vampire weekend

Vampire Weekend


Discovering inspiration in contradictions and cleverness

Sure, Vampire Weekend singer  and guitarist Ezra Koenig was an English major at noted Columbia University and taught junior high English. And yeah, on the band’s new Contra album he rhymes “horchata” with “balaclava,” among other clever linguistic feats. What of it?

“It’s a criticism people try to lodge at  us,” Koenig says with a resigned chuckle. “In my experience, a lot of our fans like our lyrics—they like thinking about them and trying to decode them. There aren’t too many people who are Vampire Weekend  fans in spite of the lyrics. And if people think my using a big word somehow means I’m part of some old-money network, that’s a total joke.”

Plenty of words, big and small alike, have been devoted to Vampire Weekend since the band’s quirky, perky pastiche of Western and African pop caught the public’s fancy two years ago. While making Contra, the group—rounded out by keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, drummer Christopher Tomson and bassist Chris Baio—was well aware that expectations would be high for the follow-up to 2008’s acclaimed Vampire Weekend. “Our main goal was to make a record that had its own sound and existed in its own world,” notes Koenig. “We were trying to find the middle ground between doing something totally different and still using some of the same ideas we had on the first record.”

The tracks on Contra offer a disparate but cohesive melding of upbeat, multifaceted musicality with poignant, literate lyrics and often bouncy melodies—hence the title. While the word may conjure for some the notorious Nicaraguan freedom fighters who made headlines during the Reagan years, Vampire Weekend intends the word in its literal Latin meaning: “against” or “in contrast to.” “I wanted every song to speak to a bigger theme, and to me that theme was ‘contra,’ the idea of an opposition, the idea of duality,” Koenig explains.

The assurance with which Vampire Weekend weaves together those varying strands on Contra suggests that the deafening buzz that has greeted the band’s every move will continue well into the future. “My one fear was that somehow we could mess stuff up so badly that we would disappear with our second album,” Koenig admits. “As we started working on it, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. No matter if it matches the success of the first album or not, in a certain way it’s already a success.”

–Katherine Turman

Jan/Feb 2010 Issue of M Music & Musicians

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