It is somewhat apt that Vampire Weekend have just got their daily nutrition dose at a Turkish restaurant in Hamburg. Defying the conventions of their Columbia University education, they nosh down on some tasty kebabs, as opposed to munching preppy salads.
Instead of ploughing ahead with straight-up Ivy School indie-rock, the Brooklyn-based outfit manage to mash up a plethora of world music styles, dipping into Afrobeat and reggaeton, as well as displaying a penchant for post-punk and alt-pop. Not exactly the Goth band that their name might suggest.
With their days of study behind them, Vampire Weekend’s eponymous debut album has just dropped on the the ultra-hip XL label (home to Adele, MIA and The White Stripes) following a mini-scramble for their signatures when the circulation of their -Blue CD-R’ demo made them a blogosphere wet dream.
And what a debut it is, mixing and matching musical styles with joyous abandon: the only thing these songs have in common is that they’re superbly crafted. From pure pop nuggets as catchy as the common cold to more abstract aural adventures, Vampire Weekend is set to cause quite a stir.
What’s perhaps surprising for an album so gorgeously layered is that there wasn’t a whole lot of tampering of their initial CD-R release, as drummer Chris Tomson explains: ‘There was a pink CD-R as well, and if we continued, there would have been a yellow one. The only difference is that we recorded two more songs and dropped one.’
Produced by keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij (frontman Ezra Koeing and bassist Chris Baio make up the ranks), Vampire Weekend wasn’t birthed in any fancy studio environments, but had its genesis in bit-parts, recorded in various apartments.
‘In a lot of ways, it forced you to work harder,’ Tomson muses. ‘If you are recording drums in your friend’s basement and he is trying to get to sleep, you sort of need to get it finished there and then.’
The end result sounds anything but rushed, however. From the clattering rhythmic clash of -A-Punk’, where Koeing momentarily sounds like a young Sting, to Batmangliji’s piquant string arrangements on -M79′, Vampire Weekend seem to be fully in control.
XL obviously thought so as well. ‘They liked the way it sounded, but said we could go to a studio if we wanted to, but that wasn’t like a big pitch or anything from them; they were happy as it was,’ agrees Tomson.
The English label’s vote of confidence, coupled with their fine release reputation, made them an ideal home for Vampire Weekend: ‘Before we even recorded anything, we sat down and agreed on labels that we would like to work with, and XL was one of the ones we mentioned early.’
While XL’s ears may haven pricked by hype-generation via blogs like Stereogum, Tomson is keen to distance himself from falling into the trap of becoming another blog-band, stressing that old-fashioned word-of-mouth has been pivotal to their rise.
‘I think blogs are just one element of it; things like Myspace have helped us as well,’ he notes. ‘People will come to shows and tell friends about it and so on. I didn’t really know what they [blogs] were until people started writing about us. To be honest, there is this really weird social dynamic about them, where people feel they have to be the first ones to discover a band and it is a bit strange for me.’
Of course, the primary focus of much of this blogging has been on the band’s palpable interest in world music, particularly African. ‘I think we all got into in different ways when we were in College,’ he recalls. ‘I worked in a radio station, and there was this guy who had a really great African show, and I used to check out what records he was playing.’
Meanwhile, the fact that they namecheck other musical luminaries in their songs, with Peter Gabriel cropping up on -Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ and Lil’ John appearing in -Oxford Comma’: surely the first time a band has referenced both the former Genesis-man, and the Atlanta crunk maestro.
‘I think that it can be very helpful describing something by using someone’s name, as opposed to an emotion,’ Tomson laughs. ‘Hopefully it will bring up different things for different people.’
Tomson hopes for Irish dates later in the year, not least because he spent five months here in 2003. While he has Irish heritage, there was another reason for Chris picking Ireland over other European countries as the location for his lengthy sojourn: ‘I didn’t know any foreign languages well enough to go anywhere else!’
By CiarÃ¡n Ryan
Vampire Weekend – A-Punk (Live on Letterman)