By Jeremy Hallock
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Kurt Weill is one of the more storied names in 20th-century music. Kurt Vile, meanwhile, is a rising name in the contemporary world of punk psychfolk, a lo-fi distortion and reverb-drenched environ that sounds like past stars of Americana and rock being channeled through a late-night and distant AM radio station.
One of these Kurts is playing a free Halloween show at The Lounge on Elm Street. (Hint: Weill died in 1950.) And on a night of many entertainment choices, the argument can be made that seeing Kurt Vile and his band The Violators is the choice to make. Especially when you consider that he's a rising star on just his first national tour.
Vile, 29, is yet one more Philadelphia native contributing to the City of Brotherly Love's reputation as the East Coast nexus of indie rock. A prolific songwriter, he's released three albums in the past two years under his own name—as well as contributing to Philadelphia band The War on Drugs. And this month saw the release of his biggest album to date, Childish Prodigy, which has already garnered high critical praise in the United States and Europe. One reviewer nicely summed up the sound: "The Rolling Stones as interpreted by Thurston Moore or Bob Dylan via Dinosaur Jr."
Indeed, the influence range is clear—from the classic rock of the '70s and '80s (think acoustic Led Zeppelin or Springsteen's Nebraska) to avant-garde roots guitarist John Fahey.
"I come from a family of musical enthusiasts, and my Dad always had us listening to different stuff," Vile says. "I started playing trumpet in fourth grade, and my father bought me a banjo when I was 14—then a guitar." The banjo influence maybe accounts for the furious finger-picking style he's mastered and demonstrates to great effect on his recordings. And, when asked about his obvious influences, Vile hardly refutes them: "I listened to a lot of John Fahey, and a bit of Leo Koettke, especially that first one, 6- and 12-String Guitar. I obsessed on Springsteen. And, y'know, I was aware of Led Zeppelin but didn't listen to them growing up. Now Led Zeppelin III is something me and my friends recognize as great and listen to all the time. Our drummer can play a mean Zeppelin."
Backing Vile is The Violators—Jesse Turbo (guitar, harmonica, sax), Adam Granduciel (guitar, bass) and Mike Zeng (drums). Vile and Granduciel are old friends and support each other in their respective bands (Granduciel fronts The War on Drugs). "My job in that band [War on Drugs] was to go nuts," Vile says. And, sure enough, you can hear his exuberant playing all over that band's Wagonwheel Blues, much to its benefit.
But Vile's playing style has also served his own material quite well, allowing him to make the jump from earlier, essentially home recording releases on the DIY Gulcher Records and Woodsist to, now, the highly respected Matador. While he has played up and down the East and West Coasts, occasional gigs in Europe and the most recent two years of SXSW, this is Vile's first real national tour—and it was made possible with Matador's backing.
"For the longest time trying to get the material for Childish Prodigy on a good label was my goal," Vile says. "Now, touring to expand my base...is the goal."