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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

August 24, 2010 at 6:24 AM

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Interview: Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend on his music, rap, and his rap music

Posted by Andrew Matson

Thumbnail image for VW_SUMMERMAIN.jpg

"Horchata" by Vampire Weekend

"Bitches" by L'Homme Run

New York City quartet Vampire Weekend brings its world-famous African-tinged indie pop to Marymoor Park in Redmond 08/29/10. The four 20somethings have been playing large outdoor concerts all summer, supporting their sophomore album "Contra." I spoke with front-man Ezra Koenig about his music, rap, and his rap music.

When [the first song released from "Contra," and track one] "Horchata" came out, I interpreted the lyric, "this is the feeling you thought you'd forgotten," as something like, "it's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you." Did you ever think about it like that?

No, maybe not explicitly. I mean certainly I think in hiphop, you're more explicit about when you're coming back.* You know, like the "Guess Who's Back" fashion. Lyrically, I mean, that's part of why we always thought that song would be track one.

Maybe in some subconscious way we felt like "Horchata" fit to be the single we wanted to give to our fans. 'Cause obviously, "Cousins" had a video and was on the radio. But maybe in a different world, you know?

If Jay-Z or Kanye West asked you to guest on a song, would you do it?

Well, I'd probably have to, if it was those two guys. There have been requests to guest on songs, and in general I've tried to be extremely picky and only do things that I was really excited about. I really haven't done too much.

I do think sometimes there's danger in guest appearance mania. I've seen too many examples that sound cool on paper, like "Oh, get that guy to sing the hook on that guy's song," and then that's all it is. It's a cool idea that sounds good on paper.

What's your relationship like with hiphop these days?

Well, you know I grew up in New Jersey. So aside from finding out about stuff through friends or going record shopping or reading up myself, my main point of entry was Hot 97. Which is a pretty amazing radio station. It's very mainstream, but they also do take risks. They introduce people to music they wouldn't otherwise hear. I listen to it whenever I'm in the car on the way home from JFK.

Would you give your old rap group L'Homme Run another shot at some point?

Well, this is the thing. I was asked about that a bunch, and a lot of times people think about it as this kind of joke project that I was involved in before I was in Vampire Weekend. The way I always felt about it, was, if you're into writing lyrics, you can be into music that sounds this way.

I think I was OK at rapping. I realized at a certain point that, as much as I was trying to find my rap know how you always hear so many people who make some kind of reggae, and automatically go into this Jamaican accent?

That's what's cool about the Clash. They would make reggae songs and sing them with British accents. I had a hard time learning to express myself through rap.

Maybe. Maybe at some point. I think at times Vampire Weekend has approached rap. In "Oxford Comma," we thought that some of the lines had something in common, maybe rhythmically, with hiphop. Rapping and singing are not two polar opposites. There's so much middle ground. And I think there's a lot of people who find that middle ground.

Vampire Weekend plays with Beach House and Dum Dum Girls Sunday at 6pm; $39.50 at Marymoor Park, 6046 West Lake Sammamish Pkwy NE, Redmond, WA 98052

*Indeed, "I'm back" is a major rap meme. Here are four great "I'm back" songs, one really famous one, and one from Macho Man Randy Savage:

"I Know You Got Soul" by Eric B. & Rakim

"Guess Who's Back" by Scarface feat. Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel

"I'm Back" by AZ

"I'm Back" by T.I. (unembeddable)

"Without Me" by Eminem

"I'm Back" by Macho Man Randy Savage

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