In case you missed it, here's what iconic Matador Records (home at times over the years, need I remind you, to a few artists you may have heard of: Pavement, Guided By Voices, Liz Phair, Belle and Sebastian, Mission of Burma and, now, Sonic Youth) had to say about the recent signing of Kurt Vile to a multi-album deal: "We are really pleased to announce, perhaps more than ever in label history, an addition to the label roster that we consider to be one of the more important figures in American music circa 2009." That's some kinda praise — and it's been well earned, via years of lo-fi home recordings, the best of which was compiled into Vile's acclaimed 2008 Constant Hitmaker, the record that made so many, Matador included, sit up and take notice. They'll release his already long-completed next album Childish Prodigy in autumn 2009. Equally adept at raucous noise rock and shimmering folk-pop, Vile seems to be getting the attention he so richly deserves. I managed to get a few minutes with the Philly prodigy before his late-night Northside set with his band, the Violators.
The L Magazine: It was a few weeks ago that I first heard the Matador announcement of your signing and the level of praise they gave you...
Kurt Vile: That was nice.
The L: Between calling you one of the most important musicians around and saying this was their proudest signing in the history of the label!
KV: Yeah, but they were just being nice.
The L: I remember reading that there was some sort of bidding war with them and Domino and Sub Pop?
KV: Well, all those labels were interested. Sub Pop was the first of the big labels to reach out, and the head of A&R there flew here last summer, and Domino was interested. Matador at first wanted to sign me to a subsidiary, but I was like, "No, I've been sitting on this record. I am waiting for the best." We had been sending stuff to Matador and we knew they were aware of us, but I really wanted to know what they thought, because for me they were the coolest one. I grew up listening to that stuff, like Pavement, so I feel like I can relate most to Matador, and they're right up here in New York.
The L: And all of a sudden they have Sonic Youth too — not too bad sharing a label with them.
KV: Yeah, that's incredible.
The L: Is it nice to kind of have a home?
KV: Totally nice. Dude, it's like music was always my thing and it took me a really long time. I mean, I'm 29, which is still pretty young. But I'm glad, really, because some people make it earlier and it can be too much too soon. But I've done all the blue collar shit, you know? So I am pretty grateful and I'm serious about the music.
The L: The too much, too soon thing is what some people say happened with Wavves.
KV: Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking about. I mean the music buzz world is pretty cruel, and I'm psyched to get good reviews and stuff, but I don't take 'em too seriously. I take the music seriously. And I'm not trying to be super hip or something, I just love music.
The L: Was it weird to get all the attention last year for Constant Hitmaker when it was comprised of songs that, in some cases, you'd done years before?
KV: Well, it was cool because I do a lot of style changes all the time, and that was a chance to compile all these styles in one place — and so the record is kind of all over the place.
The L: Six CD-R's you had put out at that point?
KV: Yeah, and it was mainly from just a few of 'em. "Deep Sea" and "Take My Advice" are from Trial and Error. And the poppier version of "Freeway" goes back to 2006. So yeah, a while ago.And even when I was compiling Constant Hitmaker, I was already working on the new album, Childish Prodigy, which Matador's putting out in the fall. So that's been done. And so people think a lot of this stuff is the current me, but it's way older. But that's ok, I don't care.
The L: So having to wait until the fall to release this album doesn't bother you?
KV: No, that's sooner than you think. And I got a pretty busy summer coming up, and that's not saying I won't be recording new tunes, too. It's been long enough now that I got to put out some other vinyls and stuff.
The L: You mentioned liking to change up styles, and I know some people have written about you as having different personas — a lo-fi folk side, a more pop side, the rock thing with the Violators. Do you see it that way?
KV: It all comes from the same place. I mean, I know I can travel stylistically but at the same time, maybe my voice will change a little bit... but I feel like it's all channeled through me.
The L:And when did the Violators come about?
KV: Well, I've used the name for a long time, I've always had a rock band on the side. But as far as this lineup — first the Violators was me and my cousin and this other guy, and that was straight up rock, and then I met Adam from the War on Drugs in 2003 and we played together pretty much right off the bat. And so he was in the first wave of the Violators. My friend Michael Johnson played drums for a while, and then my friend Jesse Trbovich joined — during the Childish Prodigy sessions he was in a band I was friends with, he was a music head, he played sax, I was way into Springsteen at the time and he played on a song called "Freak Train."
The L: Which you still do...
KV: Yeah, definitely. And he basically came in and laid that down and it was like he was in the band! And we had a show the next week. And then after Michael Johnson couldn't do it any more we had a guy named Mike Zeng. And he's an amazing drummer. He plays on our Hunchback EP that's out, and a couple of tracks on Childish Prodigy.
The L: You mentioned Adam who plays with you, and you used to play in War on Drugs. But you're not doing that any more?
KV: The War on Drugs went through some bigger phases and Adam ended up getting sort of a bigger deal first, but he always knew I was into doing my own thing and he's always been nice about playing with me in the Violators. But it got a little weird because people would start to talk about me as just being the guitar player in War on Drugs and I was like "Hey, I'm doing my own thing."
The L: For more than a year now, the larger media has latched onto and covered as a "scene" this resurgent lo-fi sound. And I did it myself in a piece over a year ago at MTV News, where we talked to Tyvek and Psychedelic Horseshit — bands that you know. Now, you've been making music on your own, home recordings, for a long time. But you must have some thoughts on it all being declared a "scene."
KV: Well, I think anything becomes a scene after a while if enough people are doing it, but I don't think my music is lo-fi. It's like a digital 8-track, I've never used a 4-track — and truthfully I still do record at home when I have to. But Adam is a great engineer, he did the Hunchback EP and if someone wants to lump me in with that stuff — I don't care cause it's temporary. Childish Prodigy is definitely not lo-fi, there's a couple of home recordings on there. I don't know, lo-fi is cool, but not in a "hip" way — like old Siltbreeze stuff, some of it's cool. But not because it's hip. It's about the music — the music has to do something for you, not the sound quality.
The L: Right.
KV: And it has history too. Like old Rolling Stones or blues records like Charlie Patton. And something in it works like a sound effect. There's a quality you wouldn't get in a huge studio where people think everything should be clean.
The L: So what's the rest of the summer have for you?
KV: I'm doing a west coast tour with Woods, little things like that. And when the record's out on Matador I'll definitely go wherever. I'll definitely try to open for Sonic Youth, or something. But I'm sure a lot of people would like to open for them.
The L: You planning to stay in Philly?
KV: Yeah I like Philly. It's a lot cheaper and it's close enough.
The L: Are the Phillies gonna repeat?
KV: I don't know. Probably not. What are the odds? •