In my younger and more vulnerable years, I was hooked on Vampire Weekend’s entire discography listening religiously to their self-titled and “Contra” alongside deeper cuts like “Boston” and the early demos online. Oddly enough, I was introduced to the band more or less through a combination of friend’s recommendations and the ubiquitous use of the band’s music in commercials (as seen on this hilarious Colbert Report sketch).
As a high school senior, I was planning on leaving my small, suburban hometown in Florida to go off to school far away to New York. The lyrics of the band painted this vivid, Hopper-esque portrait of city life, amongst the culturally elite socialites. In 2013, the band released their third record “Modern Vampires of the City” perhaps one of the most distinct records in their discography. Where their debut saw a representation of privileged youth, cavorting about the Upper West Side through to New England, “Modern Vampires” felt more like an international record, with minor vignettes into life in Manhattan. Distinct memories of my first visit to the MoMA or “the house that modern art built” with the “Richard Serra Skatepark” on the second floor were all articulated through lead vocalist Ezra Koenig’s more scholarly vernacular.
However, almost as integral as Koenig’s detailed imagery was the backdrop of Rostam Batmanglij’s production. The upbeat blips and pongs of “White Sky” set the pace for a hurried stroll from the 86th St. Station up to the Met, and the arpeggiated harpischord on “M79” detailing something as mundane as a bus making the rounds through Central Park. “Step” to this day, with it’s vocal mods, hip hop beats and samples remind me of having to listen to Hot 97 every day at work, breaking away from the more whitewashed music taste I acquired.
Vampire Weekend would become embedded in my life, from my “Contra” inspired collages, but one of the most memorable was the first concert I went to alone. As a massive homecoming show, the band played Barclays Center and it was hard to sell any of my few new “friends” on dropping major cash on nosebleed seats at an arena show. Having been displeased seeing opening act Sky Ferreira from such a disorienting vantage point, a security guard pointed me to a standing room only lounge where I could see the show from a few levels down. After seeing Knowles sibling and future elevator cage fighter Solange rip through her set, I gasped in anticipation of the band I had obsessed over finally gracing the stage with their hit “Cousins.” The evening evoked a range of emotions, as I talked it up with a nice yuppie couple (who were there for Solange strangely enough). From Ezra missing the cue for “Diane Young” to the highly unexpected cover of Blur’s anthem “Song 2” until the final encore of “Walcott” where I loathed the idea of the houselights coming on and usher me home.
Nearly a year later in June of 2014, I was massively hyped to see the band was playing at Governors Ball amongst names from my youth like The Strokes (another story for another time) and Jack White. Unfortunately, as my first festival experience I was hopping from stage to stage kind of expecting to get the most bands for my money, in spite of my less than spectacular views at some points. On Sunday, I waited at the Honda Stage for the first three acts, then headed to the main stage to catch the more than underwhelming folk-fad act The Head and the Heart. Amidst the lobster-red yuppies in khaki shorts and golf visors, I felt out of place, as I should be at tee time with my corporate manager at Goldman-Sachs. However, all my fears and general social anxiety eased slightly as I made my way further up to seeing the stage. I still wasn’t quite front-row but at least I wasn’t where I was in 2013. The set was fairly similar to the Barclays show with the omission of the Blur cover and instead my favorite track “Diplomat’s Son” off their second record. Rostam didn’t often get solo vocal sections (aside from Young Lion) on VW songs, so hearing his smooth tenor shine through on the bridge of the track live was one of the major highlights of the night. At least until, I caught one of Ezra’s $2 bills during their encore of “Walcott”, making my trek back to my apartment much more satisfying.
It’s been three years since the release of “Modern Vampires” and while the band hasn’t collectively made any new music, they’ve been an ever present force in my life. I met CT at Rough Trade NYC on their opening day (ironically enough I was there for the Sky Ferreira in-store), I caught Ezra last year during his guest spot during Chromeo’s Gov Ball set, but one of the most significant run-ins was meeting Rostam during Charli XCX’s Urban Outfitters in-store and signing. Rostam had played piano during Charli’s appearance on The Late Show for “Need Ur Luv” which he had also produced. While waiting in line for Charli, I caught him sitting on a staircase with some friends watching the set from afar. Naturally, I asked some nice kids in line behind me to hold my spot, seeking the now or never chance to meet one of my musical idols. Giddily I approached him with the visible excitement of Leslie Knope meeting Joe Biden. After gushing to him about how much of an influence he is on me, getting a quick pic for the ‘gram and a signature, I asked him about the future of Vampire Weekend. At the time, he said that the band was going on a break for a bit. While meeting my literal idol had a bittersweet tinge to it, I was coming to terms with the reality that a band that I would listen to near-constantly was taking a backseat in my life. Though I can still listen to almost any VW song and a rush of nostalgia-infused endorphins will combat any depressive feelings I’m going through, it gave me more time to discover more bands I would have overlooked before they either got too big or broke up.
Today, Rostam announced his departure from Vampire Weekend on Twitter. As disheartening as the initial shock was, the statement made me recall how I felt once Zayn Malik left One Direction. While being in 1D had gotten him notoriety, he began to feel artistically stifled by public preconceptions, which in any creative field spells doom. But also as a person of color and one of the most visible people of the Muslim faith in the public sphere, Malik experienced discrimination and racism unlike that of his 1D bandmates. Similarly, Batmanglij expressed concerns about being known as “a dude in a band” in a Pitchfork interview. The idea of identity for people of color, especially as artists is often posed in relation to “the masters” or “the great composers”, white men like Picasso, Beethoven, and Mozart. While his keyboard work on Vampire Weekend had a baroque influenced compositional style. The foil to this typically Western sound was the percussive sound and syncopation of African rhythms. As a solo artist, Rostam created an LP as Discovery back in 2009, which saw immense synth walls/chiptune. On his new track EOS, he explores more ethereal songwriting and a wildly interesting direction for his career to take. Ezra announced that the band will soldier on with the other two members and Rostam will be involved in production of their fourth LP, but what does that mean for the band’s future? Vampire Weekend as a trio would be hollow, with many of the plucky guitar sections complemented with keyboard lines. Potentially, a new multi-instrumentalist would replace Batmanglij which, considering how many of Rostam’s tracks end up being attributed to other artists in performance, would not be a bad solution objectively. However, it would feel a bit cheated for the fans who may not have seen VW in their original lineup. The parts would be there, but on-stage, Rostam brought this energy that was unparalleled by his bandmates. While there is definitely no bad blood, perhaps there is a place in the future where Rostam is also in the main lineup of the band again.
Vampire Weekend will always represent the most interesting time of my life, and be a constant reminder as I go through my life of my youth, but with Rostam’s departure I can fully understand and support where he or the rest of his former band members will go onto in their career.