The boys of Vampire Weekend look like a band straight from the Hamptons, circa 1987, yet the preppy four-piece formed between classes at Columbia University just four years ago. They’ve since received many accolades: “The Year’s Best New Band” in March 2008 by Spin, Rolling Stone’s Top 100 songs of the year (for “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”) and the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts in January, when their sophomore effort, Contra, was released. Now, they are gearing up to return to the glittering melting pot that is Las Vegas.
Despite the group’s upper-crust image and perceived affluence, their clean-cut pop-rock transcends appearance and attracts a mixed crowd.
“I’ve always liked the fact that our audience is always diverse, and as time has gone on, it’s just more diverse,” drummer Chris Tomson says. “The people in the first few rows that I can see have gotten younger in some ways, but the crowds really haven’t changed that drastically—they’ve just gotten bigger.”
The last few years have been a nonstop blur of shows, tour buses and recording, but Tomson recalls two things from his last trip to Las Vegas: “We didn’t really sellout or packout The Joint last time,” he says, “[and] one of the blackjack tables had our faces on it, … which I found absolutely hilarious.”
This time, the group plays a slightly smaller venue, the Pearl, and they’re hoping to fill its 2,600-person capacity. It will be the first time the band will play the new album live in Las Vegas, and Tomson is intensely proud of the release.
“We recorded these songs in our own way, and in our own space,” he says. “We spent a few days in a fancy studio, and did the bulk of it in out friend’s studio in a self-storage space in Brooklyn.”
Eight months after Contra, fans are already anxious for a new record, but they’re going to have to wait. “We’re all thinking about it, but we’re going to finish up this year’s tour before we start working on it,” Tomson says.
He is vague when asked about influences (“Whatever is exciting to us and interesting to us at a time is what we’re going to put in there, and it’s hard to say what that will be at the time”), but is direct when asked about the secret to their popular, honest-yet-quirky sound.
“When we started, each one of us was playing a secondary instrument,” he says. “Ezra [Koenig, lead vocals and guitar] was more proficient on piano, but he played guitar, the opposite for Rostam [Batmanglij, keyboards and guitar]; [Chris] Baio was more of a guitar player than a bass player, and I never played drums in a band. So, in some ways, I think we learned our instruments though the prism of Vampire Weekend,”
While unconventional, it seems to be working.
“We’re not jammers, we can’t go out there and improvise a lot, but I think we’ve learned to play in the context of our band,” Tomson says. “That’s definitely helped us come up with stuff that, had I been a super-sweet jazz drummer, I probably would’ve have figured out.”