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Kurt Vile, Indie Rock’s Charming Riddle

Category: Entertainment,Music

“I’m still a little nervous,” Mr. Vile murmured.

“Aren’t we all?” Ms. Lang said sympathetically.

WHEN MR. VILE and Ms. Lang married in June 2003, he gave guests a homemade CD-R of his music called “Ten Songs.” For years, he recorded his work on home audio equipment and tried to get anyone to notice. With his unkempt hair and plaid shirts, he looks like a grunge bassist, or a roadie, the role he played this year in a “Portlandia” cameo. (Mr. Vile’s best line, which he delivered expertly, described a pressing need to use the bathroom.) But he’s as determined as his manner is indolent.

Mr. Vile’s father, Charlie, drove trains for Philadelphia’s regional transit system and loved bluegrass, especially Doc Watson. When Kurt turned 14, his dad gave him a banjo, which replaced skateboarding as an obsession. Mr. Vile, the third of 10 kids, was a weirdo, he said, “but not too weird, only as weird as awkward teens growing up in the grunge era, trying things out.” He played trumpet in the school jazz band, switched from banjo to guitar, and began studying indie rockers, especially Pavement, Beck, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.

After high school and a period of uncertainty, Mr. Vile moved to Boston to join Ms. Lang, who had graduated from Dartmouth and enrolled at Emerson College, where she earned an M.F.A. in poetry.

In Boston, he drove a forklift and unloaded tractor-trailers. “I showed up, awkward, in my 20s,” he said, and didn’t blend in well with his co-workers. But Mr. Vile also met college students who educated him about artists he’d never heard, including Brian Eno and John Fahey, “so I got the college experience without going to college,” he said. “I smoked pot and listened to weirder music than I would have at home.”

When the couple moved back to Philly, Mr. Vile operated a forklift at a local brewery, and met the singer Adam Granduciel, who had recently moved from Oakland. The pair bonded over their love of Bob Dylan and Mr. Young. For a while, Mr. Granduciel played in Mr. Vile’s band, the Violators, and Mr. Vile played in Mr. Granduciel’s band, the War on Drugs.

In 2008, already in his late 20s and still working at a brewery, Mr. Vile signed to a small label and released his first official album, which he cheekily called “Constant Hitmaker,” a nod to the subtitle of the Rolling Stones’ American debut LP, “England’s Newest Hit Makers.”


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