Progress Report

Progress Report: Vampire Weekend

NAME: Vampire Weekend
PROGRESS REPORT: Turning in their second album, Contra. Recorded at Treefort Studios in Brooklyn and Topetitud in Mexico City.

Yesterday was officially XL Recordings’ due date for Vampire Weekend’s second album Contra. After writing songs pretty much since the release of their self-titled record back in January 2008, and after putting in marathon studio sessions (12 hours a day for six weeks) in Brooklyn over the summer, producer/instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij says that he and the rest of Vampire Weekend are still excited rather than nervous or relieved. “Ezra [Koenig] and I have talked about this, and our feeling in general about music is, if you’ve ever been extremely excited about something at one moment, then it’s probably good. That excitement can fade from the fact that you’re just required to listen to something so many times in order to finish it, and you start to attach stress and pressure to that music,” he explains. “I actually still feel a ton of excitement about these songs.”

The reason for Batmanglij’s excitement seems to be a contradiction: He feels that Contra, which will be out January next year, is both “pretty different” from their first record, and yet full of sounds and ideas that they began with those songs. The easy explanation? There are tracks Batmanglij considers more guitar-driven than anything they’ve done before, but they ignored guitars on other tracks, favoring instruments like the kalimba and marimba. One such track is opener “Horchata,” the song Batmanglij says he’s most pleased with. In addition to the African instruments, he used a Yamaha VSS-30 he got on eBay to achieve exactly what he wanted: “You sing one note into it and it maps it across the keyboard. Then it wavers in this way that lets you play melodies that automatically have an evocative quality to them, because the pitch is wavering so much,” he says. “And ‘Horchata’ is also a song that’s driven by background vocals, like a texture, and nothing on our first record has that happening.”

Despite the name, “Horchata” was written back in 2007, before the band went to Mexico City to write and record. Visiting Mexico City in March gave them an opportunity to tour Frida Kahlo’s house and write in a new place, and to absorb some of the local music, though Batmanglij won’t cop to any direct influence. “Well, alright, are there some trumpets on this record? Yes. Is there some really chorus-y guitar? Yes. I think those are two things I associate with [traditional] Mexican and Southwestern music,” he says. But “influences” is one of the trickier things with Vampire Weekend; they don’t use them like, say, Beirut. They like to see how much they can edit down a song or a sound and still have it be evocative.

That’s a big part of why people love or hate Vampire Weekend, it seems. Ask Batmanglij if Contra will be a concept record like Koenig’s hinted at in interviews, and he’ll say yes, as much as their last record was. They hope Contra will be tied thematically and lyrically, but the concept is the band themselves; any themes or ideas are filtered and edited before they make it to the record.

For their first album, part of their editing process was necessarily part of their recording process: They didn’t record anything they couldn’t already perform live. This time some songs and pieces were written apart, some in the studio together. Now that the record is done, Batmanglij says they been getting together and learning how to play some of the studio songs as a band. Another advantage of the pushed back release date (Contra was going to be out this fall), is that the band can get together and make videos and extra pieces to build up excitement for the release — or even more excitement, to be accurate. “We’re going to be releasing some weird content,” he says. “I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag but … we want to fuck with people a little bit. It’s more fun to fuck with people before your records come out than after.”

On that note, about Kirsten, whose visage graced all the blogs’ sidebars for weeks before being revealed as Contra’s cover model? We’re told “there isn’t much known about her, but the photo was taken in 1983.” A good start to the fucking.


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