Given the unexpected success of Vampire Weekend's self-titled 2008 debut, which took them from blog buzz to the Billboard charts, they really could have worked on the new album in any number of ultra-luxurious studios in any number of ultra-exclusive locales around the world. Instead, they're holed up in Treefort studios, a dingy space in a high-rise storage facility near DUMBO in Brooklyn, where they also recorded part of their first album.
"We thought a little bit about going to other places. The idea was floated of recording in L.A., but ... because everything is done within the band, it's kind of important for us to have our own space," VW frontman Ezra Koenig told MTV News. "And this is definitely 'our' space. ... There's nothing around here. No restaurants, nothing. And that's a double-edged sword, because on one hand, we think it keeps us focused, but on the other, when you're really hungry, the only place you can go quickly is McDonald's. So, when you're in here, you stay for a while. You stay for a long time."
And since February, they've been doing just that, spending long hours between Treefort's wood-paneled walls, writing and recording the songs that will make up the new album, which they hope to release sometime this year. And on Monday, they were good enough to invite MTV News into the studio to have a listen to their endeavors. We heard a pair of vastly different songs — the tinkly, uptempo "White Sky" and a dubby piece called "Taxi Cab" — selected by the band to showcase the range of tempos and rhythms they've been experimenting with this time out. A range that is much greater than anyone imagined.
"One thing that's interesting about this album is that, to me, I think it has a wider range of feelings and tempos than the first album," Koenig said. "There are faster songs than what you've heard — or what at least feels like our fastest song we've ever made — and also [the] slowest [song] we've ever made. There are songs where I'm singing very high, and I think also the lowest I've ever sang on a VW album — I tend to use a certain range — and so those ones [you heard], I don't think even show the extremes of vibe on this album."
"White Sky" isn't exactly new. The first time Vampire Weekend played it was at the album-release show for their first album, and back in March, they performed it on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." It's certainly a VW song in spirit, but with its lilting low end, handclaps, bleeps and rinky-dink keys, it's also a pretty good example of how they've progressed as musicians, songwriters and producers.
"That song came together in a way that none of our older songs ever have," Koenig explained. "[Multi-instrumentalist/producer] Rostam [Batmanglij] made a beat and sent it to us, and I spent some time writing lyrics and a melody to it, and then we put it together into what it is now. On that level, it is very distinct from what we've done."
"Taxi Cab" takes that idea and moves it one step further. At its core, it's a downtempo number — certainly a first in the VW catalog — built around a bubbly dub line, some upright bass and waning cello. But for all that bubbly looseness, there are also measures of decidedly uptight Baroque piano, a nod to their first record.
"That's one of the only songs, really, that ties back so explicitly to the first album. With 'Taxi Cab,' I think it was important that we made a song that was mellow, because if you listen to our first album, there's a certain level of pumped-up-ness," Batmanglij said. "I guess at some point this spring, I got obsessed with Lou Reed's 'Walk on the Wild Side,' and I just wanted to hear that over and over again. And so hopefully 'Taxi Cab' will connect with that, somehow, in some way."
So while Vampire Weekend are certainly taking leaps on album number two (Koenig freely describes it as "diverse"), they're also trying not to stray that far from the formula that got them here in the first place. Tempos and instruments might change, but these are still pop tunes: very pretty, intricate and instantly catchy. You know, the kind that sound like they were born in a bazillion-dollar Malibu studio, not a Brooklyn storage unit. And that, really, was the plan all along.
"We wanted to work; to get in here and work and do it on our time was very important," Koenig laughed. "We're on a deadline here. We're a hardworking band. We don't take vacations."