When [artist id=”2584573″]Vampire Weekend[/artist] decided to name their new album Contra, they knew there were going to be repercussions … mostly of the “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A” variety.
“Look, I was born in 1984, so I’m not going to name an album Contra and not think about that video game,” VW frontman Ezra Koenig laughed. “To me, there’s not an explicit connection … I think what attracted us to the word ’contra’ was the root of it, thinking about the word and all the different implications of it.
“I did have a moment where I stopped and thought, ’Wow, everybody my age, when you say “Contra,” thinks of the video game, and everybody my parents’ age thinks of the [U.S.-supported, 1980s-era] counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua,’ ” he continued. “It couldn’t be two more different things. One incredibly serious and kind of f—ed up, you know? [Then-President Ronald] Reagan pouring money into that stuff, and the other one being a video game … and it’s so weird. And that game came out in the ’80s, too. Why did they name it ’Contra’? That maybe be neither hear nor there, but it’s a weird thing.”
Totally — we think! Anyway, it turns out Contra goes much deeper than just some Konami codes: It’s a concept, too, one that runs through most of the album’s 11 songs, and one that has more than a little to do with just how Koenig and his mates have been portrayed in the media since their rise to fame.
“I do think it’s related to our identity as a band. When you’re in a situation where you all of a sudden get people writing about you and saying things about you, of course you’re going to have a lot of people who try to identify you by a series of bullsh– signifiers,” Koenig said. “They’ll try to say because you wear this kind of shirt you come from this kind of family, or because you have a song with this word in it you must be of this political persuasion.
“So we did a lot of thinking about the idea of opposition, and how people try to place you in categories, and how we all do it — it’s not just in terms of critics versus bands, or politicians, we do it in our personal life,” he continued. “It’s very easy to get into that mindset, and I think a lot of things in our lives are trying to make us choose between these really basic things, when ultimately it’s not a good way to look at the world.”
Contra — which the band was working on when we visited their Brooklyn studio earlier this year — doesn’t hit stores until January 12, which means that Koenig still has plenty of time to field questions about old Nintendo games. Something he’s more than equipped to do, as luck would have it.
“It’s pretty funny now,” he said. “But I’ve got to admit, I didn’t play the original ’Contra’ all that much. I was more of a ’Contra III’ guy, on the Super Nintendo.”