Interview with KURT VILE - B'lieve I'm Goin Down...

22. October 2015

Kurt Vile

Interview with KURT VILE - B'lieve I'm Goin Down...

eclipsed: Your new record sounds like a musical version of "Night Hawks", the painting by Edward Hopper. It has such a sinister mood.

Vile: The record was made in the same way as my earlier records. I had a handful of songs I wanted to record. When I went into the studio, I was satisfied with the songs I had prepared best. But the better songs were the ones I just wrote on the side and in between, because they reflected a certain moment. That's one of the characteristics of this record. A lot of things actually only decided the moment we recorded them. The plate thus demanded its own shape.

eclipsed: On this record everything somehow belongs together. It has a holistic form. But if you listen more closely, you will find many very different details. It's like Otis Redding and Lou Reed making a country record with Sonic Youth as backing band.

Vile: It's not a concept plate or anything. I hadn't meditated on anything. I've been making music for so long now, but I'm still an obsessive music fan. And I'm American, so I can't resist that all these American elements appear in my music. I can't escape my roots and my influences. In the beginning it should be somehow my version of a modern folk record. But when I started recording, I had completely forgotten this concept.

eclipsed: You serve two time zones simultaneously. The CD is strongly oriented to the sixties and seventies, but it is also totally up-to-date.

Vile: I love old music and romanticize this time that I have never experienced. I like the idea that a record sounds old and yet not nostalgic or retro.

eclipsed: The melodies and sounds on the CD are beautiful, but you have a very cynical way of dealing with the lyrics. For example, how you install Sam Cookes "What A Wonderful World" ...

Vile: Writers always refer to other books. I am aware that I refer to other music. Everything is borrowed somewhere, nothing is really new. The musicians of the sixties and seventies referred to the blues and folk tradition. So my influences go back a lot further. But I can't compete with these musicians because I have a completely different background. Many an homage comes about quite unintentionally, but if you notice it, you should not get in the way of it. How many times has Neil Young referred to Bob Dylan lyrics? His "Ambulance Blues" sounds exactly like "The Needle Of Death" by Bert Jansch, and yet they are two very different songs. Dylan's Fourth Time Around comes across like Norwegian Wood by the Beatles. We can't be afraid of that, it's part of it. So it comes to the similarity of my song "Dust Bunnies" to Sam Cookes "What A Wonderful World".

eclipsed: But you're also referring to your own language. How much did you take over from previous records? Or do you need to move away from it?

Vile: It works the same way as with other songs. Unconsciously one always carries along something from earlier records. But I'm trying not to recycle myself too much. That's a natural evolution taking place there. By a certain point in your career, you're trying to get better and better. Then you'll be around long enough and try to get rid of a lot. I can stop playing for a few weeks and when I start playing again I will still sound like myself without having done anything for it. My musical personality is not only defined by my songs, but also by my environment, my family and all these things.

eclipsed: In your songs not only lyrics and melody play a role, but also the mood, the cinematic component. How do you bring this element into the songs?

Vile: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I just feel it. But I'm not always aware of all the elements I add to a song. I'd love to do a soundtrack where I'm just leaning on these cinematic elements. I would like to experience one of my songs in a perfect moment in a big movie.

eclipsed: Why did you record the record in so many different places in the USA?

Vile: I've done this on earlier records, too. You could call it a method, but it's actually a matter of logistics. I want to play with musicians who live in different places. They can't all come to me, sometimes I have to go to them. So I had to record in Los Angeles, New York and Athens. I benefit from it because I constantly change the environment and constantly find a new relationship to myself and the songs.

eclipsed: Can the record in this sense be regarded as a travel diary?

Vile: Quite. When I listen to the songs, all those extra memories are involved. I can remember every single song even from my very first self-published records exactly, under which circumstances it was recorded. In former times these were the different rooms of my house, today they are places all over the country.

eclipsed: So you don't have to do a soundtrack anymore, but your songs demand the pictures for the road movie that they already are.

Vile: I'd like to make a documentary about us. We filmed a few gigs and a session in Joshua Tree. And there are tons of psychedelic recordings that are still unreleased. They could be the soundtrack.

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