Vampire Weekend Talk Chest Hair, Rock Operas and N-Dubz As They Release Their Third Album

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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.

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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.

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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.

Modern Vampires of the City (XL) is out now

Interview by Miranda Collinge, photograph by Dan Burn-Forti