Originally published in Hot Press, July 2008
IT’S LATE afternoon, and Vampire Weekend have just finished soundchecking for their highly-anticipated set at Brighton’s Great Escape festival. Subsequently drained by the stifling venue’s under-active air conditioning system, the band wearily recline on the battered sofas of their dressing room – the idea of yet another enthusiastic journalist demanding yet another interview evidently unappealing.
Yet by the time I coax frontman Ezra Koenig out to the only available quiet space – sandwiched between the blustery seafront and a myriad of whiffy rubbish bins at the venue’s rear – the singer proves a gratifying, if somewhat impassive conversationalist.
“This time last year I was still working as a teacher in Brooklyn, teaching English and History to eighth-graders,” he says, reflecting on his band’s new-found prosperity. “We were having some very minor success, but the idea that we’d be touring the world – I mean, I think there are very few people who imagine that that’s gonna happen.”
With many of their superbly-accomplished album’s tracks referencing New York and its environs, I wager that The Big Apple plays a big role in the band’s life.
“One of the interesting things is that out of all of the bands that people are calling ‘The New York bands’ now – us, and Dirty Projectors and Yeasayer – I don’t think any of them are actually from New York. Me and our bassist Chris were both born in New York City, but we all grew up in the suburbs.”
But what of the preppy, bookish reputation that they’ve been saddled with?
“Y’know, I guess for a lot of people, there’s kind of a dichotomy in being interested and learning about things, and being a ‘normal’ person – as if it’s some choice you make,” he says, frowning. “It’s kind of a bad sign in a culture when being smart, or being knowledgeable about something somehow makes you a different type of person. Ultimately, all the people that I like, from Jay-Z to The Kinks, are all smart in their own way. To make good music, you have to be.”
On a similar note, I wager that the constant comparisons between ‘Vampire Weekend’ and Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ must become tiring.
“I like Paul Simon,” he shrugs, “and I guess we felt that it was a valid comparison for some of the songs on our album, but that a lot of people were over-stating the case for it as an influence. Ultimately, I think we’re drawing from a lot of different types of music. When people use it as shorthand for anything that sounds African, it’s kind of a disservice to everybody involved.”
If Koenig’s previously-documented interest in our own fair isle is anything to go by (he once blogged about how fascinated he was by Ireland’s proportionately miniscule population), we may even witness a whole new direction for the next Vampire Weekend album.
“I’ve never been to Ireland, but I’ve always been kind of fascinated by it,” he smiles, shuffling his tassled leather loafers. The feeling, one might say, is unquestionably mutual.