The Sowetan smell of success - Vampire Weekend interview
The List can’t stop thinking of Anne Rice, although her Interview With the Vampire was possibly just a little more fraught than our interview with Vampire Weekend. Still, six weeks and probably more than a couple of continents after our request was made to speak to them (they were in Australia the first time), and after countless emails batted back and forth between their harangued ‘people’, we finally hear back from bassist Chris Baio – on the weekend they played Glastonbury. Why, they pretty much came to us, just about.
Still, we’re lucky to have heard back at all, because this is the year things exploded for Vampire Weekend. Probably as surprising to the quartet as anyone else, their second album Contra went to number one in the US album charts, and from then on it’s been a race around the globe to capitalise on its success. Already, in this summer of an African World Cup (not that the fact might have caused such striking parallels in the football-ambivalent US, their homeland), imitators of their decidedly distinctive sound are springing up.
‘Why, there’s always been an African element to our music,’ these imitators might well say, or, ‘there’s always been an ambition to attend an Ivy League university within our band.’ Yet none of them carry off the VW-named (for better or worse) ‘Upper West Side Soweto’ sound or the preppy politeness of boys who went to Columbia University so well, and surely few could match the intensive gigging and festival-bagging effected by these boys so far this year.
‘I really love the Hove festival in Norway,’ says Baio of his favourite festival event in the world. ‘It’s in a pretty remote area and the sun doesn’t set until way late at night. Two years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Jay-Z headline at around 11pm under a white sky – it doesn’t get much better than that. I’m looking forward to playing it again this summer.’
Their last T in the Park was in 2008, although this year sees the band deservedly upgraded from King Tut’s Wah Wah Tent to the Main Stage on Saturday evening. ‘I really enjoy playing festivals in the summer,’ says Baio of the whole experience, ‘because I get the chance to check out other bands that I like, although I don’t really walk around the festival grounds anymore. I used to enjoy it!’ Such is the price of fame. This year he’s looking out for Phoenix, Julian Casablancas and Aeroplane, one of whom can be found at T. ‘It’s not really possible to go to shows when you’re on tour, and then when you’re home from tour, oftentimes a club is the last place you want to spend your free time. I also enjoy playing to the larger crowds with people who might not necessarily be fans of the band.’
Such has been their punishing schedule of late that the band haven’t even had a moment to think about their third album yet, although perhaps the threat of overkill might render that a good thing. Baio does foresee a longer gap between Contra and what he calls LP3 than the two years between the debut Vampire Weekend and its follow-up.
‘We haven’t had much time to take stock of the album going to number one,’ he says (you get the feeling he’d be gasping for breath if he wasn’t busy doing our interview). ‘The week it came out we were in Los Angeles, London and New York, and we really haven’t stopped touring since. That said, if you had told me four years ago when we started this band that we’d have a number one album, I’d have thought you were crazy.
‘To be honest, it hasn’t really changed anything. I don’t think many people start listening to an artist because they had a number one album. Still, we’re really happy with Contra’s reception and have been playing larger and larger shows this year. It’s definitely an exciting time.’
Main Stage, T in the Park, Sat 10 Jul.