Vampire Weekend: 'Rock Music Is In A Crisis'

20 December 2013 | 4:02 pm | Kate Kingsmill

Their acclaimed 2013 album is their reaction

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"I think rock music is in a crisis,” says Vampire Weekend guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij. “And maybe the album [Modern Vampires Of The City] is sort of a reaction to that.” His band's new album has just been voted Best Album Of 2013 by Rolling Stone and he's not sure what to think about it: “They called it a rock album, which I found kind of interesting. I don't know how to take that but we'll take it. We can't argue with them!”

The album is more expansive in scope than anything Vampire Weekend have done before. It moves away from the African-inspired, indie-pop sound of the band's first two recordings to a darker, more complex place. “It's an interesting-sounding album,” says Batmanglij. “It doesn't sound like the work of a rock band. I think for it to be called a rock album kind of shows how much people have changed their attitudes recently about what rock music is.”

On whether the crisis is just about the internet democratising the industry, Batmanglij offers: “I don't know if it's a kind of democratisation or the opposite of that, because I guess in terms of instruments it's more diverse than it ever has been, which I'm happy about. But I don't know how the internet figures into it. Maybe it does; that's a good thought, I hadn't thought about that.”

What he has observed is that the landscape of 'rock' radio Stateside has shifted. “In America, all these rock radio stations, which used to play almost exclusively guitar music, with some exceptions – they've kind of shifted in a sort of dramatic way. They play Lorde now, they play M83, they play bands that don't really rely on guitars and it's almost like the outliers have become the mainstays. The novelty hits are now the smashes that own the airwaves and it's sort of shifted everything.” Which is the perfect environment for the fascinating Modern Vampires Of The City to be born into. 

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Vocalist Ezra Koenig has described Modern Vampires… as the final part of a trilogy. “I think it was just a feeling we got as we were finishing this album – we sort of had a realisation that it was connecting with the past two in a pretty distinct way,” says Batmanglij. But Vampire Weekend have shown much more ambition on this record than the last two. Lyrically, it must be noted, Koenig has moved on from the earlier preppy material to explore subjects of religion, death, heartache and spirituality. It seems Frank Ocean stole Vampire Weekend's 'super rich kids' shtick. “I don't know, but he's told me that Diplomat's Son was one of his favourite songs of the modern era!” laughs Batmanglij. 

“We had a little bit more time and a little bit more money to work with,” Batmanglij explains of recording their latest set. “And some more resources to unlock, which we hadn't had before, so it was nice to take advantage of that and to record all the drums to tape. On this album we used some pretty old, historic recording techniques. That was an idea that I had going in to making this album: that I wanted it to sound 'tapey' and I wanted it to sound kind of fuzzy.”