Ezra Koenig Goes Deep on Vampire Weekend's "Preppy" Image
Published May 14, 2013This week, Vampire Weekend finally release their much-anticipated third album, Modern Vampires of the City, and though it's been almost five years since the band put out their self-titled debut, they're still fighting the perception that they're elitist preps bent on glorifying wealth and appropriating the music other cultures.
Speaking to Exclaim!, Ezra Koenig discussed the origins of their relationship to the "preppy" tag, and why a little reading both on and between the lines of their lyrics might illuminate their complex relationship with capital.
"The whole idea of Vampire Weekend in the beginning was to be a preppy band," says Koenig, "but one thing I didn't realize was that, for me, preppy-ness was funny and weird, a bit of a costume; something that I liked on an aesthetic level but half hated.... But all that stuff was always built into the music; the self-critique, the insider-outsider stuff was always part of the music, [but] there are those who wilfully misunderstood it. We set ourselves up so well to be a type of villain for uncharitable listeners.
"At times, it was a little stressful, when people would react so extremely, but looking back on it now, what more could you ask for than to have people passionately argue about your record? When it happens at first, you're like, 'Oh god, are we the most controversial band in the world?' Because people literally talked about us that way. Even to this day, we drop a song and some people have to say, 'The divisive Vampire Weekend...' I kind of feel like, at this point, aren't we just a regular band?"
Still, Koenig realized he'd tapped into a subject that got people passionate and, at best, thoughtful.
"The fact that people freaked out so much as the time also confirmed my feeling that there was something inherently interesting or worthwhile about riffing on preppy clothes and money. I can't believe how little music talks about money and class, when you consider that it's the biggest social issue or problem that we have.
"Because the top end and bottom end of our society, in terms of privilege, are so extreme, it's very easy to find someone above and below you and to compare yourself to them favourably or negatively. So when white, college-educated middle-class critics would hate on me specifically, my gut reaction was to say, 'Wait a minute, you don't know! My dad grew up in the projects, and yes I went to [Columbia University], but I had to take out loans to do it, and I graduated with a lot of debt.' But then, the more I thought about it, I was like, who the fuck am I kidding? I'd be making myself equally ridiculous to play up my own background."
Modern Vampires of the City is out now via XL Recordings. In support of the record, the band lined up a long series of dates, including several here in Canada. You can see all the stops here.