Having first come to most people’s attention as part of folk-rock outfit The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile has always seemed more comfortable taking his own psych-folk path, winning a considerable following through his memorable melodies and droll lyrics along the way. His most recent trio of albums – 2011’s glorious Smoke Ring for My Halo, 2013’s hazy and hypnotic Wakin on a Pretty Daze and last year’s widely celebrated b’lieve I’m goin down… – have cemented his position as one of contemporary folk-rock’s greatest voices.
Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
Aside from drinking tequila? Which I don’t do all the time. I find that I get nervous before I play. Even sound checks can give me anxiety, and screw with my mind. But as long as I can play a little acoustic guitar backstage if I’m feeling nervous, so I don’t have to walk in there cold turkey, I’ll be fine. Even in life I find if I get stressed out and someone hands me an acoustic guitar, preferably mine, I slip into a different head space. That’s obviously the plain you want to be on when you’re on stage too. It usually just tends to rock a lot harder than the record.
Is that kind of nervousness something that helps you creatively?
Probably. I definitely have relapses of stress. Most human beings are like that. But I think ultimately, music is a therapeutic situation. Once you start playing, it all just gets resolved. If I’m not even playing, then I’m thinking about music, which can create an inertia situation, where you’re not even moving at all, so you don’t want to move. Then once someone just puts that guitar in your hand, you slowly melt into this more laid-back individual.
Is that how you write? By letting things build up in your mind and then releasing it?
For this record [b’lieve], yes. I was very cerebral. I was picturing songs and lyrics fully formed in my head. While on the record before, I was getting lost in the guitar, letting the lyrics come later. It’s only recently that I’ve started playing again a lot, and there’s maybe a lyric or two that comes from that, but I’ve mainly been lost in the music. Sometimes you can play guitar, and be melodic and the actual notes are sort of lyrical anyway. The physical lyrics can come later. I have harmonies and soulful stuff in my head, but not so many words yet.
A lot of your latest album was recorded at studios near where your collaborators are based, rather than on your own home turf. Why did you seek out that dynamic?
If I sit in the same square room and work on something too long, I feel like you just go mad. I benefit from a change of scenery, it’s always inspiring. And then they’re in their comfort zone. Also, you don’t have to worry about putting anyone up in a hotel. I can put myself up in a hotel! I feel like this next record, I’ll try and stay put a little more.