Kurt Vile: Records that changed my life

Anna Walker

We chatted to American singer and songwriter, Kurt Vile, about the records that he loves most

Starlite Walker by Silver Jews

This is a nostalgic record from my teens. I discovered them on a Drag City compilation because I was obsessed with Pavement. [Lead singer] David Berman’s voice is really relatable in the best way—it’s human but weird, kind of like Lou Reed. It draws you in and he has amazing lyrics.

So anyway I ordered the full length album and the Starlite Walker album. It starts with a 30-second “hello”-type of introduction and then it goes into a song called “Trains Across the Sea” that has got the best lyrics ever, it’s kind of almost like almost spoken song.

The last line is, “In 27 years, I’ve drunk 50,000 beers”. I think the second line is “Scotch and penicillin”, stuff like that. I go back to the Silver Jews in general a lot.

 

Northern Passages by The Sadies

The Sadies are my favourite live band. There’s no gimmick. They’re two brothers and their Dad and their uncle are twin brothers from a legendary duo called the Good Brothers so country music is in their blood. The whole band is incredible, it’s like psychedelic country… nobody plays music like that anymore there’s always some sort of gimmick but with these [brothers] it’s just in their blood, it’s real. It’s like seeing Waylon Jennings or something but the modern version.

They’re actually friends of mine. There’s a song on this album that I sang on after they sent me an instrumental track, but that’s not why this is a life-changing record for me, it was just an inspiration to do.

This record is a really beautiful and tight statement and The Sadies have always had so much promise. It inspired me to fly to the desert and sing with them. Then I drove from the Coachella desert over to LA to record and I didn’t know how exactly it was going to come out but I ended up recording the title track for my new album, “Bottle It In” which is my favourite song on the record and it definitely had to do with being inspired to go and play with The Sadies. They’re a really inspiring band to me.

 

Honky Tonk Heroes by Waylon Jennings

Honky Tonk Heroes is kind of outlaw country music but it’s so much more than too. [I love] Waylon Jennings in general, if I had to pick a definitive album, this was him coming into his own and producing himself—he beat the Nashville machine.

The Nashville Machine meant artists wouldn’t get to choose which songs to play and they’d add all these sugary sweet strings that they didn’t ask for and backing vocals and Waylon took it back… because you know the underbelly is rock ‘n’ roll even though it’s country.

Waylon played with Buddy Holly, so you can really hear the backbone of rock ‘n’ roll and the country delivery just like American, southern in his blood.

I just feel like everybody wishes they could be black in a way, you know like nobody else can be that funky and soulful, but sometimes I feel like the closest way you could be that is somebody like Waylon Jennings because he’s from the down-home Texas and he’s got this soulful, bluesy undercurrent.

 

Juarez by Terry Allen

Terry Allen is another country guy but he’s more arty, and I discovered this album recently while on a road trip through Marfa, Texas.

I knew him anyway but then I picked up this CD. It’s sort of like a concept record, it’s hard to explain it but he’s a great piano player and it’s a great record from start to finish. It’s the first record I’ve found in a while where you want to listen to the whole thing and over and over again.

I just love the way he plays piano and his lyrics are about a couple that go across the border, it ends in some bloodshed, it’s a classic American adventure story gone awry. I got that record when I was with my family, after I’d finished some recording. And again, I recorded in LA and then we met in the desert and we drove through Arizona into New Mexico, into Marfa, Texas.

I found that record and then we drove through Big Bend, and then we ended up in Willy Nelson’s ranch and I played the “Luck Reunion” there. His sons promised to back me up for a tune so I guess [that’s part of why] this record is important to me, because it was a moment captured.

 

On the Beach by Neil Young

If I had to pick a number one record, On the Beach would be it.

The reason I chose all those other records is because I’m sick of having to say Neil Young, Neil Young, Neil Young.

I love “Ambulance Blues” best, the last song or second-to-last song on the album or the title track, “On the Beach”. He plays this slow guitar solo and towards the end he bends up this one high note and then plays the same note on another string and that note changed my life and my guitar playing.

It’s just a really beaten down melancholy-hangover-type of record.

Kurt Vile’s new album Bottle It In is released October 12 on Matador.