For his stage acoustic, Vile favors a Martin DC-16RGTE. Photo by Lindsey Best
With all the different studios you record in, does a sense of place ever find its way into a song for you?
Yeah totally, it does, but you couldn’t put it in words. A song like “Wheelhouse” is sprawling and wide open, and it’s not far-fetched to say that it sounds like the California desert. Your surroundings influence you in mystical ways that if you thought too hard or tried too hard to explain or put into lyrics, it’s like you’re asking too much, you know? Just let it happen, take the influence and don’t even ask about how it gets in there.
You’re pictured on the cover of b’lieve I’m goin down... with your Gold Tone resonator. How did you record that for “All in a Daze Work”?
Rob Laakso did an amazing job on that one. We recorded at Thump in Brooklyn. I remember coming from a lot of recording on the West Coast, and I had this one phobia where I couldn’t get my guitar in tune, and I think it was really just because I was cranking everything in headphones and it was all amplified. So on that song I basically said, “Screw this. I wrote this song on my couch, and it’s not like I had headphones and all this stuff hooked up.” So I just played it and sang it into the mic live. [See “Keeping It Honest” sidebar.] I did a bunch of takes, but I think we just went with the first or second. We also recorded this whole outro with drums and everything with a melody I added to it, but that didn’t make the official album. Instead that’s the title track on the triple LP edition.
How about “Pretty Pimpin,” recorded with Rob Schnapf—how did that come together in the studio?
I started that on the Dobro, and then I fell in love with an acoustic Rob had at his studio [Mant Sounds in Silver Lake, a neighborhood of Los Angeles]. It’s an old ’50s Gibson, like a ’57 J-45. All of the elements of the song—the bass, the drums, and my guitar and vocals—were sounding great, but once I picked up the J-45, I was just nailing it on the first take, you know? It was just right in the pocket, and Rob was like, “That sounded awesome. Now do it again.” So it’s just two J-45 parts. At one point it had electric guitars, too. Rob handed me this old Telecaster he had, and I don’t often play those. But the song got real definition with the acoustics, and that cool stereo spread. That’s all Rob Schnapf.
You’re also playing the banjo on “I’m an Outlaw.” That part does a lot to define the personality of the song.
Just this past year I got another one from a custom company called Buckeye Banjos. Greg Galbreath makes these amazing handmade banjos, and my friend Nathan Bowles—he plays banjo, but he also plays drums in Steve Gunn’s band [and formerly in the Violators]—has one. There’s like a five-year waiting list to get one of these. Greg makes them for the Avett Brothers and a lot of other people. He basically sold me his personal banjo, I guess because he believed in what I was doing. He’s just such a cool guy, and I believe in him and his banjos, that’s for sure.
Hear a track from Vile’s new album and catch some evocative Los Angeles street scenery. Oh yeah: One of his two ’64 Jaguars gets lots of screen time, too.
“Dust Bunnies” has a great sound to it—almost like it came out of John Lennon’s Imagine era with Phil Spector.
Kyle Spence would appreciate that. That song came out of a slow demo—the first experiment I ever did on Pro Tools, right around the time I’d recorded “I’m an Outlaw” in my space in Philly. And then we tried to do it without any direction whatsoever as a full band version—just blown-out guitars and a drum machine. We realized if we just slowed it down and made it more sloppy, it could work. And conveniently by that point, it was like 5:30 in the morning [laughs], so I just sang and played live again.
Everything about that song is pretty lazy and sleepy, but then the very last thing I did was play those Wurlitzer parts really fast. The idea was just to move really fast, but the feel is about capturing the soulfulness. Often when you do it, you feel like you’re just having fun, and the song is cool, but it’ll take a lot of work when you realize that the looseness—and the words, when they come—gives these tracks real character.That’s another one of the things I discovered in making this album. Years ago, I’d write a guitar riff, and then write the lyrics, and I’ve got this song. But now, I’ll play one note on a guitar or a piano, and it turns into this melody in my head, and I can hear a million things going on, whereas before it was more one-dimensional. I feel like I can even hear the song before it’s done, with all the chord changes. Part of it’s inspiration and part of it’s memory. If you think too hard, it’ll get cluttered. If you don’t, you can write 10 songs at once at your leisure.