Philadelphia-based musician Kurt Vile is best known for his eponymous solo project, producing six albums since 2008 up to this year’s b’lieve i’m goin down… A founding member of The War on Drugs, Vile released one 2008 record with the band before parting ways. His repertoire includes banjo, guitar, piano and trumpet, alongside The Violators, his backing band in studio and on tour.
Matty McLoughlin is a founding member and guitarist of the San Diego-based band The Soft Pack, who originally went by The Muslims. Eventually relocating to Los Angeles, the band released two albums: The Soft Pack (2010) and Strapped (2012). McLoughlin currently resides in LA.
Born in Australia, Stella Mozgawa is drummer for the Los Angeles-based band Warpaint, whom she joined shortly after their debut EP, Exquisite Corpse (2009). Her releases include Warpaint’s The Fool (2011) and Warpaint (2014).
Multi-instrumentalist Dave Scher, referred to as Farmer Dave, is a producer and touring musician with outfits including Animal Collective, Elvis Costello, Interpol and Kurt Vile. He is guitarist for the Los Angeles-based Beachwood Sparks and a founding member of All Night Radio with Beachwood Sparks’ Jimi Hey.
Kurt Vile wrote b’lieve i’m goin down… during the nighttime, and that essential weight remains beneath the warmth of his banjo and casual turns of phrase. Roaming from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to write and record, Vile called on a bi-coastal group of backing musicians including his East Coast backing band, The Violators. The result is what he considers his best work yet, a sentiment echoed by the likes of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, who aptly described its culmination of talent:
“Kurt does his own myth-making; a boy/man with an old soul voice in the age of digital everything becoming something else, which is why this focused, brilliantly clear and seemingly candid record is a breath of fresh air. b’lieve i’m goin down… is a handshake across the country, East to West Coast, through the Dust Bowl history (Valley of Ashes) of Woody honest-straight-forward-talk Guthrie, and a Cali canyon dead-still night floating in a nearly waterless landscape. The record is all air, weightless, bodiless, but grounded in convincing authenticity in the best version of singer-songwriter upcycling.”
Matty McLoughlin, fellow musician and member of the Soft Pack, talks to Vile about the making of b’lieve i’m goin down…
Matty McLoughlin: Your lyrics and vocals have always been natural sounding, conversational, non-forced. How often does the first line you come up with stay in the song?
Kurt Vile: I would say the first ones pretty much always end up in there. Or first verse ’cause that’s the one you feel the most. And if I’m really feelin’ the whole thing quickly, which happens a lot—three, four verses—then you just fine-tune it. An album or two ago I would write these lyrics and be like, this sounds like the third verse or something, but now the first verses end up being what I write. These days my head’s screwed on pretty straight, where I start from the beginning and go to the end.
MM: I really enjoyed the piano on the record. I specifically lost my head there. Did you write the piano? Do you find it liberating and productive to write on instruments that aren’t your primary ones—guitar and banjo?
KV: I did write that on piano. I’m a good guitar player in general, but I don’t always think about where my fingers are. Even if I just stopped for a second I would know, but sometimes I choose not to think about it because that is kind of liberating. You can play anything and don’t have to think so much about the theory behind it, just feel the melody. That’s why I love the piano—it’s all there in front of you and just chimes away.
“I just had a lot of things to get off my chest.
I finally took the night as far as it could go.”
— Kurt Vile
MM: It’s almost like a ouija board effect. Your hands do it, and you’re like, “Oh, shit.”
KV: It’s all in front of you. I definitely have limited ability, but I was feelin’ the piano in general. It wasn’t so off the cuff. I was just practicing a little bit, getting into the piano world.
MM: Your songs always have a strong sense of humor, which can be difficult to accomplish in rock music. Rap is always one million times funnier, but with rock you have to weave comedy in more subtly. Did you always feel comfortable putting humor in a song? Or was that something that developed over time?
KV: Honestly, I get really excited the wackier it is. I might edit myself later and be like, alright, that’s just too silly, but I think I fine tune the subtle humor thing. It has eased into itself.
MM: What songwriters do you find funny throughout history?
KV: Randy Newman can be funny. Some people are obviously funny like Ween. Shit, there are so many. I can’t think right now. I just woke up.
MM: I know you guys recorded the album in different locations. Did you use the same musicians each time or was it a cast of different people who were around?
KV: If I was ever by myself, my bandmate Rob Laakso was always there. My full-time East Coast band, The Violators, was involved. And when I was on the West Coast I used Stella Mozgawa or Dave Scher. Basically it’s two bands on there. Sometimes they morph into each other, and sometimes they’re separate. I kinda like that.
MM: Farmer Dave’s a fucking great dude. He’s a fun guy to play with.
KV: He’s the best.