Vampire Weekend "Open the World Back Up" on 'Father of the Bride'
Collaborators like HAIM and the Internet's Steve Lacy helped achieve Ezra Koenig's vision after the departure of Rostam Batmanglij
Published May 03, 2019Over their first three albums, there were plenty of threads that tied the mythology of Vampire Weekend together: their Columbia University origins; preppy wardrobe choices largely featuring polo shirts and boat shoes; heavily scrutinized Afro-pop influence; and the professional relationship between frontman Ezra Koenig and producer/multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij.
With their fourth album, Father of the Bride, Koenig is prepared to leave the past behind. The first Vampire Weekend album in six years, and their first since Batmanglij left the band to focus on his production work, Father of the Bride is a bold step forward that finds the project expanding its worldview, with a patchwork, collaboration-heavy style that finds their pop sound exploding into plenty of new directions over the album's hour-long runtime.
"I think, after three albums, I felt a real sense of completion," Koenig says, charting a course from the band's "summery" self-titled debut in 2008 to 2010's sophomore album Contra — "the first time we had true ballads" — to 2013's Modern Vampires of the City, which "takes that a big step further in terms of actively talking about the big things that fuck with a person's head."
After an extended break — the band's first since the constant cycle of recording and touring that yielded those first three records — and the departure of Batmanglij, Koenig felt a desire to drastically change up the structure of Vampire Weekend, which involved bringing in more collaborators and featured guests.
"It became necessary to open the world back up. Bring in new people, be open to new ideas and also figure out a way to redefine the journey," says Koenig. "We're establishing the territory of what Vampire Weekend is. Every album adds something to it, and this album, I wanted to add a lot to it."
To do that, it required Koenig to challenge the public perceptions of Vampire Weekend. Though the project always presented itself as a band — Koenig, Batmanglij, bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Tomson — Koenig insists that Vampire Weekend boiled down to the in-studio relationship between himself and Batmanglij.
"None of the albums were really four guys in a room," he says. "Especially the second and third albums, it's me and Rostam making these demos, we just mock everything up in Pro Tools."
To fill the void for Father of the Bride, Koenig and co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid — who co-produced Modern Vampires of the City with Batmanglij — cast a wide net for collaborators, roping in familiar faces, like Batmanglij and Danielle Haim, and new voices, including 20-year-old multi-instrumentalist Steve Lacy of R&B band the Internet, who claims that the first song he ever learned on guitar was Vampire Weekend's "A-Punk."
"A lot of people are part of what makes Vampire Weekend what it is. And, as much as I've led the band and continue to lead it, it's never just gonna be me," says Koenig. "That's one thing that I know about myself — no matter how much I get excited about a song I wrote, or how much I'm feeling myself, I know that I'm totally worthless without other collaborators."
Despite its wide range of collaborators and method of collaborations — including vocal samples of Jenny Lewis, samples of Haruomi Hosono and Hans Zimmer, and lyrical interpolations of iLoveMakonnen — there's a cohesiveness to the album, both in and of itself, and how it fits as the next step of Vampire Weekend's musical journey.
From the Graceland-influenced guitars of lead single "Harmony Hall" to country-pop duet "Married in a Gold Rush" to laidback lounge jazz cut "Sunflower," Father of the Bride creates a world as vast and cartoonish as the clipart globe on the album's cover. And with its range of collaborators, the album feels like the start of a new world for the band.
Outside of Vampire Weekend, Koenig has kept busy with a varied set of creative endeavours, including hosting internet radio show Time Crisis (produced by Canadian Twitter personality Jason Richards, aka Seinfeld2000) and creating Netflix animated series Neo Yokio, an anime-influenced comedy starring Jaden Smith, Jude Law and Susan Sarandon. Despite the variety, they all boil down to a common willingness to challenge preconceived notions of highbrow and lowbrow art, and to mix it all together into a compelling hodgepodge of ideas and influences.
"The things that I've always loved artistically have always been some mix of serious and stupid," he notes. Following six years of exploring that duality outside of music, it was time to try and split the difference with Vampire Weekend. "I think for this record, I really wanted to see if it could truly be both at once."
Koenig states that the album's extended length and runtime (57 minutes and 18 tracks) was necessary to fit all of his many ideas, saying, "I wanted room to have the serious next to the stupid, have the lightweight next to the heavy. I want to have different musical ideas next to each other, and I just couldn't picture that on a ten- or 11-song album."
And it's the recurring faces, like Haim and Lacy, who appear on several of the album's tracks, who help tie it together.
"There are a lot of records where people just bring in everybody and their mother to just try something on the record, and it's very impersonal," notes Koenig. "And you can make a great record that way, but my feeling for this record was, anybody who's worth having on the record should probably be on more than one song, so it's important to me that, if we're gonna have guests for the first time, it's not just a bunch of random people on different tracks to appease various demographics.
"I like that real communal feel, not just stopping by for an hour, but being in the mix."