October 09, 2015
Kurt Vile is at the top of his game.
The indie rocker's star has been slowly but surely rising among critics and fans alike for years. Now the reviews are in for his sixth, full-length solo album, last month's "b'lieve i'm goin' down ..."
This week it cracked the Billboard Top 200 chart, too, landing at No. 40. If his legions of loyal fans and upcoming international tour are any indication, it seems Philadelphia is quite lucky to have Vile representing the city's rock scene.
Though he and his family are still based here, Vile spent the last year or so hopping around from Brooklyn to Georgia to California to record "b'lieve i'm goin down ..." That means Friday's sold-out Union Transfer show is a bit of a homecoming, both for Vile and fans.
Despite its unpredictable schedule, Vile kept the album's production team pretty insular. Rob Laasko and Kyle Spence, members of Vile's backing band, The Violators, engineered the project with help from producers Rob Schnapf and Peter Katis.
"Everybody that was involved -- it really was a family affair," Vile told PhillyVoice ahead of Friday's show, "even though it took place over multiple locations and months."
The creative process behind the album was similarly nonlinear. Not one to premeditate or dwell on his music's message, Vile is all about going with the flow when he's writing new tunes. But even with this organic approach, Vile still falls prey to the artist's cycle of confidence and doubt while he works through new ideas.
"It’s all about an attitude and a delivery. You could just say one word ... and if you said it the right way, you could morph it and keep changing the way you say it"
"When I first think about making a record, I have a million possibilities,” he said. “I get inspired. I have a bunch of titles just written out. The possibilities are endless. I can hear the song within and I think it’s going to sound a certain way but it usually doesn’t turn out that way, you know? ...
“I’m usually relatively scattered and a little bit more paranoid until finally I can kind of get my mojo going and get a little cocky. Like, ‘I still got it!’ It turns another leaf, basically,” Vile added, “and then there's a domino effect that inspires new songs and more confidence, until slowly, you see the album unfolding."
Despite all declarations to the contrary, "b'lieve I'm goin down..." certainly feels like a tightly conceptualized opus. It sends the distinct message that Vile is a man exploring human emotions and musical possibilities, with equal parts sadness and hilarity thrown in. His sleepy, conversational blend of Americana rock brings to mind other laid-back troubadours like Bob Dylan -- and yes, he's heard that one before.
"I see the Bob Dylan, for sure," Vile acknowledged. "It’s all about an attitude and a delivery. You could just say one word ... and if you said it the right way, you could say that one word and morph it and keep changing the way you say it. It’s just all about the delivery."
Vile said he's got some nerves to shake off before taking the stage Friday, but he is ready for a tour that will have him crisscrossing the globe through March. Having the chance to visit far-flung friends and meet new artists is all part of the fun.
"I have friends who play music all over the place, or even friends who don’t play music," he enthused. "I’m excited to go to Australia and see some people I haven’t seen in a long time."
But until then, rest assured his home turf has Vile's undivided attention.
"I love Philly. It’s still my number one. It’s my home."