Don't freak out, Philadelphia. Kurt Vile is not leaving town.
But on the day the singer-guitarist picks up the phone to talk in advance of his New Year's Eve gig at the Fillmore with the Violators, he's packing up his family's belongings in their former Northern Liberties home.
"We moved to Mount Airy," says the 36-year-old family man, speaking of himself, wife Suzanne, and daughters Awilda and Delphine. The former starred in a TV commercial for her father's 2013 album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, when she was 2. "We just need more room. I love it here," he said of NoLibs. "But I need a driveway."
The singer with the flowing locks and cherubic mug, the subject of a Steve Powers mural in Fishtown, is as strongly identified with the thriving Philadelphia music scene as anyone. He grew up the oldest boy among nine siblings in Lansdowne - yes, that's his little brother Paul "Jelloman" Vile starring alongside the singer and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Connor Barwin in the web ad for the Fillmore show. The need to pull back from the madness of life on the road and spend time with his family (and his own thoughts) is a recurrent theme in his music: "Wakin on a pretty day," he sang on Wakin's almost-title cut. "Don't know why I ever go away."
But go away he must.
Vile and the Violators have been on the road steadily since the release of his sixth studio album, b'lieve i'm goin down, in September 2015, playing theaters and festivals all over the world. Headed by the pretty-much-perfect, philosophizing lead single "Pretty Pimpin," about waking up and not recognizing your own reflection in the morning, b'lieve continued to grow Vile's global reputation as that Zen dude from Philly whose songs cast an effortless, trance-rock spell.
One random measure of Vile's rising profile: When Australian country star Keith Urban named "5 Songs I Wish I'd Written" for Rolling Stone, he cited "Pretty Pimpin" alongside tunes by Waylon Jennings, David Bowie, Lucinda Williams, and Ed Sheeran. (OK, nobody's perfect.) Urban pointed out the lack of self-consciousness that marks Vile's best work: "I don't know how he wrote it, but it sounds like pure stream of consciousness."
The heavy schedule of touring for b'lieve wound down before Thanksgiving. "We were in Japan and then ended the tour in Hawaii. My family met me out there, and then I went off to L.A. to record a little bit."
Vile's current Violators jaunt features openers Woods and Nathan Bowles. In late January, he'll avoid the cold with shows in Florida before heading to Australia for six dates Down Under.
He's always writing songs, but he's in no hurry to dive immediately into b'lieve's official successor. Don't expect a full-on follow-up until late next year at the earliest, though the singer has "a few things in the works" and will likely drop at least one EP in the coming months.
For now, he's on a country-music binge, listening to George Jones, Guy Clark, and Roger Miller. And he's been plowing through the bibliography of Nick Tosches ("my favorite author"), with his Dean Martin biography up next.
"I got lost in a recording vortex on the last two records, almost to an unhealthy extent," he says. "I like going in and out. The idea of building up a record and then promoting it and touring it nonstop makes me want to vomit. . . . I'm in a more natural rhythm now, where I'm playing shows and going into the studio and writing music and living my life with my family. It feels pretty well balanced."
That approach fits the modern music business economy, where careers are sustained by giving fans a steady stream of content. Vile has been generous with that, with a number of recent side projects and guest appearances.
One of the most intriguing is Parallelogram, a vinyl boxed set on the Three Lobed label in which he collaborated with guitarist Steve Gunn, a fellow Lansdowne native, with assistance from Philadelphia harp player Mary Lattimore. It includes Vile on piano covering songs by Randy Newman and John Prine ("two of my favorites") as a well as a Gunn-sung, intoxicating 10-minute opus called "Spring Garden." The five-LP box also features Hiss Golden Messenger, Yo La Tengo, and Philadelphia's Bardo Pond, among others, but the Vile-Gunn cuts will be issued as a stand-alone in 2017.
Vile's also made cool cameo appearances of late. He sings lead on "It's Easy (Like Walking)," the lead single from Canadian band the Sadies' forthcoming album Northern Passages. (Its title echoes a lyric on Vile's own "Was All Talk," in which he casually boasted: "Making music is easy: Watch me.") He also duetted with former Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval on the gauzy "Let Me Get There" from her new album Until the Hunter. "She has this incredibly beautiful voice, and then I'm almost talking," he says, snickering.
He also plays guitar on a track on Elwan, the due-in-February album from Tinariwen, the Tuareg desert blues band from Mali who preceded Vile into the studio in Joshua Tree, in the Mojave Desert, where he recorded b'lieve. "That was a cool experience. They were teaching me styles that were right in my wheelhouse. These slow and melodic and trippy kind of songs." Look for a potential Vile guest spot when Tinariwen plays Union Transfer on April 18.
The Vile cameo that got the most attention this year, though, was on Animals, the Duplass brothers' animated HBO series featuring anthropomorphized critters. Vile played a guitar-strumming squirrel. "They were nice guys, and I had fun improvving with them," Vile says. "I was a little freaked out when it came back so intentionally cliché stoner. But it was still fun to do."
To promote the Fillmore show, which will be "the last time the Violators and I will play Philadelphia in the foreseeable future," Vile the video auteur recruited Barwin, for whom he played the first of the Eagle's Make the World Better Foundation benefit shows in 2014 at Union Transfer. At the end of the absurdist slapstick clip, the Eagle carries Vile off over his shoulder before two empty trash cans and three stuffed animals make their way into the frame. "That was the first script I wrote," Vile says with pride.
"We look extra crazy because we were reading those cue cards as stupidly and ridiculously as possible. That's what I was going for, because that's what I'm into. I think everybody did a great job. It's been a good year for me, for sure."
Kurt Vile and the Violators
8 p.m. Saturday at the Fillmore Philadelphia, 29 E. Allen St., with Woods and Nathan Bowles.
Information: 800-745-3000 or thefillmorephilly.com.EndText