There is a warm little meditation of a tune snuck into “b’lieve i’m goin down,” an otherwise dark, ruminative 2015 album by Kurt Vile. Titled “Lost My Head There,” the song thwarts “a funky little psychosis” by reassembling the psyche to a place where music can’t help but pour forth. “The words come out, fell on some keys,” sings Vile, with a hint of pop-soul hopefulness. “Then this song walked outta me.”
For nearly 15 years, Vile has been fashioning similar reflections before a mounting indie rock audience. Sometimes the results focus more on the psychedelically inclined textures of his guitar work. In other instances, the music is decidedly folkish with strains of piano or one of the first instruments the song stylist became versed on, banjo. The emotive cast is just as moody, as “b’lieve i’m goin down” underscores. The summery self-help stance of “Lost My Head There” is a light in a more ominous forest of songs. Such shifting of sounds and temperaments along with a subtle sense of stylistic exploration had the New York Times labeling Vile, as far back as 2009, an “exacting tinkerer.”
“The songs usually come from my life combined with listening to music and reading things,” Vile said. “That’s the beauty of just analyzing. Usually, when people find they’re interested in something, it resonates with something about their life, whether it’s an analogy or whatever. All those things, all my interests touch me in my soul, in my heart. Even if it’s something sort of dark, like ‘The Violent Bear It Away’ by Flannery O’Connor. My life is not exactly like that, but it just hit me somewhere.
“I think you can analyze anything and make it about yourself. It always comes back to you. For most people, it comes back to themselves. Even when they talk about someone else’s problems, a lot of times they’re actually talking about themselves.”
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The songs on “b’lieve i’m goin down” had nocturnal beginnings. Vile would work on them late at night after his wife and two children were asleep, a practice that helps explain the spacious but sometimes murky intimacy surrounding the compositions.
“I didn’t want another producer to be involved, so we took that job upon ourselves — two engineers and my band, Kyle (Spence, multi-instrumentalist), Rob (Laasko, drummer) and I wanted to catch some vulnerable thing. I knew it was going to be some kind of modern folk record, a slightly dark modern folk record — definitely some sort of emotional record. I didn’t know how a lot of it was going to come down exactly. You can have all these theories but you always follow how the body of work is going.”
The involvement of Spence, Laasko and guitarist/bassist Jesse Trbovich in the production of “b’lieve i’m goin down” speaks to Vile’s trust in his band, long known as the Violators. While their music possesses an absorbing sparseness and groove on record, it often turns tersely electric onstage, leaving Vile ample room to stretch out on guitar.
“We’re a pretty hilarious bunch, really. We’re definitely not always like, ‘Aw man, great gig. We love this,’ which we do. We all love playing music. We definitely mess with each other and tease each other and then later laugh at each other — especially with me trying to get things to sound right and not being able to wrap my head around equipment because they’re all equipment nerds. There are all kinds of comedy.
“If you were a fly on the wall daily in our routine, you would see all kinds of moods. But then, we are all, in our own ways, obsessed with music and have our own niche. That’s why we work so well together, ultimately. If we worked too well together, it would all be cheesy and corny anyway. What we have is just the right amount of sugary sweet.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com