04.05.2019

Kurt Vile’s latest album is his self-proclaimed masterpiece

Words by James Di Fabrizio

For Kurt Vile, translating feelings of love, life and anxiety into a heady mix of psychedelic-tinged songwriting comes easy. 

In fact, when dealing with these types of feelings – which are ever-present on his latest album – it’s the only way he knows how.

“I felt like it was a masterpiece,” says Vile on his sprawling new album Bottle It In. He’s not wrong, either. Bottle It In has been another international hit for the prolific writer, garnering serious accolades and acclaim since its release. “I also know it’s a little weird,” he says. “But I can see it in the crowds we’re playing now – the fans are into it.”

But Kurt Vile has always been more than a “little weird”. In recent years, he’s become a torchbearer for alternative rock – and critically, has a mythologised aura surrounding him as the genre’s resident weirdo. It’s something his fans have long loved about him, and on Bottle It In, he embraces it whole-heartedly – not just because that’s his natural disposition, but because the world has become weird too.

“The world has gotten pretty cartoon-scary,” says Vile. “I mean, it always has been. But now there are people fucking with both reality and your mind. I’m pretty happy in my life, to be honest. But I’m also really scared – we’ve got a president that fucks with everyone’s minds. In America, people are fading in and out of oblivion.”

Vile is right. It’s an otherworldly time to be an American – and it comes as no surprise that it’s causing feelings of dread. And like all great songwriters do, Vile has channelled that feeling into his music. That sense of bubbling anxiety is present on Bottle It In, constantly threatening to spill over the surface – no more so than on the album’s title track. A wired and minimal mix of guitar, synth and spindly vocals, it finds Vile at his most raw, vulnerable – and importantly – relatable.

“That’s probably my favourite track on the album,” he says. “It really just came out of me. I think all my songs are pretty simple, but I always know that in the studio I can take it to any place I want. But I don’t sweat that stuff too much anymore – it really depends on the song, and that’s what happened with the title track.

“Basically, I was trying to get this really weird keyboard sound going. And I just sang along to it while my friend [Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa] played drums while the loop kept going. A lot of times I think that they’re not going to turn out as long, but sometimes they just want to.”

Kurt Vile is no stranger to long songs. But his uncanny ability as a songwriter means that songs that stretch on for over ten minutes, somehow, feel like they’re over in three and a half. It’s as if he’s able to translate his own warped, spaced-out perception of time onto the listener through spellbinding arrangements. It’s his musical magic trick, and he knows it. Take, for example, his lush ode to West Coast living – ‘Wakin’ on a Pretty Day’.

“That song was me working on a way to take a jam and be able to hypnotise with it,” says Vile. “It’s like taking your favourite pop song – like Tom Petty’s ‘Learning to Fly’ – and pulling it apart. We combined a few takes and that’s how we got the finished product.”

‘Wakin’ on a Pretty Day’ came out in 2013. In the years since, Vile hasn’t been drastically changing his sound with each new album, rather, he’s been steadily and subtly refining it. With Bottle It In, he feels like he’s closer than he’s ever been to the sound in his head.

“I’ve put out so many records and I feel like with each one there’s a small step up,” he says. “It’s been a real journey finding out who to work with, but we’re there now. By the time we got to this record, we had it figured out.”

Kurt Vile & The Violators play Bluesfest on Thursday April 18 and Saturday April 20. They’ll also play Boogie on Sunday April 21 and a headline show at The Forum on Monday April 22 (sold out), The Croxton on Wednesday April 24 with Tropical Fuck Storm and Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal on Friday April 26 with Lost Animal and Julia Shapiro (Chastity Belt).