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Chris Tomson and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend at Coachella 2010

Vampire Weekend

Onward and Upward

May 03, 2010 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Web Exclusive
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Under the Radar cover artists Vampire Weekend are having a banner year. From topping the Billboard music charts with sophomore album Contra, to spots on Saturday Night Live in their past and scheduled performances at Radio City Music Hall and The Hollywood Bowl in their future, the Ivy-league educated quartet is a far cry from their start as indie darlings who just wanted to play New York’s Bowery Ballroom.

Under the Radar joined drummer Chris Tomson and lead man Ezra Koenig in a rare patch of shade at Coachella to discuss life on the road, the sanity-maintaining properties of funny movies, and how to best operate Google.

Laura Studarus: Under the Radar interviewed you a few months ago for our cover story, and one thing I thought was interesting was the comment that you would like to be the band who puts out an album a year.

Chris Tomson: I think we’ll always have that impulse that we’ll want to keep moving forward, but I know we’ll have to take our time after this album, just because we’re touring so much. It’s been fun but our schedule is pretty interesting.

Do you get a chance when you’re on tour to work on new music?

Ezra Koenig: Sometimes we get ideas, and I think we all gather ideas, but we don’t have that much time to record or really get into it.

Do you feel like you’re in a place to start thinking about the next album? Or is it all promotion?

Koenig: We’re starting to think about it very slowly.

With a festival like this do you find it a good place to gather ideas?

Tomson: No! Because if you’re sitting here, there’s always someone on the main stage. Plus you have friends in other bands that you want to see. So festivals are more of a social occasion than work.

Is there any friends here that you’re hoping to see?

Tomson: Yeah, Ra Ra Riot is playing today. MGMT is playing tomorrow. I think our bassist Chris Baio is over seeing Sleigh Bells right now. There’s a lot of great bands. Also Julian Casablancas. We’re excited to see him. He’s playing Sunday.

Koenig: You should double-check that.

He’s up against Jónsi and Charlotte Gainsbourg

Koenig: Tough choices. We’re on team Julian.

It seems like you’re on a ridiculous schedule right now, what keeps touring fresh for you?

Tomson: Funny movies! Possibly not funny movies.

Koenig: We try to watch a lot of bad movies.

Tomson: Like the Ryan Reynolds vehicle, Just Friends. It puts things in perspective.

Koenig: Yeah, I just try to read and keep my brain active.

You mention in our cover story interview that one of your goals when you were starting out was to play Bowery Ballroom, which you’ve already done. Do you have any new career goals?

Tomson: I think a couple of shows have been announced for our fall tour were we’re playing places like, after you play the Bowery where do you go from there? In New York we’re playing Radio City, which is obviously a historic venue, which is nice. We just announced a show at the Hollywood Bowl, in LA, which again is another historic venue. In the fall we’re going to play a lot of those places. Those are the only two we know for sure. But they’re places that are a step up in size and also have a great history.

One of your members, Rostam Batmanglij, is in another band Discovery with Wes Miles of Ra Ra Riot. Are there any other side projects in the works?

Tomson: [Laughs] Well I have a dream…but it’s a secret.

Koenig: [Laughs] I think if you got a good DJ you could mix your music up with some other stuff too.

You tend to use some interesting samples. What do you look for in other people’s tracks?

Koenig: I don’t know. It’s hard to say because a good sample is always surprising. It gets totally re-contextualized.

Tomson: I don’t think you look for it as much as it just happens and it’s part of the idea.

Koenig: Yeah. We’ve never based a song around a sample. Sometimes the ideas come later. But certainly, I’ve made before the band, a lot of sample-based music.

So when you’re writing a song, with our without sample, what elements do you look for?

Koenig: All that matters is that it’s memorable and makes you feel something. You can intellectualize and say I want to write a song about this or I want to write a song about this and makes people think this. But really music is more about a visceral response. Sometimes you play chords or sing a melody and immediately it just grabs you. It’s not with analyzing too much beyond that.

Is there an artist whose career you look to for inspiration?

Tomson: It’s hard to say; I think one thing that we really always felt great about is every time, well almost every time we’ve come to a city after playing before the place we play is a little bit bigger. So I don’t know if there’s an end point. It’s not a goal, but the fact we’re playing Radio City and Hollywood Bowl and places like that, I think we’ve been lucky and worked hard to get to this point and hope to continue and see where it goes.

So you’re not looking at someone’s career and saying, “I want that.”

Tomson: I think conceptually, I think this may be an obvious choice, but I know we’ve all talked about Radiohead, and how, not even size or popularity, but musically the way they change identities with each album but still remain Radiohead.

Koenig: Or what’s the guy’s name from Orleans who is the representative from Westchester? [Author’s note: John Hall]

Tomson: Yeah, the guy, what is it, “Still the One?”

Koenig: “Still the One” and “Dance With Me.”

Tomson: And then became a U.S. Congressman. He’s bald now, but he’s a U.S. member of Congress.

I feel like you just sent me on a Google treasure hunt.

Tomson: Yeah, search “Orleans Congress.” First hit!

Koenig: No, that’s a horrible way to look it up!

Tomson: I’m a bad Google searcher!

Koenig: This guy has no game when it comes to Google!

Tomson: They wanted me to find out something about SNL and a searched “late night comedy” and it didn’t come up! I couldn’t believe it!

So you’re about the hunt.

Koenig: This guy! I asked him to Google when Ra Ra Riot was playing and he typed in festivals. That is not an official way to search!

Tomson: I like clicking links! The more links the better, you know what I mean? Follow the white rabbit.

Koenig: [Laughs] He’s more about the journey, I’m more about the destination.

So together you make the perfect team.

Koenig: We’re the odd couple.

Tomson: [Laughs] Cheers to that!



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August 7th 2010

It appears to me that they aren’t equally smart as they suppose they are. The citizenry at the top are simply the greatest and happiest because they show us that.