Is your bed made? Is your sweater on? It's time to get prepped for the return of Vampire Weekend.
Vampire Weekend are the platinum-selling brainiac band from New York whose brilliant first two albums expanded the vocabulary of indie-pop forever. Their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, is yet to be released but has already sparked online fervour, fake album covers, and sold-out UK dates. But enough about that: Esquire talks to frontman Ezra Koenig and multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Rostam Batmanglij about chest hair, rock operas and N-Dubz.
ESQUIRE: Your third album, Modern Vampires of the City, comes out in May. How are you feeling at this point?
ROSTAM BATMANGLIJ: We spent a long time working on this album so it’s sinking in that it’s finished. It’s kind of like coming to terms with it.
ESQ: It’s been three years since your last, Contra. Were you concerned about the timing?
EZRA KOENIG: I think if our album had come out in 2014 it would have felt like too long. I’m not saying it would have been a disaster, but I do feel like we got this one in right on the cusp of it still feeling connected to the first two albums. Three of us would have been 30; it would just be different in a lot of ways.
ESQ: Growing older seems to be something you’re thinking about here
EK: Yeah, totally. If you go to college and then you end it, you have roughly 10 years to figure stuff out. There’s a lot of natural reasons why one’s early thirties seem like an intense transitional period. There is a degree of pressure that ramps up during that time.
ESQ: It also brings some benefits. Ezra, are you aware there’s now a Tumblr account dedicated to your chest hair?
EK: My chest hair? That sounds familiar.
RB: That was a very lad mag question.
ESQ: Don’t worry. There are more. You once covered a Cheryl Cole song, “Fight for This Love”. Are there other British pop stars you’re interested in?
EK: I don’t know who’s new on the scene. I saw N-Dubz on the TV last night. They struck me as very self-aware and funny. At least the one, the main guy.
ESQ: Dappy? Self-aware?
EK: They were on a talk show with Alan Carr, who’s obviously a funny guy. They really held their own. They got it. I didn’t know what to make of the song they played, but when they were messing around with him it was almost like some Monkees or early Beatles kind of vibe. But I should probably research them more.
ESQ: It sounds like you’ve done more than enough. Ezra, you recently did a cameo on the TV show Girls. What’s the connection there?
EK: I’ve known Lena [Dunham] who makes that show for a few years. I met her when they’d just filmed the pilot. She didn’t know Vampire Weekend and was like, “Oh, that sounds… cool.”
ESQ: It seems odd that someone like her wouldn’t have heard of you…
EK: She told me subsequently she was excitedly telling people about us because we were a new discovery for her. Her little sister was like, “Right. Yeah. I’m familiar.”
ESQ: How do you think your relationships have changed over these three albums?
RB: We’d never before worked as closely, to the point where we had to be brutally honest with each other. It was hard to say, “I know you can do better.”
EK: You still feel nervous about sharing something. Maybe the price you pay for being a sensitive, artistic type is that you’re always a sensitive, artistic type.
RB: Ezra! Do you want to be quoted describing yourself as a “sensitive, artistic type”?
EK: Well, as long as you describe my other, more manly, attributes… The truth is that anybody — I don’t care if you’re Bruce Springsteen or The Black Keys or whoever seems macho — these people are all sensitive, artistic types. That’s how you get to the best stuff.
ESQ: You’ve described this album as the conclusion of a trilogy. Why do you see it that way?
EK: I see it as a “here and there and back again” situation. The first album was very much tied to a specific time and place, a little more provincial maybe. The second album felt wider, larger, more worldly. This record I see in some ways like a return to New York, perhaps with a little more information. Sometimes I’ve imagined little trilogies of songs in my head, seeing how a song on the first, second and third albums all form some kind of vague narrative. But we don’t write rock operas — yet.
ESQ: Does this all suggest a radical change of direction for album four?
RB: It does sort of open a door for a really wide departure. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can push the boat out.
Interview by Miranda Collinge, photograph by Dan Burn-Forti