Whether solo or fronting a band, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kurt Vile always has a guitar strapped on.
He has spent much of his career so far as a solo artist, but he is often most recognised as the founding member of indie rock outfit The War on Drugs.
Although not noted as a guitar hero, Vile’s style is subtle, diverse and very melodic, and usually plays a bigger role in the tone and feel of a song than first thought. His genre-bending style has also allowed him to evolve as a guitarist from record to record.
Kurt Samuel Vile was born January 3rd, 1980 in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, a suburban small town just west of Philly. The first-born son in a family of ten children, Vile’s bluegrass obsessed father Charlie worked long hours driving trains, while his mother Donna stayed home and looked after everyone. At the age of fourteen, Vile was given a banjo by his dad (noting, “I kind of wished [it] was a guitar”). He began writing songs, and three years later created his first mass-produced tape at the age of seventeen. While working on his home recordings, Vile begrudgingly worked as a forklift driver from 2000 to 2002.
Influenced by Pavement, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Tom Petty, and John Fahey, Vile began creating more lo-fi recordings, this time with frequent collaborator Adam Granduciel. The duo subsequently formed The War on Drugs, with Vile departing following the release of their debut studio album, Wagonwheel Blues. From 2008 onwards, Vile has been churning out solo albums, and notched up support slots with Dinosaur Jr and Thurston Moore along the way, before graduating to headline artist.
Both in the studio and during live performances, Vile is accompanied by his regular backing band, The Violators, which currently includes Jesse Trbovich (bass, guitar, sax), Rob Laakso (guitar, bass) and Kyle Spence (drums). His sixth studio album, b’lieve i’m goin down… dropped in September this year. On the back of the release, he announced he would be appearing at Falls Festival and playing sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne in early January.
Like his ever evolving career, Kurt Vile’s guitar collection is eclectic and varied.
For a while he was creating a lot of acoustic folk-blues vibes with 12-strings and Martin’s, but lately, he is often seen brandishing a sunburst Gibson Firebrand, Fender Mustang and a Fender ’64 Jaguar on stage. Basic burgundy and brown in colour, these standard axes are sonically rather than visually attractive live.
Electric and aesthetic wise, his DiPinto Belvedere Deluxe, beautifully metallic centre Gold Tone PBS-D Resonator and 1961 Guild Starfire Hollow Body guitars are his most striking models, and they often produce more unique sounds given their physical structure and set-up/equipment specs.
He may not show-off mad skills when he plays, but Kurt Vile’s sound is quietly grand, marked by psychedelic understatement and liquified melodies.
Whether he’s massaging a simple riff over and over or fingerpicking through pools of delay, Vile’s style is supremely yet subtly confident. He may not always know where he’s going, but he explores his ideas in such an honest, immersive way that you trust the destination will be worth the wait.
Compared to the likes of John Fahey and Leo Kottke, Vile is described as “shredding on acoustic” – an awesome combination of guitar prowess, great melodic content, and matter-of-fact lyrical style.
The fluid melody of ‘Wheelhouse’, the bass-y country twang of ‘Pretty Pimpin’, the cruisey vibe of ‘Wakin On a Pretty Day’, the jarring hook of ‘Life Like This’, the delicate delay of ‘Baby’s Arms’, the folk feel of ‘Feel My Pain’, the fingerpicking finesse of ‘Peeping Tomboy’, the grunge strums of ‘It’s Alright’, the resonating riff of ‘I’m an Outlaw’, the quiet chorus of ‘All in a Daze Work’ and the eccentric rhythm of ‘Dust Bunnies’.
Vile has yet to make a DVD of his gigs, but many of his music videos and live concerts – solo and with bands – are readily available to view on YouTube.
Check out Kurt Vile’s ‘Guitar Power’ session with Matt Sweeney where he discusses his influences, technique, gear, and approach to music:
SEE KURT LIVE IN AUSTRALIA
For touring information visit: mistletone.net