Interview with the vampires: Ezra Koenig and Chris Tomson of Vampire Weekend
From graduating with Ivy League educations to singing ‘Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?’, irony appears quite high on the Vampire Weekend agenda.
The indie rock outfit, who hail from New York, signed their first contract with XL Recordings in 2006 and have stayed on the indie bandwagon since. If you check any credible music lover’s iPhone right now, you’re bound to find a Vampire Weekend song on there. Simply because, well, these guys are uber-hip.
This week, the band release a new single called Sunflower, lifted from their forthcoming new LP Father Of The Bride, which will be available May 3rd.
Lead singer Ezra Koenig and percussionist Chris Tomson chatted with Cream backstage at an outdoor music festival, utterly sober while most of the punters front of house were clearly off-chops.
Interview by Antonino Tati
Do you guys do any recording at home, or always in official studios?
Ezra: We’re still very much DIY, bedroom-boffin-type music makers. The drums on Oxford Comma were recorded literally in a spare room in the Student Centre at college. We didn’t know it would be the finished version but it ended up being what we used in the finished song. That’s kind of always the way we’ve made stuff. We tend not to think of the demo and the finished version as different things. You make the demo, and over time the demo morphs into the finished version. We’ll also spend four or five days in a professional studio to lay stuff down, but spending time in some weird, soulless, fancy space really isn’t our style.
Ezra: Well, the majority of the creative work is going on in people’s apartments and odd places. There are vocals on some of our albums that were recorded using the most expensive mics you could find, but there are also vocals recorded into a pin-mic on a laptop. It’s about what’s the best performance and what’s the best sound in the end.
What do you find different about the festival buzz compared to performing in intimate venues?
Chris: I think the biggest difference is when you’re playing festivals during the daytime. I think our music lends itself well to both situations but perhaps a little more to night-time, and therefore to intimate venues, where there are lots of lights flashing instead of sunshine. And at festivals, there’s going to be some people that love you, some people that don’t like you, and some people that don’t even know you.
When you’re playing festivals, does the sunshine hit you harder if you’ve had a bit too much to drink?
Chris: We don’t really drink when we go on stage. We’re professionals. Actually, we don’t often drink when we come off stage either.
For a band with a name like Vampire Weekend, you’d think you guys were party-goers and that night-time is where it’s at. During the brightness of day, do you get shyer on stage?
Chris: Not really. The only thing that would make you shyer would be to consider the ridiculous amount of people that are out there. Festivals are always going to have a lot more people compared to your own headline shows. But eventually you learn that it’s the same songs and the same ideas that you want to communicate, no matter where the audience might be, and at some point you learn to block out the situation and just give what you’re gonna give.
“I realised that there are too many crazy opinions online and it would make anybody schizophrenic to try to consider all of them and to listen to people saying ‘You’re the best thing in the world’ and then some saying ‘You’re the worst thing’.” Ezra Koenig, Vampire Weekend
Do you guys feel a song needs to stick to one genre or can it chop and change, such as you’d hear on something like Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?
Ezra: I like changes in tempo. I think there are moments on our first album where genres bleed and tempos shift. That said, some of the best songs are ones where we’ve tried to write with a classic pop structure.
Do you like the instant feedback you get from fans in the digital age – comments on YouTube, Twitter, etcetera?
Ezra: I think it bears some resemblance to the older methods of communication. To me, Twitter is like fan mail because the people who Tweet us tend to be full-on fanatics and tend to be positive for the most part. Twitter to me seems like a forum to communicate with people who really like your band.
Ezra: YouTube comments remind me of back in the day when management used to bring a stack of press clippings in to the band to see what the ‘greater world’ had to say. I haven’t really read our press in-depth since the first album. I realised then that there are too many crazy opinions online and it would make anybody schizophrenic to try to consider all of them and to listen to people saying ‘You’re the best thing in the world’ and then some saying ‘You’re the worst thing’. Ultimately, you’ve got to strike the right balance of viewing your feedback, and I think every band or artist finds that out very quickly.
‘Sunflower’ is out now through Sony Music. ‘Father Of The Bride’ is out May 3, 2019.
This interview is lifted from the music interview anthology ‘There’s Your Quote, Mate’ (New Holland Publishers) by Cream founding editor Antonino Tati.
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