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The Thing About Kurt Vile

Why the legend-in-the-making is on the verge of something huge.

I have so many questions for Kurt Vile—mostly because when I'm on tour, I just sit in the back of the van, dopey and half out-of-it, listening to his entire discography on a loop. Honestly, when I’m stuck in the van for eight hours, Vile is kind of all I want to listen to because it’s calming. It ebbs and flows with the terrain outside my window and his music makes me feel relaxed. Because I listen to so much of Vile’s music, I end up trying to dissect his lyrics. I can’t really help it. I have a lot of questions for Vile, mainly about drugs. I will never ask them, though. I know it’s not cool to ask these things—after all, the man has children now.


I know a lot of people have a problem with Kurt Vile because he sold his song “Baby’s Arms” to a Bank of America commercial, which makes him an evil capitalist or something. Then, on Pitchfork, he denounced punk ideals in relation to making money from music and The Sell Out Police had a spazz: “In this day and age, 'punk ideals' are totally irrelevant. Not that it isn’t cool to have them, but times have changed, man.”

People flipped out over that statement, but really, it’s not so much that punk ideals are totally irrelevant today so much as they are irrelevant, personally, for Vile. And why wouldn't they be? The man has three mouths to feed with his musical career. The problem is bringing capital into your art. That’s the constant struggle. Choosing a creative career path (which some of us—Vile being one—claim we just cannot help because there is nothing else our hands and mouths will let us do well) means that if you do not completely suck, eventually, you will have to deal with this contention. The only way to survive it is to not give a shit what people think of you and stick to your own merit. It’s hard when you have a team of people telling you what to do, influencing your decisions, and shaping your mind. The music industry is full of fuck holes. It’s really gross sometimes.

Have you listened to Vile’s new record Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze? I hope so. It’s probably his best yet. Critics like to put Vile in this Neil Young/Harry Nilsson/Tom Petty kind of legend-in-the-making territory, and I would completely agree with them if the sentiment weren’t so cheesy. Whether or not you agree with what he says about “punk ideals” or his involvement in corporate commercials, his music is unique and really, really significant. It’s just special. Vile and his music have the longevity of a ghost.

Which brings me to the new video for the single off his new album, “Never Run Away.” Dressed all in white and awkwardly twitching his face as he sings along, Vile rides a white school bus through his hometown of Philadelphia, stopping occasionally to play guitar in random places. The clip's director, HARRYS, apparently wanted to channel Vile’s humble, legend-in-the-making feel with the video. I just think it’s nice to look at. Plus, this is one of those songs where I kind of hummed over one lyric: “My steady diet of high on love, then taking dope to cope after come down sometimes.” (But that’s a whole other essay, which would require me to admit things about myself in print that I only have the stones to do with lyrics.) Plus, it’s all just my own interpretation. That’s what makes songs so wonderful—especially Vile’s—because you are left to make up your own dumb story. And half the time, it’s simply a reflection of yourself. Digesting music is selfish.

The thing about Kurt Vile is that I respect him as a songwriter and I don’t think he’s a dope for selling his music; it’s his choice. Regardless of whether or not his concept of “punk ideals” matches mine or anyone else’s is irrelevant when his records sound the way they do. Without Vile, I probably would have jumped out of our moving van by now. So, I thank him.

Mish Way fronts Vancouver punk powerhouse White Lung and will be playing with Kurt Vile at Village Voice's 4Knots Festival. She promises not to ask him about drugs. - @myszkaway