HotStar: Vampire Weekend

Despite everything that’s been written about them in the traditional press and the blogosphere, the members of Vampire Weekend and their team would like everyone to remember one thing – they’re just four friends who love playing music.

The band – Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Baio and Christopher Tomson – came together in 2005, as three of them entered their final year at New York City’s Columbia University.

Koenig, who majored in English and is a former teacher, spent the previous summer touring the U.S. and India as a member of The Dirty Projectors. He and Batmanglij, a music major who interned at the Oxford English Dictionary, drafted the other two members and began recording and performing around New York City, drawing from their diverse backgrounds to develop a distinct sound.

Much has been written about the band’s combination of African rhythms and sounds, classical music elements and witty, intelligent lyrics about subjects like French architecture, Manhattan bus routes and obscure punctuation. Koenig doesn’t see any of that as remarkable.

"We don’t feel that we’re doing anything radically different by incorporating all the things that we like," Koenig told Pollstar. "I don’t think that’s what makes our music that different. Even the music that we like and that we’re inspired by is already doing those things."

The band jumped right into playing live, booking gigs for itself even though its catalog was pretty slim and its members didn’t have much experience playing together.

"Once we booked our first gigs, that’s when we really started practicing," Koenig said. "We wrote more songs as we went on, but some of the songs – we played ‘Oxford Comma’ and ‘Walcott’ at our very first show – the way we play them now is not very different."

Over the next 18 months, Vampire Weekend worked on its debut album while moving from playing small shows on campus to sold-out clubs, eventually opening for bands like Animal Collective.

In the spring of 2007, Baio booked the band’s first national tour with help from Koenig, who drew on his experience with The Dirty Projectors to help with the routing.

That’s when the group caught the attention of The Billions Corporation’s Adam Voith, as well as that of XL Recordings, which quickly signed the band, then helped bring manager Ian Montone on board.

"They were in the middle of working on that tour and self-booking it and we decided we would work together," Voith told Pollstar. "I helped them finish, filling in holes and finalizing deals in some towns where they just had a verbal commitment.

"That was great for me – it’s always good to have a band have their hands in booking their own shows at the beginning so they actually know what’s involved and how things happen."

Montone said the band’s work ethic called to mind a band he’d worked with previously.

"They remind me of The Shins early on," Montone told Pollstar. "For a year or two they had no management, but at the same time they’re playing The Wilterns of the world – driving themselves, playing the show, packing their own stuff back into the van and then driving to the next venue. It’s nuts, but that’s where you really learn how to be a band that tours."

The huge buzz that’s built up around the quartet doesn’t affect them.

"It doesn’t get in our way. I think it gets in other people’s way in terms of enjoying the music on their own terms," Koenig said. "I don’t need anybody else to tell me how great something is; either I’ll experience it for myself or I won’t.

"When people get into this zone of writing, ‘This band is going to change the world,’ ultimately I think that reflects more on themselves and their need to make grandiose assertions."

And what about the blogger backlash that’s been creeping into coverage of the band recently? Koenig said considering all the hype, that’s understandable.

"I think in general, people always react negatively when an experience is mediated for them that way."

So how does Vampire Weekend take advantage of the momentum the hype has helped create without overreaching? Very carefully.

"That’s the tough thing," Koenig said. "We don’t want to immediately start playing the biggest venue possible, because there are still people who’ve never seen us before and that’s not always the best way to see a band for the first time."

Voith agreed with that assessment.

"The challenge for us is knowing where the line is in terms of venue size and ticket price. We want to make sure the fans that were here early get the chance to see the band play in a club at a reasonable ticket price. These are people who are going to take ownership in this band and be our core base.

"There’s some amount of course correction that’s going to have to happen this summer – where we’re moving into larger venues where we can sell more tickets – but it’s a good problem to have."

For Koenig and the rest of Vampire Weekend, the plan for the future is a simple one.

"We just want to keep growing and doing what we’re doing at a reasonable pace – no matter what kind of insane things people might write about us."