Kurt Vile & The Violators - The Castle Theatre209 E. Washington St. Bloomington,IL
02/23/2019 8:00 PM - 02/23/2019 10:00 PM
Kurt Vile & The Violators
Travel can inspire in surprising ways: Kurt Vile discovered as much making his first record in three years, the eclectic and electrifying Bottle It In, which he recorded at various studios around the country over two very busy years, during sessions that usually punctuated the ends of long tours or family road trips. Every song, whether it’s a concise and catchy pop composition or a sprawling guitar epic, becomes a journey unto itself, taking unexpected detours, circuitous melodic avenues, or open-highway solos. If Vile has become something of a rock guitar god—a mantle he would dismiss out of humility but also out of a desire to keep getting better, to continue absorbing new music, new sounds, new ideas—it’s due to his precise, witty playing style, which turns every riff and rhythm into points on a map and takes the scenic route from one to the next.
Using past albums as points of departure, Bottle It In heads off in new directions, pushing at the edges of the map into unexplored territory: Here be monster jams. These songs show an artist who is still evolving and growing: a songwriter who, like his hero John Prine, can make you laugh and break your heart, often in the same line, as well as a vocalist who essentially rewrites those songs whenever he sings them in his wise, laconic jive-talkin’ drawl. He revels in the minutiae of the music—not simply incorporating new instruments but emphasizing how they interact with his guitar and voice, how the glockenspiel evokes cirrocumulus clouds on “Hysteria,” how Kim Gordon’s “acoustic guitar distortion” (her term) engulfs everything at the end of “Mutinies,” how the banjo curls around his guitar lines and backing vocals from Lucius to lend a high-lonesome aura to “Come Again.”
These journeys took Vile more than two years to navigate, during which time he toured behind his breakout 2015 album b’lieve I’m goin’ down, recorded a duets album with Australian singer-songwriter-guitarist Courtney Barnett, opened for Neil Young in front of 90,000 people in Quebec, famously became a clue on Jeopardy, hung out with friends, took vacations with his wife and daughters. “I’ve been bouncing around a lot and recording all over. My family would meet me in the middle of America, and we’d go on a road trip somewhere. I would record in between all that stuff.”
Let’s start in Philadelphia, Vile’s hometown and a perennial inspiration. The first song recorded for Bottle It In became the album’s opener: A quintessential Violators tune featuring longtime band members Jesse Trbovich, Rob Laakso and Kyle Spence, “Loading Zones” is a paean to the City of Brotherly Love as well as an explication of his peculiar parking strategy. “I park for free!” he and the Violators all proclaim, proudly and defiantly, as he moves his car from one loading zone to another, always avoiding meter fare and parking tickets. The song dates back to the b’lieve sessions, but it took Vile a while to figure out how to put the song across. “It ended up feeling too weird for the last record, and I’m glad I waited because it had to grow into a guitar jam. I don’t think I was ready for the swagger it took to deliver such a ridiculous concept. It’s about owning your own town. It’s about knowing a place like the back of your hand.” And if that curious guitar tone—the one that sounds like a distorted voice, sounds familiar, it’s because Vile used the same kind of pedal that his friends/idols Sonic Youth used on 1995’s “The Diamond Sea,” which at 27 minutes is roughly the amount of time Vile can leave his car in one Philly loading zone. Coincidence?
From there Vile headed west. In April 2017, he trekked out to Indio, California, to catch the Stagecoach Festival and sit in with his friends the Sadies (“my favorite modern band”). Inspired by Willie Nelson’s epic set, Vile spent a few days in Los Angeles working with producer Rob Schnapf at his Mant Sounds studio. “He does these really cool pop things, weird versions of pop songs,” says Vile of Schnapf, who has produced albums for Beck, Elliott Smith, and Guided by Voices, among many others. The two had previously worked together on “Pretty Pimpin,” the leadoff track on b’lieve that became a number-one AAA radio hit. Their second collaboration was similarly inspired: Featuring backing vocals from Cass McCombs, the eleven-minute title track is full of ominous bass rumbles, hazy-steady drumbeats from Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, delicate harp stabs from Mary Lattimore, and what sounds like chewy distortion leaking out of a David Lynch flick. “I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. I didn’t know ‘Bottle It In’ was going to be that long. It’s sort of like living something rather than having it all planned out. You have to go out there for the experience and the inspiration.”
Months later, when a lengthy Violators tour ended in Salt Lake City, Vile let the momentum carry him further west, where he recorded several more songs with engineer/producer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, the War on Drugs) at The Beer Hole in Los Angeles. Another epic came out of that meeting, the loping “Bassackwards,” the album’s beating heart and Vile’s most compelling evocation of how he sees the world. “I was on the ground circa Planet Earth, but out of sorts,” he sings over a gently psychedelic bed of backmasked guitars. “But I snapped back, baby, just in time to jot it down.” Other songs were put to tape during sojourns to Portland, Oregon, and to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where fellow Violator Rob Laakso co-produced. The bulk of Bottle It In was bottled up at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with Peter Katis (Interpol, the National) engineering and producing. Bottle It In captures the spontaneity of these impromptu sessions, revealing Vile as a diligent and singularly determined musician.
These recordings are the destinations, but the journeys were just as important, whether they gave him time with his wife and kids or an opportunity to get some writing done. “For a while I was terrified of flying, so I would be listening to whatever country songs I was obsessed with. I’d have George Jones blasting in my ears. Or, I would be reading something about country music. Or, I would start writing songs in that flash of being afraid, being swallowed by life. I’m up there on a plane drinking wine because like everybody else I’m afraid to die. And I wrote ‘Hysteria’ up there.” That new song, with its woozy guitar fanfare, captures mid-flight queasiness well, as Vile daydreams about escaping the flight: “Stop this plane ‘cause I wanna get off,” he sings. “Pull over somewhere on the side of a cloud.”
Bottle It In is about place only insofar as it is about the people in those places: friends and family, bandmates and music heroes, colleagues and collaborators. There’s a lot of love in these big-hearted songs, a lot of warmth toward everyone in Vile’s orbit and even toward those whose paths he’s yet to cross. “Loved you all a long, long while,” he sings on “One-Trick Ponies.” “Looked down into a deep dark well, called all of your names.” The jangly country-rock tune serves as a valentine to… he won’t say, but he and Mozgawa and Farmer Dave Scher deliver a beautifully sympathetic sing-along chorus that invites every one of us one-trick ponies to join in.
As Vile prepares for another round of lengthy tours and countless shows, these songs should prove good company, reminders of the love and responsibility he has toward those he leaves at home and those he meets along the way. That makes the sentiments resonate more strongly and lends Bottle It In an emotional weight. “It’s like that moment on the airplane,” Vile says, “when you’re on your way somewhere and you have that burst of panic. When you’re terrified of dying, that’s when you want people to know you love them.”
Since their formation in 1994, Toronto's Sadies have developed, even perfected, a style of music that is uniquely their own. Possessing a deep fondness and reverence for the best of country, bluegrass and blues (CBGB!), they are equally informed and influenced by everything from 60s garage and psychedelic rock (Pebbles, Nuggets, et al) to surf instrumentals and punk rock. You're as likely to find an enthusiastic fan of Negative Approach or Crime as one of Santo & Johnny or Merle Travis within their ranks. It's all relevant and it all fits and that sort of depth goes a long way in helping to understand how they came to develop such a broad platform from which to launch their own musical explorations.
Through a trio of brilliant albums that began with 2002's "Stories Often Told", 2004's "Favourite Colours" and 2007's Juno Award nominated, "New Seasons" – they finally topped themselves with 2010's "Darker Circles" an accomplished album that received a Juno Award for Best Video and was short-listed for the 2011 Polaris Prize. "Darker Circles" was a departure from their previous releases, which despite having some fairly, er, dark themes and subject matter, resonated strongly with fans and critics alike. It stands out as the most fully-realized song cycle from the group – until now.
September 17th, 2013 will see the release of "Internal Sounds" an album that heralds a new level of achievement for The Sadies. This was largely due to refusing to be pressured by any deadlines but their own, taking their time over a period of nearly a year to get everything "just right" and using up every resource they had and every favour they could call in. "Internal Sounds" marks the first time Dallas Good has assumed the producer's role and this helped craft a record that is the closest the band has yet come to capturing their sound on an album. Vocals are clear and prominent, guitars are positioned high in the mix and the album has a tone that is overall fuller and richer. Some key assistance was provided by Peter J. Moore (mixing/mastering) and Gary Louris (who has produced much of the bands past work) with some vocal coaching and control room refereeing. The resulting album greatly benefits from all of these considerations and is by far the most confident and assured of their career. The final track features an amazing vocal performance from Buffy Sainte-Marie that is a thrill to hear and a fantastic way to finish off the record.
The numerous collaborations that the band has been involved with over the years have resulted in some of the most surprising and fun work they've done. These feature a tremendous range of artists from expat British punk rockers (Mekons' Jon Langford – "Mayors of The Moon" Album), L.A. troubadours (John Doe, formerly of X – "Country Club"), old timey R&B masters (Andre Williams – more on him later), to up and coming alt-country starlets (Neko Case "The Tigers Have Spoken" many tours and contributions to many of her solo albums). They've also worked extensively with ex- Pussy Galore founder and current Jon Spencer Blues Explosion frontman Jon Spencer's "Heavy Trash" project with NYC guitarist Matt Verta-Ray – they've backed Matt and Jon extensively on tour and played on much of their "Going Way Out With Heavy Trash" album as well. There's hardly ever been a band as versatile and adventurous as The Sadies which is why they don't have too many peers with that kind of track record.
When Garth Hudson, organist with the Canadian rock institution, The Band, put together an all-Canadian collaboration album recently he leaned heavily on The Sadies, who, in addition to contributing their version of "The Shape I'm In", backed the much-loved Mary Margaret O'Hara on her contribution "Out Of The Blue". They also played with Neil Young on his rendition of "This Wheel's On Fire". This ultimately led to being invited to open for Neil Young and Crazy Horse all across Canada in late 2012.
The Sadies have also recently performed live on several occasions with former Guess Who founder and Canuck songwriting legend Randy Bachman where they were thrilled to get a chance to perform some of their own favourite super-obscure Guess Who songs with the man himself. Of The Sadies, Bachman has this to say; "It's quite different when I play with The Sadies than when I play with anyone else. I love the stand-up bass, it gives an incredible gigantic bottom end sound. I think the two brothers Dallas and Travis are just amazing guitar players. They've got their own cool identity".
The band continues to enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with 50s R&B legend Andre Williams. In 2012 the excellent "Night and Day" album was released to much acclaim. Previously they'd put together a country album with
him, "Red Dirt" which was a blast for all involved and saw the band do several memorable gigs with Mr. Rhythm throughout the US & Canada before heading off to Europe for a well-received month-long tour playing the classic hits as well as a lot of the new material. Andre once said "You cannot find a better bunch of characters, men or musicians than The Sadies".
Growing up in a musical family served the Good siblings well. Being the sons of noted Canadian country music icon Bruce Good and their singer / schoolteacher mom, Margaret and hanging out around their "Good Brothers" extended family, they learned a thing or ten about music. This helped them foster the broad appreciation and respect for the best of bluegrass, country and gospel that has continued to serve them well from an early age. Just this year saw the release of the Good Family Album via the Cowboy Junkies' Latent Recordings label. The album features Dallas, older brother Travis, Cousin D'Arcy on fiddle and vocals, Mom, Dad & Uncle Larry (2/3 of the Good Brothers) as well as the rest of The Sadies. Everybody sings, everybody plays and it's a diverse and entertaining collection of songs. No Depression raves "I almost defy you to listen to this album and not find yourself continutally gawping at the quality on display. A high-water mark for North American (not just Canadian) music."
The Sadies have consistently pushed themselves forward into new areas while refining their approach to what they do – creating a constantly evolving catalogue of work and picking up legions of new converts with each successive tour. Their concerts, legendary since their earliest days have only gotten better over the years. Though the three-hour marathons of yore may happen less frequently, The Sadies have always prided themselves on a well-paced live show, starting off strong and gradually building things up to fever pitch then bringing it back home (often with a nice surprise or two along the way), before sending everyone home with a smile on their face. The live experience has it all, blistering instrumentals, country rave-ups, super-human guitar interplay and mind blowing psychedelic expeditions that can end up anywhere. There are not many bands that have been together nearly two decades that are truly making the best music of their careers, but The Sadies have definitely established themselves as one of the leaders in that very uncrowded field.
These fellows thrive by a simple rule, if you make a mistake in the studio, you do it over – but you don't make mistakes onstage. The live show has to do everything the records do (just a little faster and a little drunker). They're ready to hit your town in support of the release of the remarkable new album "Internal Sounds" this fall. If you've never seen them live, the time to change that is now – if you've seen them before, it's time to take another look. And buy yourself a copy of "Internal Sounds" it might end up being the best record you'll hear this year!