Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile

Spirit in the Ether: Kurt Vile Returns to NMF

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The last time Kurt Vile came to Nelsonville, it was 2012. At the time, his album (2011’s gorgeous Smoke Ring For My Halo) was being regarded as a critical moment for an artist who had been putting out music since his late teens.

When Smoke Ring hit, it seemed as though Vile had turned a profound corner. In that album, he and his band found a footing for his trademark songwriting, and it was clear that Vile was starting to resonate with a much larger audience.

Fast-forward to this Friday, when Kurt Vile and The Violators will take the Main Stage at The Nelsonville Music Festival, just before headliners Dinosaur Jr.

It’s been an extraordinary two years since Vile’s previous NMF appearance. 2013’s Wakin On A Pretty Daze became his biggest album to date, generating praise from across the music world and raising him to a near-iconic level. His new status brought new opportunities, including a headlining set at this year’s Coachella Festival.

Now, as Vile and his band begin a new tour across the U.S. and then onto Europe, the Nelsonville Music Festival will be one of their first stops.

“I’m excited to come back to this fest,” he said. “The last time we had a great time and felt a lot of good vibes. We’re also excited to play right in-between our friends Dinosaur Jr. and Quilt.”

If one could boil down the equation to Kurt Vile’s trajectory of success, it would come down to the simple fact that he is a relentless writer, and as such, has recorded and toured at a breakneck pace. In fact, Vile and his band will be coming to Nelsonville after having spent three days in Brooklyn, recording and rehearsing for the new tour.

“We’re constantly writing and working on music. We have a recording space in Philly to move forward in a natural way,” he said.

Philadelphia has always played an important role in Vile’s life: a viable community where his family lives (he is married with two children), along with a rich network of friends and creative partners.

Vile’s biggest creative partnership was during his time as a member/producer of the indie-rock band The War on Drugs, which he co-founded with current bandleader Adam Granduciel. Despite his departure (Vile exited before the release of 2011’s Slave Ambient), the musicians around that band served as a collective of sorts.

When one listens to the hazy and layered sounds that both he and Granduciel would come to perfect (The War on Drugs’ magnificent 2014 release Lost In The Dream, for instance), it’s obvious that the two have influenced one other in their shared love of moody ambience and textured production.

Beyond the sound that Vile has been shaping, it is his nuanced and introspective songwriting that has received much of the attention. Although many compare him to Neil Young or Tom Petty, Vile’s ethos can be tied closely to his ’90s indie rock heroes, such as Pavement and Guided By Voices. As he found his way as a songwriter, the DIY attitude of that era served as a roadmap of sorts.

“If you look at my early Matador singles and EPs, where I was working a lot at home, there’s always kind of psychedelic segues and B-sides. Very much like ’90s-eque Pavement,” he said, noting that “it wasn’t until 2006 when I’d learned how to self-edit and began moving to more high fidelity. There were many steps to that.”

Those steps would lead him to the exquisite Wakin on A Pretty Daze, in which Vile created an expansive song set that reflected his love of his music icons’ classic albums.

“I loved the Smoke Ring record, but the last record was more sprawled out and epic. It always evolves on so many levels.”

As such, Vile emulates the disciplines of songwriters like Nick Cave and Neil Young by devoting himself to the craft of writing and being ever-ready to capture his ideas.

“I am an introverted songwriter,” he explained. “I can write in my head, come up with a riff earlier, and then get it down in my iPhone later.”

And with that, Vile now has the material together for his next album.

“I’m at the next step in my song cycle where I’m putting pen to paper. I have a record mapped out,” he said. “There’s an inertia in general because the tour is booked. It can be nerve-wracking and exciting.”

Certainly one of Vile’s strengths has been the ability to create thoughtful, engaging, sometimes eccentric albums that hold their own in the realm of commercial music. Where many “indie rock” contemporaries scoff at the idea of writing singles, or even considering how to break out of the constraints of indie rock expectations, Vile seems content to keep aiming for a broader target.

“I would love to make pop records that hit people in some sort of ’70s commercial way,” he said. “Me and my band, we have the chops to strive to make FM–influenced music and be able to deliver it in a not-ironic way. Guitar prowess that’s not a throwback…but it is rock and roll.”

As Vile makes his way on this new tour and begins the next phase of his career, he’s in a position that most independent artists would envy. He is signed to Matador Records, a label that he dreamed of working with. (Matador was/is home to some of Vile’s biggest influences, most notably Pavement).

As such, Vile has been able to support his family and his bandmates through a combination of album sales, licensing and a full schedule of touring and festival dates. In his opinion, his ever-growing success reflects the nature of the music industry.

“There are a lot of people that are successful today,” he said. “Things are always changing, the game is always changing, and you have to find what works for you. There will always be ebbs and flows. We’re making a living.”

You can see Kurt Vile and The Violators on Friday, May 30 at 9 p.m. on the Main Stage. Visit for details.