Kurt Vile on Women in Indie Rock: "I Do See a Tide Changing"

Kurt Vile
Photo by Jo McCaughey
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It's easy to assume Kurt Vile is a remnant of a not-too-distant past. His album covers and style of dress evoke the psych-stoner ethos of mid-'70s rockers, and his sound has more in common with late 20th-century bands such as Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. than with his 2019 contemporaries. The last time Vile played South Florida — a little over two years ago at the North Beach Bandshell — New Times said his show revived rock 'n' roll in bpm-driven Miami for one short yet glorious hour.

Vile isn't a big talker onstage, and in conversation he takes his time to think through his comments, accelerating his speech as he becomes more invested in the discussion. Many of those moments come when he recalls experiences he's shared with artists he once called heroes and now calls friends. He also perks up when he speaks about his recent collaborators, such as Aussie alt-rocker Courtney Barnett.

That's one way listeners can separate Vile from guitarists and songwriters he's been compared to in the past — as his profile has grown in the decade since the release of his debut album, Constant Hitmaker, he's striven to make indie rock a more inclusive space through his work with artists such as Barnett, Jessica Pratt, Stella Mozgawa of the band Warpaint, and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney. "If it's all boys all the time, it's boring," Vile says. "It's like a sausage party, and girls have a different energy that's often more inventive." He laughs somewhat uncomfortably, as if realizing how ridiculous it is to have to assert women's talents in 2019.

The subject arose during a discussion about the lack of opportunities for women in indie rock, a long-overdue conversation that happened less than two weeks after troubling emotional abuse allegations emerged against singer-songwriter Ryan Adams. Though Vile has shared lineups with Adams, the two are not close. But Vile took the opportunity to discuss how indie-rock musicians are reckoning with the arrival of #MeToo on their doorstep. Though the movement has roiled the film and media industries for almost two years, its emergence in the music world has been latent.

As a married father of two daughters, Vile says he's long been removed from the excesses of touring life. He says he hasn't witnessed bad behavior firsthand, though he is, of course, aware of the sexism that permeates the music sphere. But Vile is hopeful that conditions are finally changing.

"In my world, I almost see that people are more excited about women in music these days... I think it's like tons of women that are doing the exciting stuff now," he says. "I do see a tide changing, but if you look at the actual numbers, it's probably still men getting more opportunities... There's always been amazing women in music, you know, but there's tons of people playing out there now that I see."

At home, Vile says his daughters' musical tastes might be influencing his own songs as of late. "Loading Zones," the first track on his newest album, is reminiscent of Tom Petty's classic sound. Vile says he went back to Petty's records after the songwriter's untimely death in October 2017. Vile's last album, Bottle It In, was released just days after the first anniversary of Petty's death.

"I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but he is on my mind," Vile says. He's been working on a film score on his tape machine, which he says contains a tribute to Petty. "I would say he's always been on my mind, but maybe since his death, [he's] subliminally creeping in a little more... and my youngest daughter, Delphine, really likes him."

Kurt Vile. With the Sadies. 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-449-1025; jointherevolution.net. Tickets cost $23 via ticketmaster.com.

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