Kurt Vile Gets Folky, Plays Largo Tomorrow
Kurt Vile's music doesn't immediately sound folk. When listing off his early influences, the Philly-born singer-songwriter points to bands like Sonic Youth and Pavement. But underneath the distorted tones his songwriting style -- however brash it may come off at times -- is undoubtedly influenced by the folk of artists like Neil Young.
Shawn Brackbill Kurt Vile
Vile's recent success with his third album Smoke Ring for My Halo is largely due to his reinvigorated passion for folk music. Highlights from the album include "Peeping Tomboy" and "Baby's Arms," two beautifully-warped ballads. His 2008 debut Constant Hitmaker skewed heavily toward acoustic-based folk, but 2009's Childish Prodigy is a much more scuzzy, psych-influenced effort. Layers of heavy distortion and effects coat fan favorites like "Freak Train," but the rambling, metaphorical style of the lyrics is rooted in Vile's appreciation for folk music.
The success of his 2011 work Smoke Ring For My Halo, Vile says, stems from his attempt to combine healthy doses of his different influences. Raised by his father on classic rock and folk artists like Doc Watson, Vile grew up in close proximity to the blue-collar explosion of Bruce Springsteen, whom he recently covered on his So Outta Reach EP. He and the Boss also shared a similar working-class background. The song "Space Forklift" from Constant Hitmaker alludes to Vile's former job as a forklift operator.
He's since quit the job, but even during his days driving a forklift, Vile always maintained what he calls "romanticism for the rock n roll lifestyle" through reading books on bands like the Rolling Stones. With a wife and two children at home, he's intent on not repeating the same mistakes as his idols. Going largely undiscovered until 2008, the upward trajectory of his career in recent years is representative of a larger shift within the music industry.
Rather than capturing an audience through radio airplay and marketing campaigns, most of Vile's fans have arrived through internet buzz and licensing deals. He sold out the Echoplex in 2010 just a few nights after his song "He's Alright" closed out the season finale of Eastbound and Down. Several months after Smoke Ring For My Halo was released, Vile's longtime friends in The War On Drugs followed a similar path to successful results.