The year of the

Twelve months ago, they were the best-kept se­cret in rock’n’roll – four am­bi­tious New York col­lege boys whose mu­si­cal tastes swung from gangsta rap to classical to African pop. To­mor­row, Vam­pire Week­end take to the stage at Ox­e­gen un­der the ban­ner of “mos

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

AYEAR ago, ad­mit it, you hadn’t heard of them. You hadn’t re­alised then that they were about to be­come one of your new favourites. You didn’t even know they ex­isted.Well, you weren’t alone. Vam­pire Week­end may have been get­ting a spot of love from some of the blog­ger­atti, but it was small pota­toes, the kind of love which doesn’t pay for enough petrol to get a band to and from a gig.

A year ago, Vam­pire Week­end were still play­ing small rooms in their home­town. They were New York­ers who cut their teeth play­ing on and around the cam­pus at Columbia Univer­sity, where mem­bers first met.

By sum­mer 2007, school was out and the band were singing for their sup­per in the real world. Many on­look­ers, though, sim­ply didn’t see or hear any­thing to get ex­cited about. Vam­pire Week­end were a bunch of preppy odd­balls with lyrics about ob­scure points of punc­tu­a­tion and cam­pus dra­mas, with a sound that was in thrall to jan­gly African gui­tars. Vam­pire Week­end were com­pletely out of sync with the indie weather vane.

But the weather can turn. Singer Ezra Koenig re­mem­bers when things be­gan to change last sum­mer. They’d play shows at their usual haunts and no­tice that the au­di­ence faces they knew out­num­bered those they didn’t. Record la­bels be­gan to turn up to run the rule over them. They had to move to big­ger rooms to squeeze ev­ery­one in. The buzz got louder.

As Vam­pire Week­end have learned, a year is a long time in pop. Since last sum­mer, they’ve re­leased a swash­buck­ling, joy­ous de­but album and gigged and toured and talked about them­selves un­til they’re fit to be tied. The songs they wrote back in New York have taken them far and wide. They will con­tinue in this man­ner across con­ti­nents un­til late Septem­ber at least.

None of this phases Koenig. As he talks – and he’s quite happy to tease out ev­ery an­gle in a ques­tion -– it be­comes ob­vi­ous that Vam­pire Week­end were a group who ex­isted long be­fore the four mem­bers ever picked up their in­stru­ments.

“We’re the kind of peo­ple who would hap­pily spend a lot of time sit­ting around in­tel­lec­tu­al­is­ing mu­sic,” he says. “The name and some of the ideas were talked about for ages first, and we only started prac­tis­ing when we had a show to play.”

When they did start to play to­gether, the songs came quickly – “they were cer­tainly not laboured over.” From the off, they were at odds with what ev­ery­one else was do­ing. Rhythms and melodies from the African high-life pop which all four lis­tened to found their way into the songs. “It started with Ox­ford Comma,” says Koenig, “which has a vaguely African feel to it, and then it turned up again in Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. It just seemed nat­u­ral.

“Sure, we lis­tened

to a lot of

Pho­to­graph: Tim Soter African records. But the truth is that, at any given mo­ment, the four of us are lis­ten­ing to a mil­lion dif­fer­ent records. When Vam­pire Week­end was start­ing out, I was also lis­ten­ing to Leonard Co­hen, but he hasn’t had much im­pact on our mu­sic.

“The rea­son why we grav­i­tated so much to­wards the African sound has to do with us be­ing a band with gui­tar, drums and bass who didn’t want to sound like the other bands who were around. So we looked to see if we could get ideas from other kinds of mu­sic.

“If you lis­ten­ing to a record that you want to con­sciously ref­er­ence, you’ll just end up rip­ping it off. With us, we lis­tened to lots of African pop, in­ter­nalised it and then tried to do our own ver­sion of it. For ex­am­ple, the riff on Cape Cod is cer­tainly not ref­er­enc­ing any spe­cific genre of African mu­sic or song, but is more us re­call­ing some of the el­e­ments which in­spired us about African mu­sic.”

When it came to writ­ing lyrics, Koenig tried to stay in a hip-hop fame of mind. He’s a huge hip-hop fan, and one of his pre-Vam­pire Week­end gigs was with L’Homme Run, a rap act who wanted to be the new 3rd Bass, but never even got to first base.

“I can retroac­tively spot the rap thing on this album in cer­tain ways. More than any other kind of mu­sic, rap has lyrics which de­light in words and rhyming and ref­er­ences. One of the things about truly great rap­pers is how they can use metaphors to ref­er­ence peo­ple or places. I spent a lot of time lis­ten­ing to The Beastie Boys, and ev­ery other line is a ref­er­ence to some base­ball or bas­ket­ball player, even though that’s not what the song is about. You can get away with a lot less of that in your stan­dard pop bal­lad which takes about love and stuff.”

Vam­pire Week­end’s con­nec­tion with Columbia Univer­sity has been seized on by many de­trac­tors as a stick to beat them with, some­thing Koenig be­lieves has wider con­no­ta­tions.

“In Amer­ica, there’s a fear of com­ing across as be­ing ed­u­cated be­cause ed­u­ca­tion is linked very closely with class. It turns into

irish­times.com/thet­icket/

Ox­e­gen sup­ply: Ezra Koen­ing

Vam­pire Week­end: from left, Rostam Bat­man­glij, Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Christo­pher Tom­son.

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