Vampire Weekend at Bowery Ballroom, June 2, 2007
Brooklyn births a new “it” band every three or four minutes, and usually “it” can be prefixed by “shh.” But shit just changed. Four dudes hailing from the far reaches of Morningside Heights and the grassy confines of Columbia are bringing Afrobeat-infused indie-pop downtown and they’re bringing it in rumpled Oxfords and Topsiders! Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Tomson are Vampire Weekend, a four-piece whose tunes are as tightly tangled in South African and British pop sounds as young Ez’s lyrics are affixed to the bedrock of their alma mater.
We had the chance to see the guys shake the house at Bowery Ballroom last weekend and shake it did. Jammy jams from their Blue CD-R have been circulating throughout this here interweb as has buzz surrounding their sweet live set. We caught up with them at the Hungarian Pastry Shop on 111th and Amsterdam to talk about the past, present and future. Ivy League represent!
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
Photo by Esther White
Where did you guys get your name?
Rostam Batmanglij: We bought it in an auction.
Christopher Tomson: On Ebay.
Ezra Koenig: Vampire Weekend was a movie I started making the summer after my freshman year of college. It was about a guy, that I played, called Walcott whose dad gets killed by vampires because vampires take over his country. His Dad’s dying words were, “you have to go to Cape Cod to tell the mayor that vampires are taking over your country and you have to kill ‘em all.” It was actually about vampires, although fun fact: you can still watch the trailer online. It’s still the second thing that pops up when you google “Vampire Weekend.” The first song I wrote for this band was about Walcott, and it’s vaguely about the movie. We were picking names and I was having cold feet about Vampire Weekend. I thought maybe we should just go by Weekend. But we made the right choice, I can safely say that now.
Did you guys all dig on the same kind of music when you got together?
EK: We all listen to a ton of music, but when we started you could definitely say that we were all on the same page as far as what we wanted it to sound like. We wanted to bring in some Brit-pop, some New-Wave and some African music as well.
Are you all in to African music?
EK: Yeah, but Chris the most.
CT: I just go record shopping all the time and I grab these weird African compilations. You might not necessarily know who all the people are but it’s always really good. It’s almost entirely in major keys and using only three chords, but with the percussion it’s always really really good. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
You can really hear that most in the live percussion,
Graceland clearly seeming like the strongest reference point.
EK: It’s true. The music that Paul Simon listened to then is the same we’ve been listening to.
RB: But Paul Simon didn’t just listen to that music, he used it as a structure to work from. We haven’t done anything like that. All our music is pretty original, I think.
CT: That’s not to hate on Graceland, but there is this compilation called The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and there is a song on there with this “Gumboots” sort of beat and there is a song on Graceland with the same band and same tune, but with Paul Simon’s lyrics over it all. There are elements and little bits that we try to work in, but we don’t copy.
EK: He actually had those African session musicians play on the album.
There definitely seems to be a buzz about town.
EK: When we first started playing off campus, we started to get written up. The press sort of compounds itself and more and more people have been coming to shows. Last night was the high point though. The biggest thing we’ve ever done.
Chris Baio: We were all taken aback by the number of people that showed up.
Are you guys shitting yourselves right now?
RB: With excitement or with fear?
Half and half. Choosing a label must be a lot like picking the right college.
RB: Yeah! I guess it is.
CT: It can go so many ways and it’s pretty daunting, but the future looks bright for young Ez’[ra]. (laughs)
Have you been entertaining a lot of offers recently?
CT: We’ve had a lot of meetings.
EK: A lot of people have shown interest. We’ll see exactly where it goes. We’ve had a few good meals.
CT: I think that one sushi restaurant was the best meal we’ve had so far.
Did you guys have any long-term goals when you started?
EK: Yeah, just to be able to do it full-time. We all felt like our dream job would be to play music but obviously you can’t just apply for that.
RB: Musically, we wanted to write songs that were catchy and exciting, but to also bring different worlds together. I think you’ll hear that on the record.
How long have you guys been jamming out together?
EK: We started it our last semester in college, February ‘06. We had been playing elsewhere but Vampire Weekend has been around for a year and four months.
CB: The majority of our shows were on campus at first, playing for campus literary societies (ADD and St. A’s) and at parties.
RB: We were able to get a room because Baio worked at the radio station. That’s where we recorded the drums for “Oxford Comma.”
CT: Eventually, we had to rent out a space in Midtown.
So where did you record?
RB: In a few places. We started in that room at Columbia and then we did some stuff in CT’s family barn. Have you heard of Juan’s Basement? It’s a television program on this network called Plum TV. It wasn’t anything actually when we started; just our friends from Columbia and they live in this house and they have a basement with drums set up and eight mikes and they’re ready to go at all times. It’s awesome. We started there.
CT: It was over the course of a good many months. We weren’t recording it to be our debut album. We just had these songs and we liked to record.
EK: We have twelve or 14 songs with others in the pipeline. Those we don’t play live, but we have ten recorded.
CT: It just ended up becoming this more album-ish group of songs.
So the first pressing was an EP, then?
CT: Well, we just burned them.
EK: Yeah, the first official release will be a three song EP. The album depends on the label stuff, but no matter who we end up putting it out with, I imagine it will be early next year, with singles before that. We are putting out a seven-inch right now.
Are you guys self-releasing everything right now?
EK: Yeah. Well, the seven-inch is a collaboration with these guys that have this pseudo-record label. Their main thing is they run an art gallery in Philadelphia called Space 1016.
You guys start your first tour in July, right? How did you book everything?
RB: Baio took the reigns and started sending out e-mails. We don’t have a manager. We just use our e-mail account to manage ourselves. It’s actually worked out really well so far.
CT: Chris wrote an AWESOME form letter.
CB: It was pretty well-written. Plus, Ezra had a lot of contacts because he toured in Dirty Projectors for a while. We booked the majority of the tour by ourselves, but we just met a great booking agent and he has helped make the tour so much better. It’s going to be a real mixed bag: we’re playing a house party in Roanoke, a show with a bunch of emo bands in Jacksonville, and some really good shows in California as well. There’s been some talk about doing a Depeche Mode dance party in Omaha.