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Singer-songwriter Kurt Vile talks Vegas comeback, The Sadies and Barack Obama

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Kurt Vile plays House of Blues on March 3.
Photo: Jo McCaughey / Courtesy

You’ve had a pretty interesting Las Vegas performance history. You played Matador fest. That was amazing. Were you there? I was there for the whole thing. Did you see Come? I did. That was the first and only time I saw Come, and it was beautiful. I was hungover and depleted, and I kind of remember that I cried, but I think really someone else I knew cried (laughs). Then you played the Cosmo pool, opening for Warpaint and Bright Eyes. That was also very fun. And then you played your own show at Brooklyn Bowl a couple years ago. And there was nobody there. I was just gonna say. I’m guessing you don’t have many crowds like that anymore. Was that weird for you? I mean, I think it was the last tour of [2015 album] B’lieve I’m Goin Down, and it was a weird night [Monday]. Some towns, people don’t come out, you know? Hopefully that was an extreme case; we’ll see (laughs).

I’ve read several articles in which you’ve called last year’s Bottle It In your best album. Is that the case with any new project, or is there something special about this one? Unless I fall off my game, I’m gonna say that every new, full-length record I put out will be my best. Whatever my up-to-date record is, I strive to make it my best. And I feel that so far I’ve done that. But then I go back to the [older] records, and I enjoy them all a different way. They kind of all live in different dimensions, really.

What would you say it is about this one you’re digging at the moment? It’s got the psychedelic elements from my earlier, homespun days combined with the higher-fidelity of three different engineers and producers that I worked with. There are numbers that are pretty sprawled out, and there are tight songs as well, so a little something for everybody. I also think it’s a weird record, but these are weird times.

Obviously you saw that Barack Obama picked “One Trick Ponies” as one of his favorite songs of 2018. Was it trippy finding out that he was not only listening to your music but clearly loving it? That was a huge honor, for sure. Me and my wife both worship him. He and Michelle are both such good people. When times get really scary often think, how can we get a hold of Barack Obama so he can tell us things will be all right? He’s just such a positive force.

A funny story: While I was touring with The Sea Lice—Courtney [Barnett] and me—Janet Weiss was playing drums, and she tried to get Eddie Vedder to come out [to the show] in Seattle. And he was like, “Sorry, I’m having a wholesome, cleansing time with some friends.” And it was him and his wife hanging out with Barack and Michelle Obama. And I wondered, how the hell does that happen? But hey, he likes “One Trick Ponies,” so maybe that’s the first step.

I saw that you released a new song (“Timing Is Everything (And I’m Falling Behind)”) today on Amazon, and the press release hinted that there might be more from the Bottle It In sessions coming soon. Yeah, there’s definitely more, various EPs I’m gonna start releasing, and not only from this album. I’ve got all kinds of stuff in the vault from various times, various projects. I don’t know exactly when, but we’re definitely working toward that.

How do you choose a setlist, given how much material you’ve released at this point? Do you mostly just focus on what you and the guys enjoy playing? By the end of [last] tour we had a whole arc, this dynamic, peaks and valleys, to this set, so we were playing it every night, and it does jump around through my career. But we’ve had a sizable break, so we definitely have plans to put some other songs in there.

On Twitter, you’ve called The Sadies your favorite live band. Explain why people here should get to the show in time to see them. It’s two brothers, Dallas and Travis Good, and they have country music—music in general, really—in their blood. They have punk and psychedelic roots, they’re the most incredible guitar players and they harmonize great. They’re like a band’s band. You’d think they’d be bigger than they are. It’s a lot of people’s mission to get them heard even more. I’ve toured with them before, and we became friends over the years. I did a song with them on their newest album, Northern Passages, called “It’s Easy (Like Walking).” I did the lyrics; they did the music. I can’t wait to work with them more. I love having everyone on tour with us, but The Sadies inspire us. They blow your minds every night.

What have you been listening to lately that you’d like to recommend? I love the new Neil Young, Songs for Judy archive release, [especially] the song “Campaigner,” with the line, “Even Richard Nixon’s got soul.” I’ve been deep into Sahel Sounds, an African music label. I’ve been getting back into Lou Reed’s solo career, records like Street Hassle and The Bells, his weird Arista era. I finished the Patti Smith book [Just Kids], so I’ve been really into her. And Lenny Kaye, who curated the Nuggets box set, the American one. There are certain things I always go back to, like the Nuggets box set and Lou Reed’s Street Hassle and Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia.

KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS with The Sadies. March 3, 7:30 p.m., $25. House of Blues, 702-632-7600.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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