Here Comes the ‘Bride’: Inside Vampire Weekend’s New Album – Rolling Stone
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Here Comes the ‘Bride’: Inside Vampire Weekend’s Return

It took a few years, but Ezra Koenig fell back in love with making music

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Monika Mogi

Last fall, Ezra Koenig experienced a brief moment of panic regarding Post Malone’s hit single “Sunflower.” “We have a song on this record called ‘Sunflower,'” the Vampire Weekend frontman, 34, recalls thinking. “‘God, we have to get this out!'”

The album he’s talking about is Father of the Bride, the band’s first new release in six years, due out this spring. Koenig spent so long writing and recording the new LP that he started noticing coincidences everywhere — even wondering if the cover art, which he’d chosen nearly three years ago, was too similar to Kanye West’s new Twitter avatar. Every time he logged onto his own social-media accounts, meanwhile, he’d see messages from fans pleading with him to release new music. “Sometimes funny, sometimes legitimately frightening,” he says. “I’m just happy there are still people who are waiting.”

It started with a short break to recharge after the five-year, three-album run that peaked with 2013’s acclaimed Modern Vampires of the City. “I had a dream journal when I was 12 and I started my first band,” Koenig says. “By the time we were done touring Modern Vampires, I would’ve accomplished all of that.” So he took most of 2015 off from Vampire Weekend, spending time in L.A. and making the brilliantly bonkers Netflix cartoon Neo Yokio. (He also found time to parlay a tweet into one of the best songs on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and to take part in a songwriting camp led by West.)

After co-founder Rostam Batmanglij left Vampire Weekend in early 2016, Koenig began thinking more seriously about the band’s next move. Seeking fresh inspiration, he put in work with pop and hip-hop producers including DJ Dahi (Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.) and BloodPop (Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”). “To go from collaborating with somebody to doing stuff by yourself would be insane,” he says. “But that’s not the case. I’m continuing to have the exact same role that I’ve always had in the band: songwriting and vibe direction. So it wasn’t a very difficult transition for me.”

In 2017, the band regrouped with Modern Vampires co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who helped them shape Koenig’s “huge basket of ideas, beats and chord progressions” into Vampire Weekend songs over the next 18 months. The lead single, “Harmony Hall,” features bright Balearic pianos and a zippy guitar solo. “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die,” Koenig sings.

“I know a lot of people in bands who have this fatalistic vibe, like, ‘Oh, no, rock’s dead, nobody cares,'” he says. “So what are you going to do about it? Either quit, or figure out a way to be excited about it. I’ve probably played more guitar in the past few years than I have in my entire life.”

The album also features guest vocalists, a first for Vampire Weekend. “We’ve had three albums of the same voice over and over again,” Koenig says, meaning his own. “I like the idea of opening up our world a little bit.”

One challenge was finding an album-shaped throughline for all the material he’d generated during the band’s downtime. “I had these crazy ambitions at first,” Koenig says. At one point, he had so many promising demos in contention that he considered releasing two double-LPs of 23 songs each — “like the chromosomes of human DNA. I honestly think we almost could have done it, but I kept it real.”

In the end he settled on 18 tracks, some as short as a minute and a half, others stretching out to five minutes. “Some songs are essays, other songs are haikus,” he says. “This is the moment when ten to 12 songs is not enough for Vampire Weekend. Any shorter and it would be missing some important moments.”

Many of the songs on Father of the Bride deal with marriage and other relationships, with the title nodding in part to the 1991 rom-com starring Steve Martin, which he came across on TV in the early stages of planning the album. “I’ve never been married,” says Koenig, who recently became a parent with his partner, Rashida Jones. “But I think everybody thinks about those things as you get older. There’s something about [the title] that’s almost Biblical. It’s about the ties that bind, the relationships between communities, between humans and God, between people and the land they live on.”

Those themes, for him, mark a natural progression from Vampire Weekend’s earlier work. “On our first album, most of the songs were written in college, and it had a very youthful vibe,” he says. “On the second and third records, the wide-eyed enthusiasm dimmed considerably. You see more of the world, and you’re more and more disheartened. But that trajectory can’t go on forever. After you make the black-and-white album cover with the songs about death, you can’t go deeper. This is the life-goes-on record.”

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