Interview: Vampire Weekend
Wed, 23 Jan 2008 10:54:53
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As one of the most anticipated new acts of 2008, Vampire Weekend has created a flurry of chatter the past six months, often being compared to Graceland-era Paul Simon. It's no denying their afro-Caribbean roots ala Simon, but Vampire Weekend avoids re-treading his subject matter. Instead, they intertwine campus-life narratives with "natural feelings" whose topics include Peter Gabriel, a guy named Blake who has a new face—and, oh yeah—a song about the need to kill a few vampires.
It's summery pop songs for those long winter months, and their self-titled debut (due out on January 29 via XL) stands to resonate with indie kids and their parents. They'll be on tour most of this year, with North American and European jaunts on the books already. We caught up with bassist Chris Baio a week before a quick jaunt to London, before returning to play two sold out shows at New York's Bowery Ballroom at the end of this month to see what he thinks of their hype.
Where did the name "Vampire Weekend" come from?
Ezra, our singer. It was in between freshman and sophomore years of college—he was home for the summer, and had seen The Lost Boys. He wanted to make his own, east coast, New England version of Lost Boys. For two days he filmed this movie called "Vampire Weekend" about this guy named Walcott whose dad gets killed by vampires, and he travels up to Cape Cod to warn the mayor of Cape Cod that vampires are attacking the country. He only made it for two days, and then sort of forgot about it for a while. And, then, two-and-a-half years later, during his senior year, he sort of unearthed the footage for it, and made it into a two minute trailer. And that was about a month before the band got together; so when the band came together, we sort of took it and not over-think it. That, and the song "Walcott" are the only connection to that movie.
The northeast seems to reoccur in some of the tunes, now that song makes sense.
If you listen to "Walcott," he's leaving Cape Cod, which is a little different from the movie.
When did you guys get serious about being a band, knowing that little back story?
I think we had always been pretty serious about a band, playing well and putting on a good show. Our keyboardist (Rostam Batmanglij), who produced the album, knew what he was doing with recording. It was definitely a serious thing for us. Everyone graduated in May of '06, so I think having the perspective of working a real day job gave more of an impetus to buckle down with the music, and do what we really love. I think those two things made us be pretty serious about it, and play shows in the city and get our music out there.
New York City has so many universities, and it's not like a typical college town like Athens, Georgia that has a college vibe with dedicated student followings. Being in New York, you guys have had to compete with nationally touring acts.
For the first four or five months we just played up around Columbia, and I think that helped as a band—get tighter. And it's weird, though. I think we felt more connected at Columbia in the beginning, because we were playing parties and we weren't a part of a particular scene. A lot of people ask us, "what's it like being part of a the New York scene?", but we never really were. There aren't that many bands at Columbia that we were playing with all the time. We were just doing our own thing, but at the same time I think that helped, because we were able to get more people at school interested in us, other than our friends. And we started playing shows downtown and people would come, which is a serious journey from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side.
You guys were in Europe earlier this fall; how'd it go?
It was great. I mean, there were varied responses depending on where we were playing, but it was a pretty unique experience; getting to go to these cities and getting a snapshot of these places you'd wanted to go to your whole life, but you only have two hours to hang out in them. But we had some really great shows—some of the best shows we've had as a band. So, it was a good experience.
Has there been as much attention thrown your way over there as there has been over here?
I think it's hard to gauge, because even between our two U.S. tours—the first one was in July, and the second one was in November—there was a big, big difference in the amount of people that would come out to see us and the amount of people that knew our songs.
It was definitely surprising though. 350 people came out to see us in Stockholm, and I had no idea they knew who we were.
Has the live show increasingly become easier for you, or is your set now something you've perfected to a point where you guys are happy?
I think we're pretty happy with it; we're very tight and we have a lot of songs we're playing. Touring every night and playing with the same three people every night has increased our chemistry as a band.
—Michael D. Ayers