Talk to most musicians garnering a lot of attention in the media, and they’ll tell you they don’t pay it any mind.
Not so for Kurt Vile.
The young singer/songwriter, whose work has elicited comparisons to everyone from classic rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty to less mainstream acts like Animal Collective and Leo Kottke, fully admits to keeping up with his own hype.
“I do it a little less now, but I used to do it all the time,” Vile says in an interview from the road, where he’s basically lived since the release of his 2011 album, Smoke Ring For My Halo. He speaks in a surfer/stoner drawl punctuated with words like “Dude!” and “Stoked!”—an affectation you wouldn’t expect from the sensitive, almost bluesy lo-fi songs populating Smoke Ring.
“I take [media attention] as a compliment,” he says. “I’ve always been driven to get my music out there and just to do the music itself. At the beginning, I didn’t know exactly how to do it. You have to catch a break, basically, to get someone to listen to something they’ve never heard of. It took so long, but it was all really exciting.”
Vile acknowledges that not all he’s read about himself has been good—“I get a lot of shit-talking, too”—but the negatives have surely been dwarfed by the overwhelmingly positive response to Smoke Ring. It’s his second album for Matador Records, and it has allowed Vile to visit places he’s never been and tour with some of his heroes like Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.
“I’ve been a lot of places with this record that I haven’t been before. I guess this is the record and this is the tour where I’m seeing much better turnouts and stuff like that,” Vile says, still sounding surprised at his success.
“We got to Denmark and had sold out a pretty big place, and that just weirded me out because we hadn’t been there before at all. You’re playing a big enough venue that you’re disconnected from the crowd—it’s not a pub. And it was full of Danish people, so it was a little like being on a different planet.”
Vile might find Salt Lake City to seem just as foreign for a laid-back dude who just wants to play tunes and chill, although being one of 10 siblings could give Vile something to relate to, with our family-friendly populace.
This will be Vile’s first trip to Utah’s capital; he didn’t even know it was a mountain town until I mentioned it to him. “Where would you be driving to even pass through there?” he asked at one point, and when I mentioned the interstate between Denver and San Francisco, he remembered some long-ago family trip that might have taken him through town.
In other words, Vile’s Twilight show will be a chance for both the performer and the city to make a memorable first impression. The 20,000 to 30,000 people who will fill Pioneer Park will surely make an impression on Vile; he gasped “Oh my gosh!” when I told him the size of the shows, and proclaimed himself “Totally stoked!”
For his part, expect Vile to impress, too. Smoke Ring For My Halo is one of the best albums of the year, with songs like the delicate “Baby’s Arms,” the heavy riffs of “Puppet to the Man” and the orchestral sprawl of “Society Is My Friend” showcasing an artist with a lot to say and an endlessly inventive array of ways to do so.
In fact, Vile is already thinking up new ways to proceed.
“I’m not thinking of sounding the same as Smoke Ring,” Vile says. “My songwriting style or songs are always going to have a Kurt Vile feel, but more and more, I don’t think I’m going to break any insane ground, songwriting-wise. But recording-wise and arrangement-wise, I’ll continue to try and break some of my own ground.”
Dude, good call. Stoked to hear it.
KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS
w/ Thurston Moore
Twilight Concert Series
350 W. 300 South
Thursday, Aug. 4, 7 p.m.