Kurt Vile recently got fired. For the past six years, he operated a forklift at a Philadelphia brewery while moonlighting as a home-recording musician and songwriter. Now signed to Matador and touring cross-country, Vile found that his job and his music were suddenly battling for attention. He was taking too much time off, and even when he was at work he was distracted, spending lunch breaks booking shows on his laptop. When things finally came to a head, he lost his job and was thrust into music full-time, whether he liked it or not.
Luckily, he liked it. "It's all I ever wanted to do," he says. "When I got fired I was begging for my job back, but realistically I was gonna have to quit soon anyway. All of a sudden I had no choice."
On the upside, Vile and his wife have just bought a house, and he has an album advance to float on for a bit. Now he's gearing up for his Matador debut, Childish Prodigy, out October 6, while taking advantage of mounting buzz around his last album, Constant Hitmaker, which was released on Gulcher last year and recently issued on vinyl by the taste-making lo-fi label Woodsist. At this point, losing his job seems like a blessing.
Vile's solo work isn't his only claim to indie-rock fame. He helped shape the sound of Philly band the War on Drugs, whose album, Wagonwheel Blues, was released to much acclaim last year. In fact, his touring band, the Violators, features two members of the War on Drugs, including frontman Adam Granduciel. And though Vile left that group to pursue his own music, he shares with Granduciel a yen for droning psych-folk that is inspired equally by Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground.
"We developed that one-chord drone thing, and it just evolved over time," Vile says, adding that he has also done shows and recordings built around a finger-picked acoustic guitar. Still, both his solo work and Wagonwheel Blues blur endless layers of analog effects against stream-of-consciousness singing and sprawling song structures. The result is dense and opaque but with a discernible heart beating beneath, almost like a shoegazer troubadour. There are some Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty influences as well.
For all of Vile's freaky intrigue, his name isn't some tacked-on stage creation. Rather, it's what's on his birth certificate. "It does blow people's minds," he acknowledges. "It's like that German composer [Kurt Weill], but more punk rock. I grew into my name a little bit, though. I used to make more mellow music."
Free-spirited but not quite punk, Childish Prodigy makes the most of Vile's blissfully aimless wanderings. The album was primarily produced by Jeff Zeigler of the Philly shoegaze band Arc in Round, though "Blackberry Song" and "Overnite Religion" were recorded at Granduciel's house and then dumped to a computer for overdubs. There are two hidden tracks, "He's Alright" and "Goodbye, Freaks," while seven-minute tunes like "Freak Train" and "Inside Lookin' Out" heighten the truly surreal vibe.
Vile recorded the album before shopping it around and is glad to have landed on Matador, a label whose roster he grew up envying. Unlike the home-recording collection Constant Hitmaker and the limited-edition LP God Is Saying This to You, Childish Prodigy is his first proper album. After years spent bowing over guitars and effects pedals with his long hair shielding him from the world, Vile is hoping this is the album that sees serious returns on his hard work.
He is, after all, otherwise unemployed.