Vampire Weekend

ros has cupcake frosting on his face.

“You have cupcake frosting on your face.”

He smiles and cocks his head. “That’s okay.”

It is! It took me a minute to realize.

The members of Vampire Weekend are nice guys. Smart guys. Really considerate and earnest and ambitious guys. They started Vampire Weekend within the past year and a half. They all graduated college in the past year. They released a nine-minute EP, and had write-ups in the Fader and the New York Times in the past month. So fast. Vampire Weekend is about to leave home for a little while. “Talking on the phone to Progressive to get our car insurance has been harder than any interview we’ve done,” Chris Tomson says.

“Are you guys quitting your jobs then?”

In unison, a definitive “Yes.”

And I’m proud of them for that. Does that mar my journalistic integrity? Almost certainly. Is this a concern of mine? No. Well, not always. I’m in a uniquely difficult position with Vampire Weekend because not only do I really like them, but I also did a terrible interview with them. Yes, questions were asked. Answers were given. But my conversation with them was a conversation with my peers. Because Vampire Weekend is, when it comes down to it, an incredibly under-ripe fruit. It feels absurd to be sitting in a sweets shop talking to a band that barely exists to be interviewed; or, were it not for the internet, would probably be hanging on to their jobs a little longer.

Vampire Weekend played almost all their shows at Columbia University until now. They played at the literary society. A lot. One song on their EP is called “Oxford Comma,” as in the comma that comes before a conjunction in a list of three items. I love dogs, chocolate Oxford comma and dogs. I assume they belonged to the society. “No.” Unison again. “It’s a pretty nice building, though,” Chris adds. I tell them writing a song about an Oxford comma is irrepressibly geeky.

This, for better or worse, prompts a ten-minute conversation on the difference between nerdiness and geekiness. Things get heated. Ros says geekiness is loving something without being able to do it—comic-book geeks, for example, “Will never write that comic book.” I tell him that’s a fucked-up definition. Anyway, Vampire Weekend are geeks, nerds, and doers; it’s one of the thing that makes their sound so unbelievably approachable. Ezra is diplomatic. “Anyway, those were originally words for jocks to use to hurt people’s feelings.” Did he really just say “jocks”? I stare into his braided belt.

But, like Orange Juice 25 years ago, Vampire Weekend’s nerdiness is offset by a deliberateness of style. Where some bands would balk at the insult of being pigeonholed in a line, Ezra has described, multiple times, with slightly different terminology, the band as some combination of West African guitar pop and New England preppiness. When I ask about the title of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” which takes part of its name from a Congolese/Central African dance, Ezra confesses “I liked the alliteration.” When I ask him why he couldn’t have named the song “Serial Comma,” I get served, delicately: “Well, that wouldn’t flow.”

At some point, somehow, Ros starts interviewing me. Uncomfortably, it’s about stuff I wrote about them in my review of their EP. The band has been interviewed a handful of times and has had next to no reviews of their music. They read out of curiosity, but they take it to heart. “You said ‘clumsily approximating African rhythms’—what does that mean?” I explain that I like that they sound amateurish and approachable. I like how they aren’t afraid to play a non-rock rhythm without nailing it like some group of nasty, bloodless virtuosi. I like that white guilt has subsided for long enough to realize that pinching a nonwestern flourish here and there isn’t the same thing as being a native-raping imperialist. It’s refreshing. Ironically, Ros majored in music. “People say, you know, ‘You should listen to Lygeti, his later piano works incorporate African music.’ And I thought, wow, that sounds awesome. And it’s just the exact opposite of a clumsy approximation—it’s this cold, lifeless appropriation so far removed from the actual spirit of the music that it’s like, why bother. I mean, there’s this great pianist nailing African polyrhythms, but it sounds so dead.”

But if Vampire Weekend ironically manages to be calculated about amateurishness, they wear it well. The three songs on their EP sound scrappy, effortless; their embrace of whatever sound seems to please them is almost naive. It’s an integrated aesthetic. “I think our music is somewhat conceptual in a way that lends itself to getting written about in a specific way,” Ros says. What he means, I’m pretty sure, is, Results 11 – 20 of about 274 for “vampire weekend” graceland.

“But it’s not conceptually taxing. It’s really easy.”

“There’s something to say about it—”

“But you can also just listen to it, hey hey hey,” Chris T. interrupts. Ros and I had gotten lost. “This wallpaper is pretty cool,” Chris adds.

Ezra is the assured one; Chris Baio, the youngest, talks to me on the way to cupcakes, but is silent for nearly an hour after we sit down. “Chris kept telling Ezra that this one place we were playing at was going to serve Swedish meatballs, and he kept talking about it on the ride up to the venue,” Ros says. “When we got there, Ezra went up to the band who’d asked us to play and said ‘When are we gonna have meatballs?’ and everyone started laughing.” High five. Chris B. smiles sheepishly. He speaks. “We’re staying with my girlfriend’s family in Jacksonville, and he [points at Chris T.] wants to get me really drunk and then draw dicks on my face.” “That’s never gonna happen. You’re not that stupid,” Ezra assures him. Frosh blues.

Vampire Weekend are just four guys as excited as all get out. For the first time ever, a band is prepared to stay longer than I am. We talk about whatever. African records. Drumming. Office jobs. Label courtships—spicy. Metallica. Metallica turns out to be a hot topic. We talk about Metallica for a good while, and I forget that I’m interviewing anyone. I mean, these guys are basically my age, and they’re eating cupcakes, and we’re just talking Metallica, and it just so happens that I really believe in their music.

I offer a theory: “I think Lars fancies himself as being deeply in tune with the world. But you’ve seen footage of Kirk Hammett, right? I mean, the guy, like—”

Ezra interrupts. “He rides horses?”

By: Mike Powell
Published on: 2007-06-25
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