Kurt Vile chronicles the juggling of everyday life in new album '(watch my moves)'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
WFH has become a WOL, way of life, for many of us these past couple of years. Kurt Vile has been making music back home in Philadelphia in his home studio. And his latest album, "Watch My Moves," has a more relaxed and raw sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PALACE OF OKV IN REVERSE")
KURT VILE: (Singing) Palace of OKV in reverse dreaming up a storm in my soul. There's a great flood of blood pumping through to my heart that goes out to the world
SIMON: The new album is extensive and thoughtful, 15 tracks that explore his mind as he juggles the business of everyday life. Kurt Vile joins us now.
Thanks so much for being with us.
VILE: Wow. Thank you so much.
SIMON: What was it like to be making music in a place so familiar to you?
VILE: Well, I mean, that's kind of where I come from. My earlier records are recorded from different homes. But, you know, around 2016, I moved to Mount Airy, a really forested part of Philadelphia. It's not the suburbs. Ever since I moved there, I was dreaming of taking it easy. You know, I was trying to get back to my home recording roots that I started in the early 2000s. It was amazing to finally be at home and not worry about getting on a plane.
SIMON: Well, let's listen, if we could, to a little of "Mount Airy Hill."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOUNT AIRY HILL")
VILE: (Singing) Standing on the top of Mount Airy Hill. Think about flying.
SIMON: Now, some people like to record in the studio because they say it's a neutral backdrop. Tell us about your studio. Is it a neutral backdrop or do you have homey things all around?
VILE: I don't know. It depends what you mean by neutral, but it's very just comfortable. And at first the concept is like a dream, and it's comfortable. Like, I can't wait till I have my perfect space at home and it'll be so relaxed. And then you finally build it for a couple of years, and then your friends come over and they're like, all right, Kurt, what do you got? And you can't even think because your studio is in your home and you got to just keep trucking until some alchemy happens. And actually, the song you just played, "Mount Airy Hill," that's really when we like a song, was fully formed, you know, at home in my basement. And I just couldn't believe it.
SIMON: Help us understand what that alchemy feels like when it happens.
VILE: Yeah. Alchemy is like - for instance, I'll be sitting at home writing a song. And when I write a song and it comes together, it sounds beautiful. I feel it. Right away, and often you'll take that to the studio, and it's always going to sound way different than what you thought. But that alchemy is that moment where you once again capture whatever it is you might be good at, or you might just even stumbled upon not knowing you're good at it. It's just when everybody in the room knows it's a special tune. For "Mount Airy Hill," my drummer, he said looks like we're going to get away with this one.
SIMON: (Laughter) That's a compliment coming from a drummer, isn't it?
VILE: Yeah, it is.
SIMON: There are a lot of travel on this album playing strings, hitting the road. But that probably wasn't the case when you were making the album, was it?
VILE: Yeah, well, the start of this album literally was me dreaming of getting out of that life anyway, which is ironic because, you know, that was granted, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOIN ON A PLANE TODAY")
VILE: (Singing) Going on a plane today. Going to chug a beer and curse my name. See you on the other side either on the tarmac or the afterlife.
There are two sessions I did while I was still touring the previous record. One was in November 2019. One was January 2020. My studio had been built then, and I knew I was going home and I was planning not to leave, you know, but a couple more months later nobody was going anywhere, you know, or at least not without being freaked out. But it's been my whole life traveling. And it's funny because I've jumped right back into it since then. I've been flying every day for the last couple of weeks on this tour, but I'm so grateful that I was home living a normal life. It really reset me.
SIMON: How did it reset you? Did it come at a time where you needed to be reset, recharged?
VILE: I think in the past I would just go on tour and come back and be completely depleted without knowing it and not even have any kind of schedule, any kind of routine at home, you know, because it's been like 10 years or something since I've been on the road. And I kind of forgot what it was like to just live a normal life. And I really needed it. Turns out, my family did too. We've always been close but just being there every day as a dad turns out it does make a difference, you know?
SIMON: Oh, boy. That's wonderful. That's - if you can get through a pandemic and have that, that's just great. You've been making music for two decades. What's the difference between Kurt Vile now and Kurt Vile then?
VILE: My first release was a best of my own home recordings, and I'm always trying to stay true to my roots where there's like an urgency because I was trying to get to a place where I could make a living off my music. And I was producing it from home. And I feel like it's an interesting and even quest to stay true to your roots and be yourself but evolve all the time, you know? Polish your craft. But don't polish it too much.
SIMON: You write about music in some of these songs. Let's listen to a little bit of the song, "Jesus On A Wire."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JESUS ON A WIRE")
VILE: (Singing) So I ring a couple chords out on my Martin Double O. And I see them floating upward and I watch them as they go into the pockets of Judas Iscariot in the sky.
SIMON: That must be quite a sensation, making music and watching it go kind of leave your heart and out into the world.
VILE: Yes. Well, that's a nice way to put it. That song in particular, I remember I was in a - I took my guitar to the hotel room somewhere in Europe when I had a day off. And I didn't touch it, the guitar, the whole time until, you know, the last second the morning was time to get back on the bus. And I just played the D Chord to the C chord, which is the same chords as my songs, like on tour song I have. And I'm like, oh, well, another song, the same chords. But the lyrics come pretty quick sometimes and you just got to be receptive to it, keep it sort of open. And it's sort of a meditation thing. So i like those type of songs. They come to you real quick. So I think that's probably why I sing about playing the music within the song, because it just kind of let it come into your brain, you know? Naturally.
SIMON: That sounds like quite a gift in life.
VILE: You know what? You're right. It is, actually.
VILE: Thank you.
SIMON: Kurt Vile - his new album, "Watch My Moves."
Thank you so much for being with us.
VILE: Wow. Thank you so much. It's an honor. Really good to talk to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF KURT VILE SONG, "COOL WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.