Leave the preppy clichés in the noughties! Time Out talks to Vampire Weekend singer Ezra Koenig about Pee Wee Herman, 'Twilight' and new album 'Contra'.
Rewind to another icy January and Vampire Weekend's eponymous debut that fused organ-assisted indie-pop, African highlife rhythms and a Paul Simon circa 'Graceland' crush. Lyrically it painted breezy pictures of collegiate life. Two years on and the quartet return with 'Contra', a follow-up that revels in its hotch potch of sounds: chihuahua yelps, schizophrenic beats and bleeps, sumptuous piano and string sections; it thrums with ideas and bristles with confidence.
You've met Paul Simon and he's covered one of your songs, but you also have a signed Pee Wee Herman picture addressed to you. Surely an equally thrilling event?
'Actually my aunt got it for me, but his show was a big influence. When it went off the air because he was caught masturbating in a movie theatre I asked my mom straight up, "Why isn't Pee Wee on?" She wasn't going to pull any punches and I remember thinking at the time: So what? Why should someone be arrested for that? I was indignant about it. Still, it had its impact. Look at all the crazy shit Nickelodeon put on in the '90s. It's important that kids get to see avant-garde comedy.'
You've said this album is more sentimental. How so?
'The majority of the first album was written while we were at school and to me college is an extension of your adolescence. The day I graduated I started to pay my own health insurance, I had to think about paying back loans and getting a job. Of course I recognise that some people do that even before college starts, but clearly those things make you grow up and think a little more wistfully about what came before. I became a teacher and that was the moment I had to act like an adult. This album comes out of that whole transition period.'
The LP cover is quite enigmatic…
'Rostam [Batmanglij, keyboard/guitar/ producer] is the one who brought it in. I was struck by its timelessness. It looks like it's from the '80s and it is from '83, but it's also this image of youth that could have been taken recently. It's not that it's just a blonde girl in a polo shirt - although I do find that appealing - the real appeal is the look on her face. To me she seems on the cusp of something and that relates to some of the themes on the album. Being in transition - a mix of confidence and insecurity maybe even a bit of defiance. It's a very real, natural moment.'
You've used roboticised Auto-Tune vocals on 'California English'. We were hoping that trend would remain in the last decade…
'It's just an effect. Not only is it not going anywhere but half the stuff you listen to is Auto-Tuned to some extent and you don't notice. I think it's cool when new technology gives music a distinct sound. You've got so many people complaining that stuff is a rehash and all of sudden you have a technology that's totally unique to our time and people are getting angry about it. You can't hate the computer program.'
What do you make of the current vampire-related teen hysteria?
'I certainy didn't predict it, but our band name came from a movie I started making that was explicitly inspired by "The Lost Boys". I didn't know anything about "Twilight" back then, but any time people become excited about a work of fiction, it's a good thing. It's heartening to imagine millions of teenagers really care about this story, that they're empathising with the characters. Especially because people are like, "No one reads anymore, people's attention spans are so short." I saw the two "Twilight" movies and they are long!'
'Contra' is out now on XL Recordings. Vampire Weekend DJ their Contra Club album release party at Video Visions in Dalston on Fri Jan 15 2010.