It’s difficult to misinterpret the cover of this week’s NME, which features Vampire Weekend seated beneath a massive thought bubble filled with a quote from frontman Ezra Koenig that reads, in a giant comic-book font, “I DON’T WANT TO DIE.”
It’s a sentiment we’re fairly certain most of us share … and yet, it’s also one that seems rather odd coming from Koenig’s mouth; after all, over the course of Vampire Weekend’s seven-year career, they’ve seemingly gone out of their way to prove themselves as the sunniest band in rock. From their piqued Polos and boat shoes to erudite song titles like “Oxford Comma” and “California English” and pan-ethnic paeans to pop, they simply don’t do dark.
So if Koenig’s sudden obsession with mortality strikes you as a departure, well, you’re not alone.
“Yeah, I thought that was pretty bizarre when I first saw that,” he laughed. “It’s funny, it makes it seem like we’re the only band that doesn’t want to die. I think most bands want to continue living, enjoying life on earth.”
Yet that’s the storyline leading up to the release of VW’s Modern Vampires of the City album, their so-called “dark” third record. One look at the moody artwork tells you that it’s definitely a departure, and Koenig’s not denying that he spends portions of it dwelling on heavy subjects (though he says he prefers the term “deep” to “dark) … but he stops short of saying it represents a bold reinvention of the band’s formula.
“I think mortality is something everybody thinks about, and I don’t think it has to be a depressing thing. Sometimes I think mortality can be a joyful thing; it makes you appreciate everything. In fact, people that say ‘I don’t want to die’ are optimists, if you think about it,” he said. “Even though on this record we deal with some weightier things, we always still have a sense of humor, which I think is important when you’re making music. Even if you want to explore things that maybe are not super lightweight, that there’s still a sense of joy in how you approach it.”
And, though Vampires took nearly two years to record, that doesn’t mean it required Koenig and his bandmates to plumb new depths or battle through bouts of writer’s block, either; sure, making the album was difficult, but that’s always been the way VW operate.
“I feel like we’ve given interviews on every album, where they’re like ‘Oh, what was it like making this record?’ And we say ‘It was hard.’ Because making a record always is hard,” Koenig said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t these moments where things felt so easy and things came purely by instinct. There are songs on this record like ‘Unbelievers,’ Rostam [Batmanglij] and I were over at his apartment, he started playing on his piano, I had my laptop, started writing lyrics, and within a couple of hours we had all the main parts. So that was easy.
“But to finish an album — and this is true of all three of our albums — it’s hard. We really care about the details,” he continued. “Sometimes we were waiting; we’d have a great group of songs, these five definitely belong on the album, and then we have another five that could go on the album, but deep in your heart, you’re waiting for another few that are even better, and that’s what we did, and it was totally worth it.”
So fear not, despite what the British press may want you to believe, things are as sunny as ever in Vampire Weekend land. They’ve expanded their sonic boundaries and written songs like never before, but, at their core, they proudly remain one of the nicest bands in rock. And no, they don’t think that’ll change any time soon.
“British music journalists tend to be a bit sensationalistic; and I don’t think [the writer] had it out for us at all,” Batmanglij said. “We did a lot of interviews with the NME until they dug up enough dirt. They kept requesting interviews because there wasn’t enough dirt!”