotta Sea Lice showcases both Barnett and Vile's penchant for spacey blues riffs and visceral storytelling.
Now back to focusing on his solo material after touring with Barnett, Vile had a chance to sit down with Fender to talk about how he learned to play the guitar, his style and his love of the Jaguar.
"My dad gave me a banjo for my 14th birthday. I probably wanted a guitar, but I was convinced to get a banjo."
"I remember a guy played the banjo over the telephone. It sounded pretty cool and through an actual phone, the banjo, all distorted or whatever. It was convenient because it was in open tuning. Maybe if I got guitar lessons, someone would have just taught me about standard tuning ,and then I wouldn't be as successful as I am today. Just kidding."
"I had a lot of friends that had guitars. Everyone was in bands."
"I just pick things up easy anyway, I used to try to tune [my guitar] like a banjo. Then one day a friend just taught me a couple chords, like C and E, so I just wrote a song that was C and E."
"I copped the Fender Jaguar off of my band mate, Rob Laakso. A beat-up Sunburst Jaguar from the '60s.
"You can't really mess with that at all. I have ones that aren't even beat-up like the first one I got. Sometimes when I look at a Jaguar - like a Sunburst or something - that isn't beat-up, it looks weird to me."
"I think you just know classic when you hear it."
"If something's like an instant classic, like Tom Petty … he's got so many classic hits. It's like anAmerican punch in the face, you know? It just makes you excited. It's a good combination of happy, but there's usually a little melancholy in there combined. 'Learning to Fly' has always been a favorite by Tom Petty. 'Won't Back Down,' close second."
"It's kind of freeing to know that nothing is totally original, but you can just put your own spin on things."
Everybody's got like their own personality. We also borrow things, and you can kind of emulate all that. If you can take it in through osmosis like your inspirations, and then also put yourself in there, that's kind of freeing. Nothing's totally original like you, but you can put your own spin on it, put your personality in there somehow."
"I like to always like evolve. I always like to get- try to get better. Um, and not like repeat myself exactly."
"It's cool to try to figure out how you're going to do the next record. There are new inspirations coming in there all the time - new influences, new artists, you know."
"I think [the Jaguar] is like the ultimate rock and roll guitar for my era."
"I know I definitely look up to people like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., and they often have a Jazzmaster, which looks cool, but this is just a little more … it's almost it's like you could spike the notes a lot. It's just a little tighter. I feel like it cuts through better."
To keep up with all things Kurt Vile, visit his official Facebook page.