Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Vampire (bank holiday) Weekend

More from The Ticket’s interview with Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend

Biting back: Vampire Weekend

Tue, May 7, 2013, 09:26


You’ll find my interview with Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig from last Friday’s issue of The Ticket here. As sometimes happens when you get an intriguing pop observer like Koenig talking loud, there’s just not enough room in print for everything which he has to say. In this case, he’d a lot to say about his views on pop which just didn’t quite fit into an interview about their new album “Modern Vampires of the City” so here’s some extracts from the transcript which didn’t make it into print. Call it the extra tracks on the bonus disc.

“People have so many different ideas about making their band stand out that it can be easy to forget that the easiest thing to do is have great songs. If somebody took the temperature of pop for the last five years, people would think that America had been invaded by the European sensibilities of dance music and there was also the big use of AutoTune. Based on that information, you’d tried to predict the next big band and you’d think it would be dancey, electronic with big beats. But the next big band turned out to be Mumford & Sons. So nobody knows anything.

“If I looked at Rolling Stone and Pitchfork and the New York Times now and tried to create a Frankenstein song based on what they were saying was cool, it would be impossible. But I’m a modern person, I listen to dance music, rap, rock, pop, weird minimalist electronic stuff and country. Rather than having to mould that into one thing, I can focus more on the feelings or sounds that inspires in me.

“People lose perspective. At any given moment, there are people who hate pop music because they associate it with bros or stupid backward people. The truth is if you look at what pop music sounds like now, with the influence of electronic dance music and the manipulation of vocals and sounds, it’s incredibly avant-garde. These are the kind of things that science fiction writers in the Fifties were dreaming about, music made entirely without organic sounds and vocals processed to perfection. You could make an intellectual case for why that is amazing and exciting. But it’s all about context so you have to be excited about the moment you’re in. If you get too reactionary, your music will become a little joyless.

“I’m 28, I’ve been obsessive about pop music since I was 10 years old. But the odds that I’m going to hear a record that sounds like something I’ve never heard in my life are unlikely. I might find something which moves me in a way I didn’t think was possible when I was a teenager, but I think I’m fairly au fait with most genres of music.

“I’d always defend current pop music to the death. That’s a typical fight you’d have with someone else in a band, something like ‘we’re living in borrowed time, the rock canon ended years ago, everything is a rehash, it would have been cooler to have been alive in 1977’. I’ve never bought into that. I’m happy now, this is the time I belong in.

“When I picture those stories that you read about some young guy in England hearing Elvis and rock’n’roll for the first time, I believe that was a seismic event because he had so little access to outside things. To suddenly hear that was crazy.

“Like, when I was first heard A$AP Rocky, I thought he was fresh and distinct but I’ve been listening to rap since I was a little kid. It didn’t blow me away but my curiosity was piqued and I began to spend more time with it and realise he is a very important and unique modern artist. You almost have to have a more subtle ear now. No-one is going to hear rock’n’roll or hip-hop at a diner and go ‘what is this?’

“The period that we came out in was a funny period. People would say ‘look at Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, you guys are idiots for signing to a record label’. In 2007, people were saying they’re about to stop making CDs. Other people were saying to give your music away for free and just tour. Others were saying bands wouldn’t be able to fill arenas anymore because there would be no more global superstars. People were saying and thinking so many crazy things that to have clearcut expectations of success was just not possible in that period. It was hard to know what to expect. Could you have dreams of having a gold or platinum album? Even that was mental.

“My goals were modest. I wanted to play the Bowery Ballroom in New York. When I was in college, The Walkmen played there and I thought that was so cool. We accomplished that very quickly so everything else was the icing on the cake. It then became important to us not to allow us to become a professional band. When you start out, you’re excited about art and music and culture. Then, at a certain point, making albums and going on tour and doing press becomes your job and a joyless experience. We haven’t let that happen. We still put our excitement about music first.

“The thing to remember from being around for all this bloggy music period is how quickly music can get chewed up. I’ve seen bands disappear after one album. The craziest thing is seeing bands disappear before they even release their first album, which is so bizarre. When you break it down and take a calm look at all these opportunities and showcases and infinite chances for a band, you need to wonder if you say no to all of these if you really disappear off the face of the earth. Then you remember that the best thing you can do is when you release an album that it’s strong and you believe in it. Rushing something out quickly to take advantage of a moment or showbiz opportunity is never going to work out.

“Having two successful records helps to take the pressure off. When people ask if there’s pressure for the new album to be a success, I go ‘well, there wasn’t that pressure the last time around’. You don’t have that existential dread that you might disappear with a bad second album, that your very existence might be threatened by a bad second record. That makes you nervous. Even if you’re working on a good second album, you still question yourself a lot. Who wants their whole life to change in a bad way? With a third album, there is pressure but it’s creative pressure. Does this continue the story of the band? Is this a retread in any way? We’re in a place where I can’t predict our future commercial success but we have built ourselves a nice creative platform. It feels very free. We can do anything we want now.

“We signed a record deal before we had a manger. We recorded an album before we had a label. We’ve always been self-sufficient so we’ve only worked with people who understand that. We really appreciate the counsel of our team but ultimately, we make the final decision.

“You have to be careful when you say no. We said no to shows for 18 months which some people thought was unusual but we knew we wanted to work on the record. It’s funny how quickly your perspective changes. Occasionlly, you’d get some kid on Twitter going ‘I forgot you were a musician, I always think of you as some bizarre Twitter personality’. In my head, I went ‘oh my God, we’re been away too long, get the record out now!’”