An Interview With Kurt Vile on Kurt Vile Day in Philadelphia

The local guitar hero talks Northern Liberties, the Philly music scene and parenthood.

The city has declared August 28th to be Kurt Vile Day in Philadelphia, and the Northern Liberties–based musician, husband and father is playing a free concert in the City Call Courtyard at 5:30 p.m. to mark the occasion. (Note: You should RSVP if you plan on going.) I got him on the phone on Tuesday to talk about life in this modern music age.

You finished a tour just a few days ago, right?
Yeah, I’ve been on tour for close to a month, but we’ve been kind of touring more or less nonstop since April. Things are kind of mellowing out now, though.

How do you balance being a touring musician with being a dad and a husband?
You kind of work it out. I’ve been doing music for so long, and it’s paying off, and I’m supporting my family doing it. Sometimes it is really hard out there. But then sometimes you’re real zen about it and accept it. I’m super lucky to be married and have two awesome kids, but music is what I do naturally. So I get the best of both worlds. Still, you’ve gotta take the struggle with that. It can’t always be sugary.

Not so long ago, the Atlantic declared that Philadelphia’s music scene was one of the worst in the country. They ranked us at 45. Below Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh? What?

Well, as someone who made his bones in the Philly music scene, how do you see it?
There’s always good stuff coming out of here. Amazing things. Tons of awesome. Real music, like not indie pop or whatever. Jack Rose, who unfortunately passed away. Meg Baird. The War on Drugs. Lantern. Pissed Jeans. All that stuff is raw and real. Even Clockcleaner was the best in all their realness, despite what some indie pop victims have to say. Birds of Maya. Purling Hiss. Watery Love. Spacin’. I like the real stuff. Raw stuff.

There was a time when the “Sound of Philadelphia” was defined by Gamble & Huff. Do you hear a consistent sound coming out of the city that identifies us?
No. The only consistency that I see in my bubble is my group of friends that come from different directions. But I wouldn’t say somebody like Amos Lee.

How the heck did a Kurt Vile Day in Philadelphia happen? Did you demand it in exchange for doing the free concert?
No, well, I didn’t demand that. I think whoever booked the concert — it was a package offer. I really didn’t pay much attention to the day itself, though that sounds funny coming out of my mouth. Guided by Voices had a day. So why not? It was a nice offer, so I’ll take it.

What can people expect of your performance tonight?
I’m going to play solo. You’ll hear the natural sound of the acoustic and also through the amp with some pedals. It’s going to be pretty laid back and impromptu. I’ve been on the road for a while, so the guitar playing will be good. I’m not so rusty. I plan on rising to the occasion.

And where can we find you when you’re not on stage?
I live in Northern Liberties. We bought a house here in 2009, and I’ve lived in Northern Liberties since 2003. If I’m not home, I’ll be at a good show at Union Transfer or Johnny Brenda’s. Or I’ll be at Milkcrate or AKA Music. Or the Philadelphia Record Exchange, which moved from South Street — since South Street, er, evolved — to Frankford Avenue. That’s a special place.

Here’s Kurt and the gang on Letterman: