The start of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 had a negative impact on much of society. However, forced isolation helped Kurt Vile focus on his latest album, “Watch My Moves.” Vile, 42, who will headline Thursday at Knitting Factory, discusses time home alone impacted by the pandemic, what it’s like to be tabbed as the producer of his guitar hero, J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame, and how indie tunes from the 1990s are his classic rock.
You wrote and recorded during the start of the pandemic. What kind of effect did the climate have on “Watch My Moves”?
I could definitely feel the insanity around us. But the lockdown was a positive thing since I had no distractions, which was great. I needed it. That’s the beauty of it. I was writing like I did at the start of my career when I wasn’t bouncing around the world. I would write every day. I was in a good space. I just wanted to make the most bangin’ record possible. There was a fine line between being close to my roots and making my version of a hit record. I worked on lo-fi and hi-fi equipment and made the album that I wanted to make.
Where did you shoot your videos for “Watch My Moves”?
At home in Philadelphia. Where I live, Mount Airy, which inspired the song “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone),” is a cool place with a lot of rocks and trees.
Are those your daughters on the album cover?
Yes, they’re 12 and 9 years old.
Does it trip them out being on the cover of your album?
The beauty of it all is that it doesn’t trip them out. They’re so into music. My older daughter turns down doing some things. My younger daughter is like me, and she wants to play music all of the time. But recently my older daughter was singing along with a Gillian Welch song, and she just killed it. I love that my daughters are into music. It would kind of be terrible if they weren’t since music is what I do. But getting back to the cover, I thought it would be fun to go into the woods with them and get dressed up, and that photo ended up being the album cover.
Just before I saw Dinosaur Jr. at the Knitting Factory in February, I asked J. Mascis why he selected you as producer for Dino’s latest album, “Sweep It Into Space,” and he said he was excited about you playing guitar on the album. How cool is it to have one of your heroes ask you to produce their album?
It was killer. Thanks for telling me how he felt since he never told me that, but you got to love J. and be intimidated by him at the same time.
I understand. Mascis doesn’t exactly emote when he speaks.
True. I was nervous initially. The impression I got from him was that he wanted me to produce since I’m not a real producer, and he felt that maybe I would be good at it. I didn’t exactly understand my role. I tried to keep the vibe light. I watched J. do some ripping solos. The experience was super inspiring. If there was one idol I’ve become friends with, it’s J. To get to know him, I guess you have to earn it (laughs hysterically).
J. is a complex, introspective dude. He was one of my most difficult interviews during the 1990s. I remember an interview with him when he said very little. Before the next interview with J., I spoke with Lou Barlow, who was fired by Mascis not long before the chat. I started the interview off with J. by telling him that I just spoke with Lou, who told me that he had recently had a dream that he was playing Mascis’s funeral. J. screamed “What?!” and was never so animated.
(Laughs hysterically) there’s nobody like J.
And now that he and Lou are together again in Dinosaur Jr., there’s balance since Lou is the opposite of J.
Lou is the polar opposite of J. Lou is super friendly. I’m not saying J.’s not friendly. But Lou is always extroverted and loud all of the time.
You were a prepubescent when Dinosaur Jr. was at its creative peak. Who inspired you when you were coming of age during the early 1990s, which was such a rich sonic period?
It was an amazing time. I remember when the alternative wave hit and, yes, Nirvana and Pearl Jam had a big impact on me. The same with Smashing Pumpkins. Pavement was my gateway drug. I discovered all of these cool artists on Drag City. Seven-inch vinyl was just $3 a piece. It was a great time for music.
Drag City had a number of consistently great recording artists, but the same can be said for Matador, which you’ve been part of for more than a decade.
Matador was my dream label for the reason you mentioned.
How much of an impact did Sonic Youth have on you and your music?
A huge impact. I made a playlist recently and was listening to their song “JC,” and that song just completely stands up. I found an old cassette of (Sonic Youth’s) “Daydream Nation,” and I was listening to it after I found some weed and I was stoned. It sounded great. It’s about nostalgia. I have to say that nostalgia is the ultimate drug. I go back to the ’90s indie rock as if it’s my classic rock, and I guess it is (laughs).
You’re so upbeat. Does anything get you down?
I wanted to see “Get Back” since the footage of the Beatles looks amazing. I bought Disney+ just to watch it, and it’s already gone. What a scam! I’m bummed about that, but everything else I’m fine with. I’m playing a lot of Washington state now, and I’ll be playing Spokane for the first time. There’s very little to be bummed about.