Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig Talks 'Father of the Bride,' Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialism

Vampire, Weekend, father, of, the, bride,
Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend performs on stage at EartH Hackney on March 21, 2019 in London, England. Chiaki Nozu/Redferns

What does a band like Vampire Weekend sound like after age 30?

That's the question that frontman Ezra Koenig has struggled with over the past six years, as he slowly worked on the band's fourth album, Father of the Bride, out Friday.

In the midst of the group's hiatus, Koenig came into his own adulthood. He moved to Los Angeles (a common occurrence for New Yorkers in that dark, liminal space between young adulthood and middle-age), had a child with partner Rashida Jones, campaigned on behalf of Bernie Sanders, hosted Time Crisis, an internet radio show, and created Neo Yokio, a Netflix anime show with a cult following.

Along the way, ideas for another album came together.

At times, Koenig says, he felt like banging his head against the wall looking for inspiration. But eventually, he stumbled upon an idea that felt true to the core of Vampire Weekend. Instead of focusing on the Polo-loving, Ivy-educated prepsters Koenig grew up with, he would look toward their Phish-loving, tie-dyed camp counselors.

That 1990s jam band ethos makes up the backbone of the album, while complex lyrics that reference ego-death, failed relationships and, yes, the Israel-Palestine conflict bring it into maturity.

I recently spoke with Koenig about cultural signifiers, politics, and bringing Vampire Weekend into 2019.

Congrats on the new album! There was a six-year break between your last release, Modern Vampires of the City, and this one. Should we expect that to happen again?

I don't want there to be, I mean I feel pretty energized now. Since handing in the record, I find myself constantly thinking about what's going to come next and I'm pretty excited about spending time in the studio so...I can't imagine the next album taking six years.

Your first three albums have been referred to as a trilogy. Do you want to create another one?

I've wondered about that too, the trilogy thing. The reason the first albums were a trilogy was because ideas that were opened up on the first album were taken to their conclusion by the third. Sometimes that happens, you get a wave of lyrical, musical and aesthetic ideas and you can take them down a path.

But after that I was older and was looking for new things and new music to get excited about, and it took a minute to find that new set of ideas. So maybe there is a new set of ideas that can grow and change over the next few albums, but then of course I always want things to be pretty different album to album. In some ways, that's the definition of being a recording artist, or at least the type of recording artist that I consider myself and Vampire Weekend to be. It's making albums that tell a story, where there's a thread that ties them together but there's always something changing. Album to album it needs to feel like the same story, kind of like chapters in a novel.

There's a part of me that's like "what does Vampire Weekend sound like over 30?" And then there's also a part of me that's like, "well, the answer is right in front of me." It's just life, it's me and the people I know, it's looking at how my tastes have changed as a music listener, it's how my life has changed as a human being. So there were those moments too where it became really simple, where it's like "we're growing older, the fans are growing older too."

Your old albums are certainly a little bit heavier on cultural signifiers than this one is. How do you reconcile those two parts of Vampire Weekend?

In some ways it doesn't feel that different, like there are people who say "Vampire Weekend used to be this preppy band, and now you have this jam band influence and it's crunchier." And I'm like, well maybe you didn't grow up on the East Coast in the 1990s but those people are just a half-step from each other, they're basically the same person...They're siblings, you know?

I don't feel like I'm either one of those people, but I certainly observed them a lot and they influenced me. The world of this album is not that different than the last because it's just a lot of the same people and places, just at a different moment in time.

There is a lot of jam band influence, and you often refer to the "tasteful palate of the 1970s" on your internet radio show, Time Crisis. Are we having a 1970s moment as a society?

There's definitely some kind of link between the 1970s and the 1990s, and the 1990s have been in fashion for a while. I think that there used to be a sense of regularity about how generations work, and how trend cycles work, and now I think we're entering a new megacycle. These old rules about how culture cycles work are all changing, so everything is happening at once, and as an artist I think all you can do is just follow your gut about where your story needs to head.

All of these press people ask me, "How do you think Vampire Weekend fits into 2019?" I'm just like "man I don't know, that's not my job. My job is to write chapters for this novel, and I feel very confident that this is chapter four. I found it." I can't guarantee that chapter four is going to be the most popular chapter of the book but I can confidently say that it's the same story, and that's all I can really concern myself with.

In the 2016 presidential election, you played on behalf of Senator Bernie Sanders. Are you backing him again this time around?

I just can't tie my sense of well-being into who is president, you know?

I think he's got a real consistency and he's got this connection to Vermont. I know that character well, I feel connected to him even though I've only had a handful of conversations with him. I think I get his vibe, so I admire him as a human being.

But at the end of the day, there's so much more to worry about than who's president.

When we were out there campaigning for Bernie I saw that, not just for Bernie but for a lot of other candidates too, people's whole ego was so tied into this personal feeling of who will win the primary, who will be the candidate. I was kind of horrified by seeing that cult of personality around the various candidates. I like Bernie but I'm not that person. Putting your heart into something and falling in love is a good thing, sometimes. But, they also say love is blindness so sometimes you just want there to be some clarity too. But that lack of clarity is an issue, it's a problem.

Still, I think Bernie means what he says, and he's always said that his campaign is bigger than him.

Do you consider yourself a Democratic Socialist?

I definitely support some organizations that are to the left of the Democratic Party and I think it's great to have more choice and to have more room for different ideas in this process. I can say that out of everybody serving in Congress and the Senate, the people who identify as democratic socialists seem the most ethical to me.

What do you think about [South Bend, Indiana, Mayor and 2020 Democratic candidate] Pete Buttigieg being into Phish?

I think it's cool that he's into Phish, I like Phish. But Bernie's from Vermont, so come on. If there's a true Phish candidate, it's Bernie.

You've got a lot going on with Vampire Weekend, Time Crisis and [Netflix show] Neo Yokio. What's next for you?

One thing that I've learned over the past six years is that I really don't like working on more than one thing at a time. I like rolling up to the same group of people every day, and working on one thing. I like waking up in the morning, having a cup of coffee, and thinking about the project I'm in the middle of.

Right now I'm just thinking about Vampire Weekend and the internet radio show I love doing where I get together with my best friends every two weeks and shoot the shit. That's my pure joy. Aspects of music are pure joy, and then you get into the strategy and marketing and touring and there's drudgery too. But Time Crisis is pure joy.