VAMPIRE WEEKEND with HAIM at the Sony Centre (1 Front East), tonight (Thursday, May 16), 8 pm. $33.50-$44.50. LN, SC. See listing.
Vampire Weekend are a tough band to impress, especially when analyzing their own material.
"We have an obsession with quality control," says singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig over lunch at Toronto's Thompson Hotel. "We've never let a song onto an album that didn't provide something new for the band. We can be hardcore when it comes to judging songs in their infancy."
That obsession is apparent on the New York City four-piece's just-released third studio album, Modern Vampires Of The City (XL/Beggars), a set of complex, artfully constructed and immediately enjoyable songs.
Koenig, multi-instrumentalist producer Rostam Batmanglij, bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Tomson formed Vampire Weekend while studying at Columbia University seven years ago and fast became indie rock stars. Their first two albums, which both sold more than 500,000 copies in the U.S., distilled influences like punk, Afro-pop and new wave into a cheerful sound full of allusive lyrical narratives.
On Modern Vampires, New York itself strongly influenced the album's eclectic sounds, and Batmanglij describes Big Apple life with wide-eyed, almost gushing enthusiasm.
"New York is a huge part of what inspires me, whether it's Arthur Russell or the way it's a meeting place for jazz and classical and minimalist music," he says.
Koenig spent a lot of time travelling Europe and the Caribbean after the tour for 2010's Contra, and only got his first "real" apartment in the city a year and a half ago. He describes Modern Vampires as a return to New York of sorts, though his lyrical themes are universal and have to do with growing up and the weight of time.
"If you have too much of your own sense of time, it's like you're on this weird timeless trip," he says. "Everybody has these moments in life when the pace of time seems to change or the forces around you start to feel stronger than you."
Modern Vampires was recorded over three years with producer Ariel Rechtshaid. The songwriting process was a year of Koenig writing lyrics and melodies and Batmanglij composing music.
The two would get together in Batmanglij's loft in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighbourhood and pass ideas back and forth. Although each song was thoroughly judged and vetted, they also endeavoured to surprise themselves.
"If I started making a piece of music, Ezra would come in and sing on top of it, but in some cases I'd only let him listen to the music one time before I set up a vocal mic," Batmanglij says.
"There's something important about not giving too much context. If you listen to a beat too much, it's really hard to find a melody to go on top of it that doesn't conform to what the beat is doing. It's important for there to be tension."
With Modern Vampires, they found it. Expansive in musical ambition and straightforwardly introspective in its emotion, the album is still catchy as hell. Koenig views it as a step forward.
"It's impossible to repeat yourself well," he says. "If it weren't, I'd consider it."