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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Kurt Vile’s favourite John Prine songs

Forging warm, folk-infused soundscapes infused with psychedelic influences, Kurt Vile has carved out a niche for himself in the indie sphere. Staking his claim early as the co-founder of The War on Drugs, Vile has since collaborated with huge indie staples like Courtney Barnett and Hope Sandoval alongside honing a solo sound permeated by distinctive drawls and easy-going instrumentals.

Vile’s unique sound channels the influences of many of his indie and folk predecessors, from Neil Young to John Prine, the latter of whom he honoured on a 2021 EP titled Speed, Sound, Lonely KV. While speaking about the release, Vile once divulged his favourite songs by the country folk musician in a conversation with The Line of Best Fit.

In between an “extra special” Johnny Cash song and a nod to Kris Kristofferson, Vile allocated two of his nine picks to Prine tracks, ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’ and ‘How Lucky’, both of which he covered on Speed, Sound, Lonely KV. The former inspired the release’s title.

‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’ featured on Prine’s 1986 record, German Afternoons. With soft but purposeful vocals, Prine sings, “How can a love that’ll last forever get left so far behind?” The twangy and dreamy guitars seem to contrast with Prine’s words. “It’s a sad song in a way,” Vile summarised, “as his relationship is ending. I think it’s literally straight up about his wife at the time, but it doesn’t have to be just about that.”

Vile marvelled at the genius of the central metaphor, commenting, “Who else would’ve come up with something like ‘you’ve broken the sound of the speed of loneliness’?” He also noted Prine’s impressive finger-picking and his even more impressive ability to pull off a moustache.

Vile’s second Prine pick came from his 1979 record Pink Cadillac with ‘How Lucky’, a song with lyrics that seem like they could’ve been pulled from his own discography. A late addition to the EP, Vile hoped to secure Prine’s help in the process of learning the song but ended up getting far more than he bargained for.

“Ferg gave John a call and he just showed up like it was nothing. He said to me ‘You know I love to sing with you Kurt’, as if it happens all the time,” he recalled. Prine passed away the year before Vile released the EP, but did get to hear the covers while they were recording together. “He was the man, and he still is the man, up there, wherever he is,” Vile concluded.

Between the twangy finger-picking and lyrical strolls in the two songs, it’s easy to find Prine’s influence on Vile’s own catalogue, even outside of his covers. Their collaboration is just as beautiful as you might expect.

Listen to ‘How Lucky’ by Kurt Vile with John Prine below.

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