If you have got by no means been to Glastonbury, you’ll constantly get human beings telling you that “it’s simply got an extraordinary vibe to other gala’s, man.” Even platinum-selling musicians. “It’s like being in a few bizarre medieval villages,” says Ezra Koenig, frontman of Vampire Weekend, who had performed Glastonbury three times with the band before going as a punter in 2014, when it sooner or later clicked. “I stayed up all night and understood: that is very special. I can’t think about many festivals wherein there are vintage hippies who do their component and hold to themselves and maintain that spirit of the 60s alive with arts and crafts. And there are all the secret belongings you find within the woods, the diverse raves, little mini pubs anywhere … Everybody’s on foot through the mud and there’s a real communal strength to it. Probably lots of them are on capsules, too.”
His band are gambling their biggest-ever slot at this 12 months’s festival, Sunday night time on the Pyramid degree simply earlier than the Cure’s headline overall performance. They launched their fourth – and high-quality – album Father of the Bride in May, and just like the previous two, it went to No 1 inside the US and Top three inside the UK. It came six years after the final one, Modern Vampires of the City, with Koenig having taken creative manipulate after fellow songwriter Rostam Batmanglij left the band.
What has he been doing inside the period in-between, other than presumably taking into account how large the universe is from a subject in Somerset? “After 3 albums, matters have been threatening to grow to be a bit bit too expert for my flavor,” he says. “When matters stand up and strolling, you’re quite actually a company. You can reach this place wherein the advertising outpaces the creativity – it form of feels like rolling the brand new vehicle off the assembly line. I wished a few years to move again to feeling and acting like an amateur.” He wrote an anime collection, Neo Yokio, which starred Jaden Smith and Jude Law; he also fell in love with the actor and director Rashida Jones, and they had a baby. Koenig is at pains to factor out the album become written earlier than the child got here along. “Almost everything that’s been written approximately the album references my female friend and our child, and I’m, like, I apprehend why, but …” He makes an annoyed “gnnnn” sound. “The timeline! Come on!” It’s the reaction of a man who, schooled in English and innovative writing at New York’s prestigious Columbia University, has constantly been hyper-aware about how his band is portrayed.
We’re in an inn bed room that, being in London, isn’t huge sufficient even for two chairs. Koenig, chic and handsome, sits move-legged inside the middle of a bed like the founding father of a mindfulness app. The 35-12 months old’s self-attention stretched again to the band’s breakout in 2007, gambling peppy guitar-pop prompted by way of West African highlife in preppy polo shirts and shorts. They have been provocative in the slightly priggish manner of the nicely-knowledgeable, cocking a snook on the denim and leathers of the New York guitar bands that had come before them and flaunting their upper-middle-class reputation. Blogs bristled.
“The struggle we engendered become performative magnificence war,” Koenig says in ideal academese. “Deep down those humans” – their then critics – “don’t care. Because actual elegance warfare might be any individual pronouncing: let’s genuinely talk approximately this, about how many of seriously acclaimed buzz bands come from privileged backgrounds. I promise you I wouldn’t like area within the Top 30 in phrases of intergenerational wealth. Maybe Top 50, however no longer Top 30.”
What about calling a music Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa – in a world that’s more aware of cultural appropriation, doesn’t that now appear gauche? “If that song came out these days we’d have simply called it Cape Cod and barely changed the arrangement, and nobody would have said some thing,” he says. “There are no easy answers, but you need to be considerate about it. There are times when complaint helps you to be greater thoughtful, and there’s instances whilst it’s terrible-faith clickbait. There are horror tales in terms of the way black musicians have been dealt with and ripped off, and there are tales of black and white musicians developing music together that changed into part of a more speak.” It would be in quite terrible faith to say Koenig isn’t within the latter class – he tracked down the son of Sierra Leonean “palm wine” musician SE Rogie to clean a pattern on Father of the Bride, featured funk prodigy Steve Lacy on two tracks, and co-wrote Beyoncé’s Hold Up, a commonly pop-culturally aware contribution that reworked a Yeah Yeah Yeahs lyric.
Those Ralph Lauren polos, so aggravating to a few indie rockers, have been every other little bit of cultural statement, this time on Koenig’s Jewish historical past. “I became like: don’t they keep in mind that, for east coast Jews, Ralph Lauren is a truely funny discern? He’s this man from the Bronx who changed his remaining name. I tried to explain that, and for a few human beings, it went in one ear and out the alternative. Maybe it is asking too much of humans to get into the hyper-precise identity politics of Jewish people.” Well, maybe, mainly in your 5th-afternoon cider. “I want humans might take a look at it through the lens I study it thru, however perhaps no artist can count on that.”
Father of the Bride closes with the elegant ballad Jerusalem, New York, Berlin. It references the Balfour announcement of 1917, which saw Britain set out Palestine as a home for the Jewish humans. “I understand I loved than you; I suppose I love you still / But this prophecy of ours has come back dressed to kill,” Koenig sings, putting his Jewish cultural pride in opposition to the infernal perpetual motion of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
I ask him to explain, and he’s, to begin with a bit evasive. “Every identification has a few degrees of hysteria between victimhood and supremacy, nationalism and … Whatever the opposite of nationalism is.” He recalls a campaign at Columbia that accused Arab professors of antisemitism. “Having had non-public revel in [of antisemitism], I had an emotional attachment. But I turned into looking at the whole lot, and I could also relate to professors talking their thoughts.” Perhaps there aren’t enough folks who are so equitable. “Not. But I don’t understand if I became a baby-kisser I might be capable of trying this – it’s clean sufficient being a musician and simply getting to consider things. You don’t must answer any questions; all you do is pose them.
“I like to take the wide view – that all of these identities we hold so pricey are blips at the radar of human records, and anything ethnicity or faith we call ourselves, sooner or later an ancestor turned into probable forcibly converted or might have had their family murdered. And now we call ourselves a proud member of the organization. It’s humorous.” He assessments himself. “It’s not funny; it’s complex.”
The wide view narrows, though, while he talks himself around to the topic of the American Jewish community. “America has a responsibility to be an honest broker,” he says. “So if the complete Judaeo-Christian network is constructing a few sick alliance out of Islamophobia, then I can’t stomach that.
“I don’t understand what it’s like to move serve inside the military once I’m 18 or to have had family members who had been murdered when a bus blew up in Tel Aviv. But I do understand what it’s want to be a Jewish person who grows up in New Jersey. So when I see a Jewish individual who grew up in New Jersey talking approximately what the army desires to do and the way evil the Palestinians are, I can effortlessly put myself in their footwear and say: shut up. That is wherein the extensive majority of my ire comes from. I can conclusively say: I don’t agree with you, I assume you’re saying horrible matters, I assume your lack of empathy for the Palestinians is disgusting.”
It’s now not just politics that gets studied in Father of the Bride, however, pop itself. It knowingly collides exclusive tropes from throughout records: united states of America track duets, jam bands, Laurel Canyon hippy folks, metropolitan guitar pop à la Paul Simon. “I write about romantic relationships. However, that’s partially simply because it’s a songwriting convention,” he says. You can consider him sending Rashida a Valentine’s card, but simplest to poke amusing on the heteronormative rituals of affection.
Any postmodern cleverness is, however, made tuneful enough to wave a flag to on the Pyramid level, and Koenig has discovered to embody the simplicity of the nice pop. “A good Dolly Parton track receives at the paradox of the sector way higher than a track packed with atypical photographs and high-priced words does.” He compares the man who wrote Father of the Bride’s downbeat My Mistake with his younger “accusatory” self, “this person navigating this global: folks who are more pretentious than me, assholes who want to take me down, idiots who try to inform me what to do, and those who treat me badly in relationships. Now that I’m older, a tune like My Mistake appears more emotionally exciting to me: maybe it’s my personal expectations which can be what is bringing me misery, rather than you.”
For a band so associated with solar and shorts, there’s as lots melancholy in Koenig’s songwriting, induced by “courting breakdowns, and then sometimes just despair and tension creeping up. That feeling of: did I do or say something that I can never restoration, that’s going to haunt me for the relaxation of my lifestyles? Anybody who has handled despair and tension, which I suppose is the majority, is aware of that it doesn’t need to be manslaughter to preserve you up at night time.” So, what keeps him up at night time? “Anxiety about expert choices, after which now and again stuff you may’t usually placed your finger on. Rather than being surprised at moments when there’s expert achievement but private vacancy, now it’s almost to be anticipated.” But similarly, “who is aware of while you’ll turn a corner and feel truely satisfied?”
Koenig, then, has grown to be as attuned to his feelings as he constantly changed into to the culture round him. He riffs engagingly on how indie-rock has waned: where as soon as hipsters had pleased to the Strokes or, later, Animal Collective, now they’re into rap, alt-R&B, and deconstructed club tune, and Koenig says he changed into satisfied to be on his sabbatical when the shift befell. “For loads of humans collaborating in a song then, that becomes a demanding time, an existential crisis. But some years later, the vibe was not a lot this large existential query, because to me there’d been a solution. Is rock lifeless? Yes. Are guitar bands applicable? Not especially. And I enjoyed the straightforwardness of that.” He is amused and interested in the honesty of the style industry, and its acknowledgment of human caprice. “That enterprise has a straightforwardness: it’s called ‘style’! There’s absolute confidence about cycles. How come the person who did the identical element 12 months-to-yr is not getting an identical reward as the individual that changed matters? Because that’s how it works. How come the person who is bringing back something from two decades ago is getting praise? Because that’s how it works.”
His actual talent is in making a song that shrugs at taste. “The gods aren’t showing a whole lot favor to guitar music, however, that makes gambling guitar scales at home even more form of comfortable and cool to me,” he says. “It’s pretentious to mention, but there’s a line from [Roman philosopher] Cato that I constantly liked: ‘The triumphing cause pleases the gods, however the dropping cause pleases Cato.’ And I’m like: I feel you, Cato!” Easy for a chart-topping musician to say, however you already know he knows that, too.