Vampire Weekend on their long-awaited return, working with Beyonce, and “having more fun on the road”

We caught up with Vampire Weekend at Radio 1's Big Weekend.

The album’s finally out – how is it to be back?

“I feel like we’ve successfully launched the album and now I can relax. Like that part’s really annoying, ’cause you’ve gotta slowly unveil this thing and there’s so much to worry about. But now it’s out we can just play shows, so I’m happy.”

How did you find the transition to working on new material after Rostam [Batmanglij, original member] left the band?

“From every album to the next one has always been a pretty smooth transition, partially because my role never changes. So I feel pretty comfortable working with different people, ’cause I kinda always do the same thing, in terms of songwriting and singing…whatever. I feel pretty comfortable getting in a room with different musicians.”

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend performs live in London, 2019

“So now touring feels a little more exciting to me, whereas in the past – of course, it’s exciting – it was more like successfully performing the album. Now it just feels like its own thing, which makes me less angsty on the road [laughs].”

Did you worry about relevance after taking such a long break?

“When you take as much time off as I did, on the one hand, you make a decision to not worry too much about relevance. If you’re worried about relevance, you can’t take six years off. So part of my brain is not worried about relevance. But then, as you kinda get back into the swing of things, you’re a human being. Nobody would want to come back after six years and be ignored or none of your fans buy tickets or the album. That would be upsetting. It’s interesting, you have to kinda ride that line.

“In some ways, I feel like we always kinda did our own thing. Even in the early days when we were associated with this wave of bands from New York and Brooklyn, I felt like, ‘We didn’t start our band in Brooklyn’. We just did our own weird thing tucked away in Upper Manhatten at a college. Now more than ever it just feels like we’re doing the Vampire Weekend lane. Nothing else matters.”

‘Harmony Hall’ seems to pay homage to the baggy Madchester sound, something we’ve not heard in your past material. What’s your relationship with that genre?

“I’m just a huge music fan. I’ve always been interested in all types of music, especially British music. I think when you’re American and you’re really obsessed with music, at some point when you’re a teenager you start reading British music magazines and you start discovering some of these bands and scenes that never really fully crossed over in America.”

Did any tune in particular inspire the single?

“The only baggy song we [America] really know is [EMF’s] ‘Unbelievable‘. [sings: ‘You’re unbelievableeee!‘] And even then, people don’t call it baggy because they’re like, ‘Yeah, that was a song’. So that’s exciting when you’re a music nerd, to be like, ‘No, it’s not just that song: this is a whole world of music, about a time and a place and drugs and genres coming together’. I love stories like that, so it felt very natural on this song. I had that piano part, so it felt natural to take it in the baggy direction.

“’80s English music is one of the most interesting decades; what happened after punk. I’ll probably keep digging into that place for the rest of my life.”

In your time away you contributed to Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade‘ and spent time in the studio with Kanye West. Did anything you learnt from those experiences influence the new material at all?

“It’s funny, because it’s very flattering to have your work chosen by somebody as amazing as Beyonce. She took a demo I did with Diplo and did her own thing with it. It’s pretty incredible.

“I’m certainly not against it, ’cause it’s fun to get in the room with great artists. But almost every time I’m in those situations, where somebody invites you to help contribute songwriting or production to their project, it just kinda makes me wanna go back to our little studio and work on Vampire Weekend.

Ezra Koenig and Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend perform live, 2019

“I’m trying to unpack whether that’s because I’m unambitious or don’t have generosity. I think the truth is, I just love making Vampire Weekend records above all. Because when you’re making a Vampire Weekend record, we’re just doing it to keep telling our story. Stuff like that’s fun, but I decided a while ago that Vampire Weekend would always be my primary focus in music. I can’t perform on command, you know.”

You’re stepping up to sub-headline Glastonbury opening for The Cure. How does it feel to be in touching distance of the top spot ahead of your heroes?

“I try not to let that phase me. We have to go put on a good show no matter who’s on before or after us. I’m just excited ’cause The Cure [have] such an amazing body of work and it’s so cool that they’re still out there performing. As you get older, there are only so many artists where you can say, ‘What did they do 10 years in’. ‘Cause not everybody makes it to 10 years. So you say, ‘Who do I really admire who’s still coming up with new ideas 10-15 years in’. And The Cure is absolutely one of those bands.”

Vampire Weekend play Glastonbury 2019 on Sunday, June 30.