Taking notes from masters of Americana John Prine, Neil Young, and Tom Petty over a prolific career arc, singer-songwriter Kurt Vile has gone from lo-fi cult legend to one of indie music’s most in-demand artists.

Vile kicked off his career self-releasing home recordings in Philadelphia before forming indie rock band The War on Drugs alongside frequent collaborator Adam Granduciel in 2005. Leaving the band a few years later to focus on solo projects, Vile’s evolving psychedelic sound over an 8-album discography has cemented his status as one of the country’s most consistent songwriters.

Asked to name his all-time favorite music bios for Another Man, Vile’s picks span the gamut of American rock music: from its country roots in the ’30s, through decades of Dylan interviews, and up to Carrie Brownstein’s reflections on the ’90s riot grrrl movement. On the depth a good biography can give a listener’s experience of classic music, he notes:

“Some unique soul, anybody from Neil Young to Bob Dylan to Waylon Jennings, George Jones, all these people fly so close to the sun…Back then the people you’re reading about just lived it and lived it hard, you can tell in their playing. You can’t even fathom their lives. The peaks and valleys are really a big part of it and the way you read about their discography is like a virtual reality experience – you know all these things that were going on in their lives while listening to the music.”

Find Kurt Vile’s reading list below, and complement with the sonic-inspired bookshelves of Santigold and Jarvis Cocker.


Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ’n’ Roll by Nick Tosches

“Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ’n’ Roll goes so deep, a list of obscure country people mixed with the greats. It starts in the 30s, 40s, 50s and goes up to, I don’t know, the 70s. It’s about how rock and roll really came out of country music.” -KV

Unsung Heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll by Nick Tosches

“Unsung Heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll came out later and features people like Big Joe Turner and Amos Milburn, who wrote Down The Road A Piece which The Stones covered. Cecil Gant is a special favourite, he’s got a really crooner voice. Even people you’d never expect like Nat King Cole, you’d associate him with smooth music. This Nick Tosches, he’s smart and pretty crass at times – I can’t say enough how he’s such a great writer. I’ve read so many of his books from Dino about Dean Martin to The Nick Tosches Reader.” -KV

Waylon: An Autobiography by Waylon Jennings and Lenny Kaye

“Waylon Jennings’s autobiography was written with Lenny Kaye, who’s obviously a legendary musician with Patti Smith but he’s a writer as well and I didn’t know that until recently, because I live under a rock sometimes – even though I own the Nuggets compilation (Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968). Lenny Kaye curated that, so that’s pretty amazing. This is Waylon’s story in his own words through the filter of Lenny Kaye. What an amazing dude. He’s one of my favourite musicians right now. I wish I could have seen him while he was alive. Incredible guitar player and singer; badass; maniac.” -KV

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (also rec’d by Emma Watson)

“Man, I love her as a person and as a badass musician and I really love her in Portlandia on the TV. She’s a totally great actress but I lovingly call her a non-actress, you know, because she acts like herself, she’s very laid back. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl shows how great of a writer she is. So direct and smartly done, in the very beginning she talks about nostalgia, like listening to a nostalgic song and how it makes your insides tingle, then you show it to your friends and expect them to have the same reaction but they very rarely do. The way she broke up with the band [Sleater-Kinney] is unbelievable. Not to give away the whole book, but how she repeatedly punches herself in face, that’s basically the end of the band. [Laughs] While she had shingles nonetheless.” -KV

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon (also rec’d by Carrie Brownstein)

“I’m going for the godmother, Kim Gordon’s book, Girl in a Band. I think that’s a very cool and unique book for Kim to write about her life. Her growing up in the 50s and in the art world, that’s my favourite part. I know Kim and it’s interesting to get a deep insight of when I didn’t know her.” -KV

Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews edited by Jonathan Cott

“My wife got it for me for Christmas. It goes from the beginning until the 2000s, and it’s inspiring to read the many faces and voices of Bob Dylan trying to bedazzle and confuse or sometimes be completely revealing, even if he’s going to pretend he wasn’t, you know? All those kind of things.” -KV

(via Another Man)

Categories: Musicians