Only the hits

Underground sensation Kurt Vile makes classic rock, his way

Philly's Kurt Vile, a self-described homebody and "total record head," has been bashing out one jam after the other ever since his bluegrass-crazed father bought him a banjo for his 14th birthday. Born and raised just outside city limits in a town called Lansdowne, Vile got bitten by the music bug early on, listening to "bluegrass shit like Doc Watson" in his dad's car while also being "way into acoustic, weird Beck, Pavement, and Sonic Youth and all that" before schooling himself on the likes of Brian Eno, John Fahey, and Neil Young.

"I've always been obsessed with a ton of bands — just buying lots of music — and always wanted to play guitar," he explained by phone from the brewery he works at in Fishtown, a section of Philadelphia he characterizes as the "Williamsburg of Philly." "I'm kind of like a sponge and read a lot of rock bios too, so once I get obsessed, I just buy everything by whoever I'm really obsessed with, and it just turns into an influence."

Already seven self-issued CD-Rs deep, Vile's official debut, Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher), finally came last February, and spent much of the year as a buzz album. A compilation of Vile's faves among his batch of CD-Rs, the album opens with "Freeway" — a true rock anthem that's got all of the psych-pop and classic-rock fixings in all the right places. Constant Hitmaker also has neat little rustic-sounding fingerpickers like "Classic Rock in Spring" and "Slower Talkers" and includes plenty of tripped-out fuzz rockers for those who hail Spacemen 3 as godhead.

"There's definitely a classic rock influence there," Vile said of Hitmaker. "I'm a fan of the song, and certain artists on classic rock radio have that thing where everything they do is great. 'Freeway,' for instance, sounds like Tom Petty and has that American pop feeling, but I also like to think that I make it my own, too."

Heading down the coast this week for his first West Coast tour, Vile is looking to having a prolific 2009: he plans to release both solo material and music from his band Kurt Vile and the Violators and unleash a whole stack of wax on banners like Mexican Summer, Skulltones, TestosterTunes, Woodsist, as well as a new full-length he's currently shopping around to majors.


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