Kurt Vile on the Process of Recording His Albums: "There Is Ultimately a Million Drafts"
Photo by Shawn Brackbill
Kurt Vile has to be one of the more down-to-earth musicians currently working the indie rock scene. From his Philadelphia home, tending to his 1-year-old baby girl, the youngest of his two daughters, he is a breeze to talk with.
The 33-year-old Vile has no problem entertaining questions about creative tricks he employs to produce the varied studio effects that elevate his music to something far more interesting than what most have come to expect from singer-songwriters. "Honestly, I do have a big pedal board with a lot of effects. I only have a few that I use constantly. I definitely use this Purple Line 6 filter pedal a lot. I definitely use delay a lot. On the last record [Wakin on a Pretty Daze], I definitely used a lot of Moog phaser."
He's also not above giving credit to producer John Agnello and fellow bandmates, past and present. "I can't take all the credit," he offers. "It could be John Agnello, and the way he mixed it."
See also: Kurt Vile on Pretty Daze: "Who Lately Has Opened an Album With a Nine-Minute Song?"
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In fact, Vile volunteers, his 2010 breakthrough album Smoke Ring For My Halo, did not come about without a lot of self-doubt. It marked his fourth album and his record label, the prestigious Matador Records wanted to see him to take his work to another level.
"I was getting pressured, good pressure or maybe cheerleading, from the label that turned into pressure to make a statement," he notes, "basically, to sort of put out a commercially, semi- successful commercial record."
Suffice to say, Vile is not someone who has any interest in becoming a pop star. His will to make music comes from a purer place.
"I was coming from the DIY, self-produced or from-a-friend's-studio production place to trying to make this a more concise, mature, get-a-producer record, so there's a lot of growing, good and bad, reactions inside to that."
Though the record still featured Vile's varied, sometimes noisy and raw sound, something about it put him slightly on edge.
"Just hearing [the songs] back and them sounding too cool to be you," he says. "I remember when we mastered Smoke Ring, the next day I told John, 'We have to re-do this whole thing.' I was freaking out."
However, he admits, feeling a bit insecure about the process of recording his albums is not something new to him.
"When I'm doing the recording, at first I'm nervous," he explains, "but then, when I hear it back, I get my mojo going and I get real cocky like, 'See, I still got it. Always got it.' And then you hear it so many times that you go through levels of cocky and total despair and thinking it totally sucks, when it's not done."
He even admits to spending a lot of time considering what order the songs will unfold across the album.
"There is ultimately a million drafts where you say it's this order, and then you take three songs off. I hope it doesn't always work that way. I hope I stop having to go through that, you know, doing that to myself all the time, putting myself through the ringer, so I was happy when [Smoke Ring] did well. I didn't know for sure that it would."
Kurt Vile & the Violators. With Beach Fossils, VBA, and the Band In Heaven. Friday, November 1. Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $15 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.
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