Above: Corduroy tuxedo, $1,750, by Paul Smith; Solid Pistols T-shirt, $49, by Barking Irons; silver wingtip shoes, $598, by John Varvatos; sterling-silver link bracelet, $525, by Helen Ficalora.
Rock and roll as a style statement is ever evolving (witness pompadours, flannels, skinny suits), but one iconic formula endures as the ultimate definition. Think long hair, denim, leather. Kurt Vile, co-founder of the seminal band the War on Drugs and the fierce solo talent behind the recent album Wakin on a Pretty Daze, looks as though he could be in MC5, Zeppelin or any other band that transcends trends musically and sartorially. We kitted Vile out in rock-ready spring fashions and talked to the Philadelphia-born performer about how music and style can go effortlessly hand in hand. Q&A
Q: Who are your musical influences?
A: I go through one obsession at a time. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Neil Young—the greats. Today it’s early-1970s Randy Newman, John Prine and some Steely Dan. Those guys are perfect songwriters with nuances nobody else has. Steely Dan will divide a room. Some people say it’s too smooth for them, and I say, “Well, you’re too smooth for me.”
Q: Do your musical obsessions influence your style?
A: Neil Young may come through in the hair, but it’s not conscious. My style and clothes have a way of finding me. For our current tour, I was shooting for Bob Dylan’s look circa 1966, when he was at his career peak—no pressure!—and I found sunglasses on a freebie table. My friend Emily Kokal from the band Warpaint has an army jacket I borrowed in London because it fit so well, and I still haven’t given it back. It’s a big-family thing. I grew up with nine siblings and was used to hand-me-downs and borrowing, so my style is an accumulation. I’m always thinking about it because you want to be cool on stage, but I also want everything to be as real as possible.
Q: You have an ability to make a jean jacket look like badass leather. Are you moving away from that now?
A: No way. I love the jean jacket; it’s classic. I’ll try it again after a while and it’s like, Oh yeah. But after being into blue everything for a while, now I’m into bright colors, just for good vibes. It’s like how J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. loves purple; he discovered it and decided he wanted to be surrounded by it all the time. Same thing. I want bright colors as something I can control. It’s a way of controlling your mood and surroundings, just from your periphery, everything you see.
Left: Denim Sherpa jacket, $278, by True Religion; plaid-and-floral Western shirt, $96, by Rockmount. Right: Cotton tuxedo jacket with distressed metallic lapel, $595, by BOSS Orange; striped denim shirt, $158, by True Religion; short-sleeve henley, $168, by John Varvatos; rigid denim jeans, $225, by Rogue; paisley scarf, $228, by John Varvatos; dark brown alligator belt, $450, with sterling-silver oval cowgirl buckle, $895, both by Space Cowboy.
Q: Musicians are notorious fashion peacocks. Who has the best style in music today?
A: Nick Cave, no question. I saw these photos of him from the 1990s in São Paulo, wearing a yellow satin shirt open in the front, pink pants, awesome sunglasses. He’s a different kind of badass. He can still put all of Coachella to shame, easily.
Q: Even by rock standards your hair is pretty impressive. Tell us about how it became part of your look.
A: In high school I would say, “I don’t wash it for a week, and that’s how I get my look.” It would get pretty bad. I had no idea about layers or the right product to use. Then in 2009 we were about to open for Dinosaur Jr. and a friend said, “Dude, your hair is too thick.” She cut it right there. That’s when it clicked. Maybe when I get older I’ll cut it again, but if I cut it now I might look like an everyday dork. It’s just kind of rock and roll.
Above: Striped pants, $498, and vest, $498, both by John Varvatos; skull-print scarf, $245, by Alexander McQueen, available at mrporter.com; custom full hand-tooled and hand-painted boots with gold eagles, $1,900, by Space Cowboy.
Below: Leather jacket, $695, henley, $42, and denim jeans, $225, all by Rogue; denim crosshatch shirt, $86, by Rockmount; scarf, $198, by John Varvatos; silver buffalo-coin medallion, $650, by Helen Ficalora.