December 2009

Tête-à-Tête Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig

Plus, Fyfe Dangerfield, Saint Motel, Generationals and more

Ezra Koenig, turn it up Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images

While New York’s Vampire Weekend and their self-produced, self-titled debut CD arrived seemingly out of nowhere in 2008, the band had in fact been building a fan base through live shows and blog buzz since 2006. Their songs “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Oxford Comma,” a mix of African and indie pop, brightened summer radio playlists on both sides of the Atlantic and found their way into TV shows and movies such as 90210 and Step Brothers. As the group readied Contra, their sophomore release (scheduled to drop in January), I caught up with frontman Koenig...

Nic Harcourt: The hype was huge leading up to the first CD. Were you aware of the interest?
Ezra Koenig: We felt the excitement, but I was still shocked at how well things went when the album came out. It had been on the Internet for almost a year before being released, so I had figured things couldn’t change too much.

You toured off that album for 18 months—quite a haul, I imagine. What were the highlights, and were there any low points?
Covering Tom Petty with Andrew W.K. in the pouring rain in Central Park was a special moment. Losing my voice on our first U.S. tour was a low. I have to be very vigilant to make sure that doesn’t happen again—it’s a bit like castration anxiety.

There’ve been indie bands who’ve exploded out of the gate, only to find an audience ready to move on to the next thing. Did you feel any pressure as you got ready to record the second CD?
We drove ourselves crazy recording the first CD back when no one cared. The pressure comes from us. In that sense, nothing changed with this record.

The Afropop and Paul Simon influences of your first disc are still in place on the new album, but now there’s ska and dancehall and even some Bolly­wood. How would you describe your evolution?
We want to make music that reflects what we love. I think this album presents a clearer picture of that.

What about lyrics—how personal do you get?
It’s all personal. I’ve never believed that songs need to present concise stories or anything, but all of the images and characters still come from a real place.

You have described Contra as being inspired in part by Southern California. Can you elaborate?
We’ve been lucky enough to spend lots of time in California, and I became interested in exploring it. I grew up listening to the Descendents and watching movies like Repo Man and They Live, so I guess I’ve always been fascinated by the state. To me, it’s as unique and complex as any country. We recently did an all-California tour, hitting towns we’d never played. I wish we could do that more often.

  • Fyfe Dangerfield, Fly Yellow Moon
  • Saint Motel, For Play
  • Generationals, Con Law
  • Shiloe,
  • Metric, Fantasies

Fyfe Dangerfield
“Faster Than the Setting Sun”
Fly Yellow Moon

From the nutty genius frontman of the Guillemots’ first solo album, this leadoff track immediately caught my ears. It’s a lovely slice of indie power pop. Watch for this one to make waves.

For Fans Of Travis, The Waterboys

Saint Motel
“Eat Your Heart Out”
For Play

Los Angeles is smack in the middle of a huge wave of young indie bands. So much so that in my 12 years here, I can’t remember a more vibrant and exciting time for new music. And this is great hooky indie pop!

For Fans Of Franz Ferdinand

“Nobody Could Change Your Mind”
Con Law

Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer’s band draws on the music of their New Orleans hometown through the use of horns and a Hammond B-3 organ. Prefab Sprout and Fleetwood Mac are among their influences.

For Fans Of MGMT, The Flaming Lips

“By the Daggers in Your Eyes”

This tune by the L.A.–based three-piece is indicative of songs from their upcoming album. If you like your shoe-gazing pop to throw off fuzzy sharp riffs and show a little edge, then this is for you.

For Fans Of My Bloody Valentine, Ride

“Gimme Sympathy”

I remember playing early demos from this great Canadian band, and it has been amazing to watch and hear them grow as performers and songwriters. This track was an iPod favorite of mine all last month.

For Fans Of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Veruca Salt

People consume music in a different way now than a decade ago. The album as an art form has been declared dead by many. What were you thinking when you were sequencing this collection?
We don’t think the album is dead! We still work with the idea that people will listen to it straight through. But if some only want to listen to a song at a time, that just means you can’t skimp and make filler tracks—which, ultimately, is a good thing.

Have you thought yet about getting out on the road to tour the new songs?
Definitely. It’s always a challenge for us to translate our recordings for the live show, but it’s something we enjoy. We really don’t worry about it until the record is done.

In an early Beatles interview, Ringo said that back when they started, he’d have been happy to make enough money to open a barbershop. Do you have any High Street aspirations?
Hmmm, I was very inspired by a visit to Fairmount Bagels in Montreal recently. Maybe I’d open a shop that just served bagels, lox and cream cheese in a city that needed it.