Kurt Vile is a man of simple pleasures, someone who prefers to leave his hair uncombed and "just have fun, live [his] life like a son of a gun." But even though Vile has that blue-collar, "everyman" personality, he possesses a certain self-reservation, one that implies that he's being deliberately modest and intentionally quiet. He's a self-proclaimed chameleon, and his newest LP, b'lieve i'm goin down, effortlessly reflects this shape-shifting nature. The record's centerpiece is "Pretty Pimpin'," a four-minute folk-pop track that's welcoming and full of seamless transitions. Lyrically, though, "Pretty Pimpin'" speaks on identity crises, on the inability to recognize oneself in the early morning sun. But even though Vile's lyrics outwardly confess his confusion, he blankets his struggle with pop structures and upbeat strumming. Though we can't say for certain why Vile chose to approach this song (and record) this way, we have a hunch: he wants you to do the digging yourself.
Orlando Weekly: b'lieve I'm goin down was celebrated for many reasons, one being its overarching subtlety - in terms of humor, sophistication and honesty. How important is subtlety in songwriting to you?
Kurt Vile: I think over time I've accepted that it's OK that some people aren't subtle. Bands from Ween to Queen aren't subtle, and they're great. And there are those other bands who go for a different type of "real" – like Neil Young or the Velvet Underground – where it's a raw, earthy, human thing that's all about feeling. I guess I just discovered that with me, I have a good voice, not a great, classically trained voice, and that I can play guitar pretty well, but I'm not an insane virtuoso where you can kind of just get lost in the groove of things. I take from the Neil Young school, sorta. It's reachable for me.
Since 2008, you've released six LPs and a handful of EPs. At this point, do you feel that songwriting serves a different purpose in your life than it did when you first began formally releasing tracks? Is the need to create still as prevalent?
Yeah, probably, I write songs a little differently than I used to. You know, I love music just as much as always, but before I looked at things in a linear way. These days I rarely have an end ... I'll write a part, and think to myself, "This could be cool." Then, I don't know, play a little bit of it on the piano, write a ton of lyrics, play some guitar riffs straight through, jot it all down, and think, "All right, I'm gonna finish this." ... With that said, I'm taking it a little bit slower now. I'm trying to get to my roots, get organized, and have my songs actually written out, and not have too many options. We live in a very "option" world now.
You've mentioned that, while you think b'lieve is your darkest record, you hope that it isn't too one-dimensionally dark. Are you, in a way, opposed to indulgence like that?
Ah, no. I think I've learned about and gone through indulgence. But I can tell when something is over-indulgent. Or at least I try to. Like, I can write a long song, for instance, pretty long, and some might consider that over-indulgent, but a good trick in writing is to be listening. And when you're bobbing your head the whole time to your song, and you yourself stop, that usually means the listener has stopped, too.
Are you excited to be back in Florida? What are some things about this tour that have you excited?
Oh, totally, I'm very excited. This record came out in September of 2015. We've been on and off the road since then, and this is the last major tour in the States for quite awhile. We've definitely reached a peak in our show, so I'm definitely excited for you guys to catch the peak finale, so to speak, of a certain era.
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