In 2013, the indie band, Vampire Weekend, debuted their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, argued to be the band’s best album to date. Their name makes the band appear to be in the goth/emo genre, however, when their first album came out, the band had a far more ‘preppy’ vibe than their name suggested. They appears at concerts sporting polos, sweaters, and Sperry Top-Siders, all of which are labeled as ‘preppy’ clothing. Vampire Weekend appeared on stage in 2008 armed with an intimate knowledge of guitar music from Africa and an ivy school education.
(Left to right: Batmanglij, Koenig, Tomson, Baio)
While the band members have been friends since they graduated from making music in a Columbia dorm room, they all remain distinct and have separate projects. Ezra Koenig, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend, often works on projects with other bands including Cromeo and Major Lazer. He is also an avid user of twitter and has dubbed by many as a “twitter god” (see link below). The keyboardist and guitarist, Rostam Batmanglij produces music with other artists, including the lead singer of Ra Ra Riot, as well as writes and performs his own music. He was also the producer for the band’s first two albums and was co-producer on their most recent album. The bassist, Chris Baio, is a DJ that performs around the world (wherever Vampire Weekend tours) and often posts his mixes on the website Soundcloud. Chris Tomson, the drummer, performed folk music that he wrote while he was in college. Before he played drums for the band, Tomson was primarily a guitar player.
Their first album, aptly titled, Vampire Weekend, was written over their college years at Columbia in New York City. It debuted in 2008, and before the album was even out, the band appeared on the cover of SPIN Magazine in anticipation of a big release. The band described their album as “upper west side Soweto” (SPIN). Vampire Weekend’s first album fueled an exploration of “global sounds” in indie-pop that was not highly present (Rolling Stone). The song that most exemplifies these global sounds is the song aptly named “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” which mixes African drum beats with the college lifestyle. This album was rated 24 out of 100 albums on the Rolling Stone’s ranking of “The 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time” (Rolling Stone).
The band’s second album, Contra, was a logical step between Vampire Weekend and third album, Modern Vampires of the City. Contra mixes in some of the drum beats from their first album with themes that are a bit deeper than those that appeared out of college dorm rooms in their first album. This makes sense that as the band grows up, their music would grow up as well. While this album is often cited as a transition album between their first and third albums, it also is unique, especially with its music videos. The video for “Giving Up the Gun” is interesting because it includes a tennis match that begins with the music producer, RZA, lording over the game, and ends with the star playing a match against herself.
Modern Vampires of the City took the band over three years to write and was highly anticipated by fans. This album began exploring deeper themes, present in previous albums, but now brought to the forefront of their songs. Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij accumulated ideas for many weeks before they were able to get together on Martha’s Vineyard to begin writing the album together. Koenig remembers that he started this album from a “weirder” and “lonelier” place, which makes sense when you listen to the melancholic lyrics of their newest album in which you can begin to sense your eminent death (SPIN).
The creative process for their most recent album is very interesting because of all of the songs that they wrote for the album, the ones that actually appeared on the record were those with which there was an initial spark and everything came together very quickly. For this record, they wrote songs in various ways and ended up with songs that were treated as a recording project, rather than arranging them together as a band (like in the previous albums). Batmanglij talks with National Public Radio about how they end up choosing songs to fully develop and he states, “the test is if you become addicted to listening to it…it’s a great sign. It means it’s good.” Overall, there was about a year of writing, recording, and “gestation” by the band before they were able to get together and record (National Public Radio). In the end, they often worked for twelve hours a day to get the songs just perfect for their third album.
The song that SPIN calls the “centerpiece” of Modern Vampires of the City is “Hannah Hunt” and this represents the product of the band’s final “coming of age” with a sorrow-filled melody as well as lyrics to match (SPIN). However, the song was always a part of the band that evolved with them and grew up. The music on this album is no longer “Afro-pop” and evolving into a sound that is entirely unique from previous albums.
Another unique element in this album is the vocal manipulations. The band thought that this kind of manipulation “just felt right on a lot of songs” especially with “Ya Hey” and “Step” (National Public Radio). This is the kind of album that you have to listen to multiple times in order to get the full effect of the themes that connect between the songs as well as the necessity of some of their manipulations. Overall though, this is a creation completely unique to the indie community and continues to make Vampire Weekend a relevant band, despite their first album being released in 2008.
So, it is clear that not only is the band highly creative, but each of the individuals in the band is creative as well. The evolution of Vampire Weekend’s music is important testimony to the flexibility of the band and their ability to demonstrate talents in more than one area of music. Their creativity appears to result from the mash-up of all four of these creatives. While Koenig and Batmanglij primarily write the music, Baio and Tomson are highly involved in the process as well.
Laird D. McLean’s article, “Organizational Culture’s Influence on Creativity and Innovation: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Human Resource Development” cites the importance of studying the environment within which a creative operates (McLean 226). While the members of Vampire Weekend have separate creative talents involved in writing music, they all support each other in a way that produces polished albums. They have been friends since college and have supported each other’s creative endeavors, so that has certainly aided their creative process. McLean also demonstrates the importance of being able to compete in the field and how that is highly connected with the environment of the organization (McLean 240). Vampire Weekend is clearly utilizing McLean’s idea involving the importance of not only “generating creative ideas” but also of “utilizing its innovation process to realize the potential of those ideas” (McLean 240). Thus, in order for Vampire Weekend to continue to “remain relevant and to compete in pursuit of its mission,” they must continue to not only generate ideas, but to utilize innovation (McLean 240).
McLean, Laird D. “Organizational Culture’s Influence on Creativity and Innovation: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Human Resource Development.” Advances in Developing Human Resources 7.2 (2005): 226-246.