ALISON STEWART, host
Buzz, can you hear it? Buzz. That music you're hearing now by all rights should be accompanied by a tremendous buzzing sound. Why? Because last week, the world of indie rock anointed four new princes - the young men of the band, Vampire Weekend. The band has described their music as upper west side Soweto, upper west side for the area in New York where they met, and Soweto for the area in South Africa where some of the music that inspired them originated.
That ability to brand themselves and the fact that they tend to wear a very -shall we say - waspy uniform of khakis, polo shirts, and boat shoes, set a million little blog bound fingers to typing, months before they even had a record out. Well, last week they finally released their debut album. And if you follow these kinds of things, it became one of those records that seemed like everyone in the music world had to weigh in on and express an opinion about.
BPP Director Jacob Ganz talked to the recent graduates of Columbia University about their big week.
JACOB GANZ: You guys had a pretty busy day yesterday. Tell me what happened.
Unidentified Man #1 (Vampire Weekend): Well, the day started with - what did it start with?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #2 (Vampire Weekend): It started kind of late.
Unidentified Man #1: Yeah. The first thing we did was go to do sound check at Letterman.
Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, that was the first thing, Letterman.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: That's how I start all my days, Letterman sound check. Jacob's in the studio with us now. Hi, Jacob.
GANZ: Hi guys, how are you doing?
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
STEWART: So all this hype - was there something really special about these guys, or was it just hype?
GANZ: Yeah, you can hear they're pretty excited about things. I think it's all happened really fast for them, even though people have been talking about them for a while. The two voices that you heard there are Rostam Batmanglij, who's the producer and keyboardist for the band, and Ezra Koenig, who's the lead singer and guitarist. And the nice thing about this band is that there's something really sort of open and clean and really sort of presentable about them.
I mean, the pop hooks are, like, really, really quickly apparent. And every song on the record has the, sort of the same level of production and sort of like musical, sort of just like - it's just - everything's very appealing on the record. It's just about the cutest music I've ever heard.
STEWART: Accessible. Very accessible.
GANZ: Yeah. The record itself is, I mean, completely full of New York references. The band is - it's just really clear where the band is coming from. Their influences are really apparent. Their relationship with the city is really apparent. And I actually asked Ezra, we talked at the Soldiers and Sailors monument on the Riverside Park, which is near Columbia where they met, I asked Ezra and Rostam if the city itself inspired any of their music. Here's what Rostam had to say.
Mr. ROSTAM BATMANGLIJ (Vampire Weekend): When you get in a cab and you here Bachata, and you say, like, we got to make a Bachata song.
GANZ: Tell us what Bachata is.
Mr. BATMANGLIJ: Bachata is, like, from the Dominican Republic. It, I think it means, like, ballad, right?
Mr. EZRA KOENIG (Vampire Weekend): I don't know what it means. (unintelligible)
Mr. BATMANGLIJ: Or it means, like, I think it means songs of love, but it has that really, like, staccato, clean chorused, guitar. It's like…
(Soundbite of imitated guitar sound)
Mr. BATMANGLIJ: And the percussion is like almost like pitch shifted, so it's like kind of like…
(Soundbite of imitated drum sound)
GANZ: So one of the nice things about them is they've clearly got their eyes, like, their ears really wide open. They're hearing things all around them. They're incorporating it into their sound. But they've also, you know, in the process of becoming a band in New York City, they made friends with some people who are in influential bands here. We talked a little bit about David Longstreth, who's the leader of a band called Dirty Projectors who was here in the studio on the BRYANT PARK PROJECT a month or so ago.
Ezra, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend, actually played with Dirty Projectors on one of their tours. Here's what he had to say about Dave Longstreth.
Mr. KOENIG: His interest in African music inspired us, too. And Rostam also played at a concert with Dave, and I think - yeah, his ability to synthesize things, I think, is inspiring.
Mr. BATMANGLIJ: I think Dave is one of the most inspiring musicians alive. And he's a very interesting person to talk about music with because on one level, a lot of people would talk about his music as being, like, very experimental. But the truth is he's in, the furthest from an experimental music snob you could get. And he loves pop music and Beyonce and Mariah Carey. And that, I think is - it's nice to be able to relate to somebody like that because he's so open-minded and yet also, like, seriously original.
GANZ: That balance between being accessible and being open to lots of different kind of music, that's right at the center of, like, of everything that's contestable about indie rock today. I mean, like, people, you know, like, you have to be original, but you also have to be, you also have to be accessible or else nobody's going to listen to your music. And that tension certainly is happening with Vampire Weekend right now.
STEWART: And they're clearly drawing on a lot of different sources. There's been some backlash related to that…
GANZ: There have.
STEWART: …their multi-inspirational style, shall we say. Let's listen to a little bit of a clip.
(Soundbite of music)
STEWART: Now, I'm sorry. When I heard this, I thought, hello, "Graceland," Paul Simon. It's like a direct - I mean, I guess you can influence, but this sounds exactly like a hook from "Graceland."
MARTIN: It's, there's a fine line between inspiration and appropriation.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GANZ: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, definitely. And appropriation, like, as far as style and as far as music goes, it's definitely the issue that a lot of people have with this band, whether they're just hijacking somebody else's culture completely. I mean, whether it's Paul Simon or African…
MARTIN: Or the original, yeah, or the original.
GANZ: Or original music, exactly. You know, to the point that - like, this is one of the things that happens with young, with young bands who, especially people who play out music over the Internet, which this band did. They got a review in the New York Times six months before they ever had a record out. I mean, people were talking about this band for a long time before the record came out.
I mean, by the time the album came out, everybody had to weigh in on the buzz -not just on the record itself, but on the buzz. I mean, The Village Voice posted two reviews last week, a point, counterpoint. Like, one of the reviews said, you know, they incorporate the style into the music and that's why they're good. And forget the - forget that backlash, they're, you know, the songs are great. And the other one said, please ignore this band. The hype is terrible.
GANZ: Just let them go.
STEWART: And what did these guys say about the backlash?
GANZ: Well, they actually, you know, having grown up in sort of an Internet age, they have a pretty sort of keen take on how the Internet works. I asked Ezra if they were to create a band that could completely withstand Internet backlash, what attributes it would have.
Mr. KOENIG: We would just have to ignore those things, 'cause seriously, like, as you said, we, our first major press was six months ago. And that was probably when we first started getting backlash, so to speak. Like, it's, whenever there's, like, a lot of positivity, there's also going to be negativity, the hater phenomenon. And it's, you know, I think, I don't know if it really is as simple as people make it out to be, like hype, and love, backlash, and hate, 'cause I think those things are going to coexist from the very start.
GANZ: Does it sting at all? I mean, even when you know it's going to happen, is it hard not to be sensitive about things like that?
Mr. KOENIG: Well, you know, growing up listening to rap music, you almost feel like at some point you should have haters. That that's an important part of being a successful musician. So you know, it's a good thing I guess.
(Soundbite of music)
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) The (unintelligible) and backstroke, all the way…
STEWART: You're listening to Vampire Weekend. Our own BPP director, Jacob Ganz spoke with the members of the band.
GANZ: Along with Wyn Rosenfeld, our video producer.
STEWART: Oh yeah, we'll give…
GANZ: And Intrepid intern, Will Hoffman, as well, I should mention.
STEWART: Thanks very much, Jacob.
GANZ: Thanks, guys.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.