Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Psychedelic Meditation: Kurt Vile’s Favourite Albums

As he starts the UK leg of touring b'lieve i'm goin down…, the Philadelphian singer-songwriter goes from live free jazz to dry-humoured piano sketches in picking 13 albums that steered the sound of his sixth album

Photograph courtesy of Marina Chavez

"But it’s also like, how many times do I have to say ‘Neil Young’ in an interview?" says Kurt Vile, laughingly acknowledging that his choice of records for his Baker’s Dozen may run counter to expectations. "Which is true, but it’s almost like, the more you talk about it, after a while, you just have to switch it up. But these are definitely direct influences."

What these records – multiple instalments from some of the jazz cosmos’ finest, John and Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and a trio from Randy Newman among them – are directly influencing is Vile’s sixth album, b’lieve i’m goin down…. Sure, instrumentally and vocally, the album may tip its hat more to the Canadian singer-songwriter vet, but the imprint of the selected records is firmly felt. Taking the glutinous, perfectly-formed songcraft of 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, woven with analogue warmth and open-tuned fingerpicking, Vile spins the tracks out, letting ‘All In A Daze Work’ and ‘Lost My Head There’s instrumental outros run through their minimal chord transitions over and again, cycling within their own firmament. These are wed to Vile’s concise, playful way with lyrics, sketching out a cast of characters on ‘…Daze Work’, emotional plain-speaking on ‘Wild Imagination’ or being dryly hysterical on ‘That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate To Say)’ – try unhearing Vile’s Philadelphia drawl intoning a scene of being "just a certified badass out for a night on the town" after one play.

Vile got himself acquainted with almost all of the albums by burning them onto CD from the original vinyl and listening through headphones on his way to Rancho De La Luna, the studio in Joshua Tree in California’s High Desert used for some of b’lieve…‘s recording. That kind of intensive listening comes through in Vile’s descriptions of the albums: he speaks quickly about them, weaving mimics of particular parts or snatches of words alongside what he’s gleaned from external research – an early love for Jerry Lee Lewis inherited from his dad got furthered by reading an article by Nick Kent in a book sent to him by Adam Granduciel, his long-term friend and one-time bandmate in The War On Drugs.

The love for the 13 records is self-evident, and Vile talking through them feels like a reflection of his own music, matching the same open-hearted, deeply felt conviction in admiring the "sweetness" of Sanders’ saxophone playing to putting a high price on humour, laughing uproariously at a Newman punchline or assessing the colourful life of "bad motherhumper" Jerry Lee Lewis. Looking back over his list at the end, he notes that all his choices, bar The Dead C, are from the States. "Yeah, it’s sort of American fucking demented shit. Ah, I’m sure Randy Newman had his demons… I guess all these people are just American characters." And so, on with the introductions.

b’lieve i’m goin down… is out now on Matador. Kurt Vile plays Concorde 2 in Brighton tonight before touring; for full details and tickets, head here. Click on the image below to begin scrolling through Kurt’s choices, which run in no particular order

First Record

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today