Kurt Vile on Philly's Music Scene: "A Real Record Nerd's Oasis"

Kurt Vile brings sad songs to the Bandshell.
Kurt Vile brings sad songs to the Bandshell. Photo by Marina Chavez
click to enlarge Kurt Vile brings sad songs to the Bandshell. - PHOTO BY MARINA CHAVEZ
Kurt Vile brings sad songs to the Bandshell.
Photo by Marina Chavez

His sounds like a stage name. Like "Sid Vicious" or "Johnny Thunders," "Kurt Vile" seems like a name dreamed up for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the frontman for the Violators was given his badass name at birth, making it almost inevitable that he'd one day pick up a guitar.

The Philadelphia-based songwriting storyteller's latest album, 2015's B'lieve I'm Going Down, is filled with sad songs about confused people, accompanied by beautiful guitar playing. Ahead of his South Florida appearance at the North Beach Bandshell this Thursday, New Times spoke with Vile about wordiness, fatherhood, and the Philadelphia Eagles.

New Times: When did you fall in love with music?

Kurt Vile: My Dad was always playing records. It just came natural. The first instrument I played was the trumpet. They gave a demonstration, and I liked the idea it had three valves. It seemed like a fun thing to do, and I picked it up pretty easy.

Was it a struggle to find success as a musician?

I wouldn't say I struggled writing or recording songs. I was doing that since I was a teenager. Maybe it took me a second to figure out how to get actual labels to put it out, but I did the DIY thing from 17 to 27. By the time I was 28, a friend hipped me on how to get labels to put out your stuff, and then Matador signed me.

Do you have a process to write songs?

You have to wait for things to come to you. I've tried to force things in my past. At one point in my 20s, I did struggle. I'd been writing all these songs, and all of a sudden I wasn't. You realize you're always growing and evolving. Now I don't stress if I'm not writing songs because I know they're going to come eventually.

"I do love country music. It's an American-roots kind of thing."

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You and your old band the War on Drugs have seemed to find attention at the same time. Is there competitiveness between you two?

No. Honestly, Adam [Granduciel from War on Drugs] and I played in each other's bands. In the internet world, that feels like a bigger deal than it really was. I helped him in his band just as he helped me in my band the Violators. The only competitiveness would be in the way everyone always asks us about it, because the internet [rumor] says I started the War on Drugs even though it's Adam's band. Really we're just best friends, so we play with each other.

Your new album, B'lieve I'm Going Down, has a country-music vibe — not necessarily in the music, but in the lyrics.

I do love country music and roots music. Probably the closest to country music that really hit me in my teens and early 20s was Delta blues. It's an American-roots kind of thing. It's all in there.

You're not afraid of your songs being wordy.

I think sometimes it's wordy, sometimes it's not. I like the idea of not being wordy, but it's cool to get away with it. Obviously, I love Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and you can definitely say they're wordy. But I also love a simple pop song with minimal words.

You did a promo with a Philadelphia Eagles football player for one of your shows. Are you a fan of the team?

I'm a fan of Connor Barwin [the Eagles player in question] as a person and a player. We know each other from the music scene. He goes to a lot of shows, and we became friends that way. I basically thought it would be funny if he helped to promote the show. He's an entertaining guy.

Philadelphia sports fans have a reputation for being hard to please. How are the city's music fans?

This is a total music town, a real record nerd's oasis. You've got some serious heads here.

Any big plans for 2017?

There's definitely going to be an EP or two coming out this year, and a full-length probably right quick behind it. I don't know if it will be out in 2017, but we'll definitely do some tours. Taking it slow but not too slow. I like working on music all the time but not driving myself insane like I have in the past. I got a family now, a house and kids.

Have you been teaching your kids guitar chords?

My oldest has a harp. The youngest is a real natural. She goes to the piano and plays and makes up songs and stuff. I didn't teach them any guitar chords yet because their fingers can't be pushing down those metal strings just yet, but they do like to mess around with strumming. They're definitely going to be effortless musicians.

Kurt Vile & the Violators
7 p.m. Thursday, February 2, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach;; 305-672-5202. Tickets cost $25 via

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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland