Kurt Vile's "Wakin on a Pretty Day" could be the soundtrack for a mellow morning drive to Folly Beach as the sun rises over the marsh. While Vile delivers his best Lou Reed imitation, a strummy acoustic jangles in the background like a procession of breaking waves while rays of spacey reverb ricochet over an endless groove. The dreamy nine-and-a-half minute opening track is the table-setter for Vile's fifth album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, and it marks a new era in the Philadephia-based artist's career.
With Pretty Daze, the raw lo-fi primitivism of Vile's early releases has given way to mesmerizing, keenly crafted folk-psych. All in all, his latest disc is a luxurious trip of swirling tangles and expansive soundscapes.
"There is so much influence in there, but I've just got my style," the 33-year-old guitarist says. "It's a constant continuation, a continuously evolving riff. Every time I pick up the guitar. I pick up where I leave off."
Not only did Wakin on a Pretty Daze crack the Billboard Album Chart's Top 50, but it charted in Europe — Vile's first. It's an interesting album in that six of the 11 tracks exceed six minutes."Parts of it at the end where I'm kind of playing chord structures over and over again, basically what felt good to sing in the moment in a Neil Young sort of way," Vile says. "I guess I was just in the right zone where I would listen back, and I didn't want to cut anything out. But some of it was written long to begin with, in general."
Growing up in Philadelphia, Vile started off as a trumpet player. He was a natural. At 14 he received a banjo and immediately began writing songs. His first inspirations were Smog, Silver Jews, and Palace Brothers. He was attracted to the aesthetic. "Real raw but poetic and very unique personality," says Vile. "It could be out-of-tune in a punk way."
That style informed his first cassette self-releases which he began releasing when he was 17. In 2003, he started collaborating with guitarist Adam Granduciel (The War on Drugs). They played on each other's recordings, and both made their official full-length debuts in 2008 with the War on Drugs' Wagonwheel Blues and Vile's Constant Hitmaker.
"Me and Adam in general, behind closed doors at his place, whether it was his music or my music, it blended together," Vile says. "We were ahead of everybody at least in our minds, but definitely just in general. We had this kind of vision of the way things should be — that nobody was really thinking about then. So we just had fun developing until the wee hours of the morning while other people were stuck in the indie rock zone."
After touring Europe with the War on Drugs, and supporting the band with his own, Vile decided to concentrate on his solo career. The two remain good friends.
By 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo, Vile had dialed back the grimy rumble, sharpened the production (without coming anywhere close to "polished"), and expanded his repertoire on his way to the loose sunny psych of Pretty Daze.
"They're definitely a little more crude, a little more primitive at times, the older stuff," he says. "Looking back it just has that magic in that sort of punk rock way."
He adds, "I sort of started to write in a more laid-back, less urgent way with the new stuff. Maybe I'll be writing something and then I'll sort of drift off. I'll be writing a few things at once, and then all of a sudden, I'll put all my energy into one."
Vile's a prodigious writer so there always seems to be plenty of leftovers, which is why he just released a deluxe version of Pretty Daze with a bonus EP of extra tracks and outtakes, such as a longer version of "Snowflakes Are Dancing."
"It's kind of like painting in its own right," he says. "I'll put my favorite songs that didn't make it and make some refrains and some reprises. But the 'Snowflakes' extended version — it's really the version on the record, but there are four more verses. I just had too many long songs, but it's really good in its own right."
It's been a great year for Vile, but this blue-collar boy won't be resting anytime soon. He's already planning the follow-up to his breakthrough release.
"I'm writing a lot and woodshedding and thinking about ways to do it," he says. "We're going to start soon. I have concepts and everything."