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Kurt Vile: Boy/Man

Before the release of his latest album, Kim Gordon speaks to the Philly songwriter who puts a fresh twist on the tortured-soul archetype

Taken from the autumn/winter 2015 issue of Dazed:

Kurt Vile has spent his life perfecting the sleeveworn confessional. He is both outlier and ruler of his own darkly comedic universe, subverting tortured-soul cliches with lashings of black humour – who else would call a folk song “Pretty Pimpin”? Listening to his new album b’lieve I’m goin down..., it’s impossible not to be entertained by his acerbic one-liners while your stomach knots with emotion. “Kurt Vile does his own myth-making,” wrote his buddy Kim Gordon in a poetic bio to accompany the release. “(He’s) a boy/man with an old soul voice in the age of digital everything becoming something else.”

Vile first met Gordon at a Dinosaur Jr show back in 2009. “She appeared at my merch table and I ran over there straight away,” he says. Their dynamic is the basis for any good relationship; a loud/quiet dichotomy where Kim is subdued and Kurt bristles with energy, his unbrushed hair tumbling down his face like a sea-ravaged merman as he shares anecdotes about getting wine-drunk and lolloping around. Getting down to the nuts and bolts of Vile’s upcoming sixth record, Gordon seems to relish the role of interviewer with the gusto of one who has been tirelessly grilled since her days with Sonic Youth.

Kim Gordon: Kurt, what’s happening? I just heard you were hacked…

Kurt Vile: Hi Kim, what’s hackening! Yes, my computer had just been hacked but it’s all fixed now. So, where are you at the moment?

Kim Gordon: I’m out in Malibu for the weekend, living in my friend’s kid’s bedroom. Kind of a bit homeless right now... Where are you?

Kurt Vile: I’m outside my house. I was just doing a video of my little practice space for ‘That’s Life, tho’.

Kim Gordon: Oh, I love that one. I like the last song on the record in particular – I love the way you fit the lyrics in.

Kurt Vile: I love that about you...

Kim Gordon: Do you say that to all your interviewers? (laughs)

Kurt Vile: Just the ladies. Just the lady rock stars, in fact! You know, the only other rock star I’ve done an interview with was Richard Hell.

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Kim Gordon: What’s your favourite song on the album?

Kurt Vile: ‘Wheelhouse’, which is kind of meditative. I think that some – OK, all – of the lyrics are darker on this album, but I think my lyrics are always pretty dark. Although I did make a mistake before by saying that my albums were dark, because it’s not like they’re Radiohead or ‘women and children first’ or anything. It’s not total despair, I would just say they’re melancholy.

Kim Gordon: It’s not post-apocalyptic…

Kurt Vile: Yeah, it’s not exactly Marilyn Manson, is it? (laughs) I feel like when I say something sad, I mean it. I guess I’m just realistic. I think I’m smart enough – or I’ve got enough personality – to know that you always need a punchline at the end of it. Nobody wants a complainer.

Kim Gordon: For me, I didn’t really think of the record in terms of darkness. There are melancholy melodies, but I thought the lyrics were especially good and I thought that they were kind of mature, like someone who knows themselves and who is singing about ‘how it is’, but making that sound poetic. I like the way you spit lines and make it work. I don’t mean that in an emo way! (laughs)

“I feel like when I say something sad, I mean it. I guess I’m just realistic. I think I’m smart enough – or I’ve got enough personality – to know that you always need a punchline at the end of it” – Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile: So, I love your bio, it’s amazing.

Kim Gordon: Thanks! I mean, I didn’t actually know what a bio was supposed to be…

Kurt Vile: That’s why it’s good, I think. I’ve read so many music biographies. I remember reading Confusion is Next: the Sonic Youth Story when I was a teenager, as well as The Velvet Underground book and stuff like that. I would always get really into them but especially from about 2003 onwards, I got heavily into Bob Dylan – you know, those fascinating life stories – and I would read all these bios like the Stones. I also just read Hellfire: the Jerry Lee Lewis Story, by Nick Tosches. It’s all fire, brimstone and amphetamine pills.

Kim Gordon: I haven’t read loads although I have a lot I want to read. One I read a really long time ago was I’m With the Band by (legendary rock groupie) Pamela des Barres, which was amazing.

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Kurt Vile: OK, so it isn’t music, but you know that Philip K Dick book which is basically autobiographical about when he lost his mind and went to the insane asylum (Radio Free Albemuth)? He saw a pink beam of laser light go through his brain and it gave him all this information. And some of it was true – like, his kid son had this really obscure health problem like a hernia hidden in his left scrotum or something that nobody had known about, but Philip K Dick told the doctor exactly what he had seen and when they checked his son, he did have a problem….

Kim Gordon: Oh my God…

Kurt Vile: I was gonna say I remember when we first hung out properly, at the Jim Jarmusch ATP (in 2010). I was still pretty young and green back then so I would do weird things like drink wine in the middle of the day and sort of stagger around. And I remember I went to crash in bed for a while in the middle of the day and my friend from Fucked Up, Damian (Abraham), was in the bed watching TV and I woke up to him saying ‘Hey, what’s up, Kurt?’

Kim Gordon: Did you have to play that day?

Kurt Vile: Yeah! That was quite a moment for me actually, because you and Jim Jarmusch were in the front row and that was good. When Sonic Youth performed that weekend, I loved the way you sang ‘met a stranger...’ in ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, it just gave me the best vibes. Your delivery was so intense.

Kim Gordon: I know you made some of your record out in Malibu. Did you work on it anywhere else?

Kurt Vile: The banjo jam I started in my jam space in Philly called The Red Room, which is covered in red and makes you feel crazy like you’re in The Shining. I have a little tape machine in there. I bought Pro Tools and everyone was laughing, it’s like this virtual world and I’m repelled by technology. You’ve used Pro Tools, right? Do you record on a computer?

Kim Gordon: Yeah, on the Body/Head record (Coming Apart, released in 2013).

Kurt Vile: Did you personally do it?

Kim Gordon: Oh no, I don’t know how to do that.

Kurt Vile: Do you remember when we went to Connecticut and saw Neil Young? Bill Nace (Gordon’s Body/Head bandmate) tried to introduce us, but started talking shit about ‘viles’ or something, for no apparent reason. I jokingly told him later, ‘You blew it!'

Kim Gordon: Yeah, that was funny. That was a fine Neil moment. What’s your favourite song of his?

Kurt Vile: I can’t pick one, but I love On the Beach, that whole record, the blues vibe.

Kim Gordon: My favourite Neil song is ‘On the Beach’. I just love the lyrics to that song.

Kurt Vile: Oh my God, yeah. 'The world is turning / I hope it don’t turn away'...

Kim Gordon:I need a crowd of people / but I can’t face them day-to-day’.

Kurt Vile: That is so him.

Kim Gordon: I’m sure you’ll meet again.

b’lieve I’m goin down... is out on September 25

Hair Seiji at The Wall Group using Oribe Hair Care; photographic assistant Andrew Beardsworth; fashion assistant Arianna Aviram

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