Interviews

Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig: “Damon Albarn has always struck me as a role model”

By Zaki JufriEvents - 25 January 2013 9:00 AM

Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig: “Damon Albarn has always struck me as a role model”

If all the speculation and rumours turn out right, Vampire Weekend has widened their sonic palette considerably with their third album.

Known until recently for a jangly Afro-centric style with strains of reggae, folk, calypso and synth thrown in for good measure, as well as a penchant for quirky and esoteric subjects in their lyrics, the Brooklyn’s quartet much-anticipated album is influenced by jazz, Bob Dylan and The Clash, according to the band’s producer and multi-intrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij in Uncut.co.uk

For frontman Ezra Koenig and bandmates Chris Tomson and Chris Baio, the new album, which is due for release early this year, will represent the artistic growth that came with playing hundreds of shows and a desire to break out of the breezy style they cooked up almost four years back when they recorded ‘Vampire Weekend’, their hugely popular self-titled debut that shaped them as indie darlings.

In an interview with Q, Koenig called their latest effort “dark”, “organic”, and that it “really does feel like the third chapter in a book.” He added: “We created some characters on the first record, some of which are real people, some of which are ourselves, so it’s not so hard to keep following them and see what their concerns are now and how their lives have changed.”

Koenig also pointed to the fast nature of the Internet as a reason for the three-year gap between the new effort and their last record, ‘Contra’. "Something new comes out and there's a frenzy and then you see how quickly it can all disappear," he said. "You can have a year or two based on being of-the-moment but beyond that, you're only as good as your songs."

We caught up with the 28-year-old Koenig ahead of their Big Night Out date on 29 January 2013 to get a better handle of their new directions.

Can you tell us more about your new album?

It's so close to being done -- we will be obsessed with it until the last minute. I think it may be our greatest album yet!

What are some of the lyrical themes you're going for?

 I don't want to give too much away before our fans get a chance to listen to it. Hearing fan interpretations of songs and seeing which lyrics they gravitate towards is one of my favourite parts of the band/fan relationship. I think this album is our most romantic (in all meanings of the word).

‘Unbelievers’ – Vampire Weekend

You mentioned in an interview that it’s going to be “darker”? But the song ‘Unbelievers’ seems pretty upbeat…

"Darker" is a tricky word. We always like things with multiple layers. It wouldn't be a Vampire Weekend album without moments of joy but this album is maybe just a little deeper.

‘Oxford Comma’ – Vampire Weekend

Was there much thought about how the third album would differ from ‘Contra’? What are the influences behind it?

Yes, we want every album to be a distinct world unto itself. We're not very good at repeating ourselves anyway. This album feels more American to me. Definitely not "Americana" but more American.

Can you think of a song that went into a direction that you wouldn't have anticipated?

There's a song called ‘Diane Young’ that went on a real journey. We always had the heart of the song but a few last-minute decisions made a big impact.    

Are the months leading up to a record's release exciting for you now?

It's an exciting but also anxiety-producing time. It's nice to finish an album and start hearing people's reactions but it can be tough to shift so quickly into touring mode.

For you as a songwriter, how do the lyrics fit? Do you put the music and the lyrics on equal footing?

A lot of the best lyrics come at the same time as the melody. Ultimately, we make recordings and a recording only works when the lyrics, music and production all fits together. If any piece is missing, it doesn't feel right.

Are there any older artists that you've admired that make you think, "Here's a good way to have a life in music."

Blur’s frontman Damon Albarn has always struck me as a good (role) model. He does what he wants, participating in various projects without coming across as overly eager or anything. 

Are there any contemporary artists right now whose career you are following or whose music you are listening to?

I like 2 Chainz (a Grammy-nominated hip hop artiste) – his story is inspiring. It's also been great watching Haim (a Californian band of three sisters) get bigger and find success; I'm very excited for their album.

What have been the highest and lowest points of your career so far?

High points: when the band met Giorgio Armani and when ‘Contra’ went gold in the US. Low points: losing my voice on tour and having to cancel shows.                  

What are your New Year resolutions for 2013?

I'm approaching the end of my 20's so it would be nice to try and reach my life's pinnacle of health and athleticism. From what, I understand it only gets harder so 2013 will be my ‘Chariots of Fire’ year. 

Catch Vampire Weekend performing alongside Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Band of Horses during Big Night Out | 29 Jan | 8pm | Fort Canning Green | Tickets $140 from Sistic