Make us your home page

Vampire Weekend interview: Brains, Boss and Beyonce

Ezra Koenig, from left, Rostam Batmanglij and Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend share a love of Bruce Springsteen’s music. “That’s a guy we were all really into,” says Baio. 

Getty Images

Ezra Koenig, from left, Rostam Batmanglij and Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend share a love of Bruce Springsteen’s music. “That’s a guy we were all really into,” says Baio. 

To be brutally honest, the Ivy League Afro-poppers in Vampire Weekend kind of look, and even sound, like smarty-pants snobs. After all, the Columbia U. boys have penned thesaurus-necessary songs about the serial comma and something called Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. They sang about Horchata ("In December drinking horchata / I'd look psychotic in a balaclava.")

But the truth is that, for all their brains and presumed plaid linen shorts, Saturday's headliners at the Big Guava Festival have some earnest populism in them, too. Case in point: Their gushy love of Bruce Springsteen, who just happens to be playing (and playing …) Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre two days before the quartet shows up.

A few years ago, VW covered the Boss' I'm Goin' Down in typically puckish fashion; the whimsically maudlin homage to the Side B track on Born in the U.S.A. was later featured on the HBO show Girls. "That's a guy we were all really into," says bassist Chris Baio, on the phone from a tour stop in Austin, Texas. "Four chords going all the way through, incredible melodies, incredible lyrics. We thought it would be exciting to put our spin on it."

The first time they played I'm Goin' Down live, there was a brief, painful misunderstanding. "We were at Radio City Music Hall," says Baio. "My mom was there. After we played it, everyone starting chanting 'Bruuuuuce!' My mom was upset; she thought they were booing us."

Booing has rarely been the case with Vampire Weekend. Merging pop, punk and complex African rhythms (try dancing to these guys and you'll twist an ankle), they have been critically and commercially embraced since 2008's eponymous debut LP. The story goes that the band, including singer Ezra Koenig, was birthed at Columbia, where Baio majored in Russian and minored in math. ("I wouldn't say that the Russian [comes into play in our music], but the math has had more of an influence on what I do now.")

Last year's Modern Vampires of the City, which showed the group incorporating slightly poppier, Buddy Holly-esque frameworks, won a Grammy for best alternative album. "I can't say winning a Grammy is something that was a dream for me," says Baio. "When I was 8, knowing that I would someday play Radio City, now that would have blown my mind. But that said, the Grammy was pretty cool." The far larger Grammy thrill was in all of the hobnobbing: "I'm into getting to see incredibly famous people operating in different worlds. I don't cross paths with Jay-Z and Beyonce that often."

Baio — who, it should be noted, is also a lifelong Queen fan ("They were my first time liking adult, not children's, music") — is hoping to brush shoulders with some of the bold-faced acts at the Big Guava Festival, too: "I have friends in the band Sleigh Bells. I'm hoping to see OutKast."

And then, blowing up that snotty, snobby rep once and for all, Baio gets downright mushy: "But really, I'm just looking forward to being in Florida. My wife grew up in Siesta Key. … Just coming back to Florida and headlining a festival is so special. It feels like life has come full circle."

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Vampire Weekend interview: Brains, Boss and Beyonce 04/29/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 7:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 24


    Zac Brown Band: The country, folk and Southern rockers embark on the "Welcome Home" tour in support of the album. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $27.50-$77.50. (813) 740-2446.

    Handout photo of the Zac Brown Band, performing at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on 9/24/17. Credit: Shore Fire Media
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 23


    Smithsonian Museum Day Live: Museums across the nation partner with the Smithsonian to offer free admission for one day. Among them are Florida Holocaust Museum, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs.Cracker Country in Tampa, Ringling Museum of Art. Note: Dalí Museum is free for Pinellas County …

    The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is among the museums participating in the Smithsonian's Museum Day Live, offering free admission. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Special to the Times)
  3. Tampa Repertory's 'Flying' soars in some places, sputters in others


    TAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre has always insisted on putting on plays that mean something. Several shows over the last couple of years have zeroed in on the social and cultural baggage that comes with being female (The Children's Hour, Silent Sky and Grounded come to mind). None of those …

    The Southeastern premiere of Flying, Sheila Cowley's play at Tampa Repertory Theatre about veterans of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, includes (from left) Holly Marie Weber, Rosemary Orlando, and Becca McCoy. Photo by Megan Lamasney.
  4. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]