Best of the Main Line and Western Suburbs: Breakout Guitar Phenom

Kurt Vile earns indie-rock cred with the War on Drugs.



Last year was a momentous one for Delaware County native Kurt Vile. After more than 10 years of working his way through the indie-rock ranks with Philadelphia’s the War on Drugs and his own band, the Violators, our Best Breakout Guitar Phenom suddenly found himself atop many “Album of the Year” lists, thanks to the laid-back sonic brilliance of 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze. The album has secured the 34-year-old’s status as a critics’ darling, and there will be plenty of global scrutiny when he finally gets around to releasing a follow-up—that is, if he can ever get off the road. He’ll be at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on July 25, opening for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.

MLT: Tell us about growing up in Lansdowne.

KV: The blocks were small, and you could walk and see all your friends. My wife (Suzanne) used to live on the other side of town. I went to Penn Wood High School and had a really great art teacher. I would skateboard a lot.

MLT: Were you a good student?

KV: If I paid attention, I’d get As or Bs. I always stopped paying attention, but I’d always pull through in the end.

MLT: When did you start playing guitar?

KV: I got a banjo when I was 14 and picked it up right away. A year later, a neighbor gave me a guitar, and it was pretty natural to me. 

MLT: Were you in any local groups?

KV: My first band was called Pelvic Thrust. I played local coffeehouses and Name That Bar in the city. I’d play gigs on a Wednesday night and go to school the next morning.

MLT: How have you been handling all the attention surrounding Wakin on a Pretty Daze

KV: Honestly, every step for me has been a little bigger. The last album (Smoke Ring for My Halo) was really my breakout. That’s when, all of a sudden, the rooms were selling out. So, coming off that, I knew there was anticipation, and I didn’t want to disappoint myself or my fans—and it just turned out to be
an epic record in a lot of ways.

MLT: Your melodies are a lot more advanced in the latest album.

KV: A lot of it is touring like crazy and playing guitar. The songs are mainly guitar driven, especially on this record.

MLT: Does the “guitar hero” label bother you?

KV: No, because, with me, it’s not just about how fast you can play—it has to have a groove or be hypnotic. I try to do something different every album.

MLT: What else do you play?

KV: My first instrument was trumpet, and then the banjo—my dad gave me that. He’s a bluegrass fanatic, and he wanted me to play one, so I finally gave in.

MLT: Your parents are now living in Newtown Square.

KV: Yeah, I like going out there. They have this little ranch house with some land, and we bring the kids (two little girls) and hang out. They love sitting on the porch. 

Visit www.kurtvile.com.

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