By now, Kurt Vile is a household name in the world of freewheeling guitar. The Philly singer-songwriter has buried himself in neverending riffs and blazed tones, teaming up with artists like Courtney Barnett and toasting a ’70s psych-indebted past era as if he were there to live through it. Though he’s been profiled by everyone from the New York Times to NPR, Kurt Vile still keeps his head to the ground, eager to stay chill and let inspiration come to him when it will.
On his seventh solo album, Bottle It In, Vile plays with 10-minute-long warped folk rock songs and comedic one-liners midchorus. It’s comfortable and familiar—longtime fans will feel right at home listening to it, ideally with a blunt in hand—while still being open enough to invite new listeners in. He’s drifting off, getting lost in thoughts, and it’s tempting to join him for the ride.
“Fingerpicking is rhythmic and lets you space out, where you can go in and out of a feeling while not losing track,” says Vile. “You can play a chord a million different ways without losing the grooves. One thing I realized a bunch of years ago during a dry spell, back when I got worried or superstitious thinking the well was dry, was that I literally just shouldn’t sweat it. Things will come. Playing live every day, I’m forced to get to know my instrument well. I’ll go home and play a few songs to my kids or sing them songs to help them fall asleep. So I’m picking it up a lot. I can stockpile during that span with inspiration.”
To get to know him better, we interviewed Kurt Vile for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Bottle It In as the prompt, his answers are freewheeling and open-ended—qualities that will dominate his headlining set at House of Blues this Saturday.
1) “Loading Zones”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have a preshow ritual for when you’re on tour?
VILE: Nah, no set ones. I used to probably drink tequila and Modelo a few years ago. I’m taking a break from that right now, though. If I’m nervous, I pick up a guitar and zone out a bit or practice a song. I also take these herbs beforehand that calm me down. One time on this tour, I didn’t take them and I totally freaked out. They’re like naturally calming, brain-calming stuff. They’re herbal drops that I put in water.
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
VILE: Um, definitely sometime on this tour. Oh man, I don’t have any set thing that happened, but there’s definitely moments on tour where you’re making fun of somebody in the crew with a great impersonation and everyone is crying at that person’s expense. It’s all in love. It happens a lot. It’s ideal that that should happen often, really.
3) “Yeah Bones”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the best Halloween costume you ever came up with?
VILE: Man, I don’t know. Well, when I was really young, I had some simple alien mask but then I had my favorite stuffed T-rex puppet thing coming out of my stomach as if I had given birth to an alien. It was pretty minimal. It was my idea as a kid because I probably had seen Alien and was into it. The mask wasn’t an alien like those aliens [in the movie], though. It was just some weird-ass alien mask with pointy ears. I would say that this was in late elementary school, maybe when I was in fifth or sixth grade.
DIGBOSTON: Is there a word you’ve been mispronouncing your whole life but only recently realized?
VILE: Wow, these are tough questions. I definitely realize it when I am [mispronouncing words], especially when spelling. I’m terrible at spelling. But pronouncing wrong? There’s people in my family who say expresso instead of espresso.
I’ll tell you what: The Philly accent, like when anybody who tries to hide their accent saying water as “wourder,” is what I do. People get made fun of that. I try to make sure I say it correctly. I usually say watermelon weirdly. That’s the closest I get to letting it slip out. That comedic accent comes through a lot. I’ve done that pretty good except when water is attached to a word, because then you’re not thinking about it and it just happens.
5) “One Trick Ponies”
DIGBOSTON: Which interest of yours are you not yet good at or have never tried but would like to someday master?
VILE: I definitely like, in general, to be funny and impersonate people. I’m very into that. I can do it really good with my friends while hanging out. But a few times in my life when I have the chance to do something on TV or in a movie, then I freeze up. It becomes very unnatural and terrifying. It’s just nerves. It would be cool to pull it off sometime.
6) “Rollin with the Flow”
DIGBOSTON: What was the worst thing to happen to you this year and how did you get over it?
VILE: There’s a lot of all kinds of things that mess with you in the news, not even just one set thing. It comes in waves. I’ll have meltdowns and then stop looking [at the news] for a while. It’s messed up. It’s good to know what’s going on in the world, but it’s also messed up to know what’s going on. I was told you can take Apple News off of your phone. But it’s hard to do because you want to know what’s going on. It’s a culmination of events going on this year. I come in and out of dealing with it, but thankfully I have music and family to get lost in and keep on keeping on. I do Facetime with them when I can, or call. Facetime is amazing, though, especially when I had my first daughter. Like in the old days, you just wouldn’t see your dad or something for long times. It must have been weird to see their face and have to remember how they talk, so I’m super lucky and grateful for that not being the case now.
7) “Check Baby”
DIGBOSTON: How many credit cards do you have?
VILE: I’m terrible with self-management. Any cards I have, either my manager gave me or my wife got for me. In fact, it’s kind of funny. I have this Bluetooth speaker, and when I connect to it in front of the band or while recording—like after being like, “Hey, check out this song,” and go to play it—it’ll say, “Connecting to Suzanne Lang’s iPhone.” That’s my wife. Everybody will laugh at me. [laughs] So I think I have two or four that I use. They just sit in my wallet.
8) “Bottle It In”
DIGBOSTON: Which feeling are you most likely to suppress?
VILE: Yeah, I think in general if somebody hurts my feelings, I will not tell them directly. It’s usually pretty obvious because I just won’t talk to them or look at them for a couple days. [laughs] I definitely can’t hide it. I can’t. I just shut down, kinda.
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, what’s the most powerful form of protest that the everyday person could do?
VILE: Wow. You know, the easy thing for people to do is just to say something on their Instagram. It does get the news out, and I certainly do that, but it’s not as powerful. I definitely think it’s cool when people are active and get out there. When they are active in any way, whether they’re making a difference or giving to charities or supporting things in person, like ACLU. Anybody who is trying to help make change, really.
10) “Come Again”
DIGBOSTON: Where is your go-to restaurant or cafe at home? Do you have a regular order there?
VILE: It’s funny how much I space out on this one. I always say, maybe because I’m just nostalgic, that I like to go to Honey’s. I don’t even live in that neighborhood anymore. I get enfrijoladas and a potato latke, which is a Jewish potato thing. Definitely get enfrijoladas, as that’s the Mexican dish. I like the ambiance there. I’ve gone there a lot. My wife and kids like to go there. We sit in this one booth every time and chill out. It’s a vibey brunch place. But it’s particularly nostalgic for me because I started going there in my early 20s because I lived in that neighborhood.
11) “Cold Was the Wind”
DIGBOSTON: Where’s the coldest place you’ve ever visited not on tour?
VILE: Wow. Hmm. Where do I go that’s cold? I don’t know if I would ever visit a place that was cold if I wasn’t touring. [laughs] I forget how cold it gets on the East Coast, honestly. You get sort of cocky in the summer about it, but then you forget how cold in general it gets. It can be punishing after a while. I don’t know where I’ve been that’s cold besides Philadelphia. It can be the coldest place in the world all of a sudden in winter. Actually, winter is the coldest place in the world. You know how people get depressed in the winter? It’s like its own place, its own world. You’re in the North Pole wherever you are when it’s winter.
12) “Skinny Mini”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the lightest weight you’ve ever weighed as an adult?
VILE: Oh man. That’s funny. I try not to weigh myself. I’ve been trying to drink less so I at least look a little healthier. But I’ve been afraid to weigh myself since my 20s. I feel like I haven’t weighed myself since then because I see myself fluctuate. In the old days, I think I was 140 pounds? I don’t even know. I’m afraid to find out how much more I weigh now. I’ve gone like 10 years without weighing myself. I wouldn’t dare. I was just sort of watching my weight visually. At my daughter’s last birthday party, my dad grabbed my belly—this was back when I was drinking a lot—and he said, “When did this happen?” He said it twice, too. Just grabbing it. Yeah. And I was just like, “Uhh…” [laughs] But thankfully I stopped drinking beer, really. I feel better now. I feel better already. And honestly, I needed a wake-up call. It was funny. Drinking beer is just, yeah. Not good.
13) “(Bottle Back)”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite beer of all time?
VILE: It was Modelo, especially out of cans. But then I moved on. I just like light beer. You can drink a lot of them, and they’re cold and refreshing. All I could find in my new neighborhood was Amstel Light. They became my favorite beer for a second. Now I see them out here in Europe all the time and I do get a little pissed off, but now I’m over it. [laughs] I like light beers that are light and refreshing. Hate that hoppy, weird stuff. I’m a lightweight anyway. [laughs]
KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS, JESSICA PRATT. SAT 11.24. HOUSE OF BLUES, 15 LANSDOWNE ST., BOSTON. 7PM/ALL AGES/$31. HOUSEOFBLUES.COM/BOSTON