Kris Chen of XL Recordings On The Roll-Out of Vampire Weekend’s (Second) No. 1 Album

Vampire Weekend

This week – and for the second time in their career -- Vampire Weekend topped the Billboard 200 chart with their acclaimed new album “Modern Vampires of the City,” which sold an impressive 134,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Their last album, 2010’s “Contra,” also topped the chart  but by ten thousand less copies than "Modern," which interestingly was streamed in full on iTunes before last week's release. Billboard emailed with Kris Chen, head of XL Recordings U.S., the band's label, to find out more about the album’s roll-out, the personnel responsible for its success and, of course, how Steve Buscemi helped. What’s your official job title and responsibilities in regard to Vampire Weekend?
Kris Chen: Head of XL Recordings U.S. I oversee the company in America and am Vampire Weekend's A&R person. I met them in March of 2007 and have worked with them since then. My job is to simply help them execute their vision whether it's the making of an album, its attendant artwork and packaging, videos, and other creative. 

Vampire Weekend Debuts At No. 1 On Billboard 200

Who are the other primary people who helped with the album's roll-out and its success?
On the label side: Claire Taylor, the product manager; Sonya Kolowrat, the publicist; and Risa Lawrenson, head of radio promotions. On the management side: Ian Montone, Michele Harrison and Matt Pollack. 

What do you attribute the album's first week sales success to?
It's never one thing. The band made the best album of their career and that's where it all starts. Ezra and I first talked about the making of this album back in September 2011 and ideas have been in motion ever since then. Rostam along with Ariel Rechtshaid took the production to a whole new level of sophistication. The band created two brilliant visuals for "Diane Young" and "Step" and that's how fans were first exposed to the sounds of this record. 

Modern Vampires of the City

The press response has been incredible with support from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NY Times, Fallon, SNL, the Fader and more. Retail was 100% behind this album and we had a strong push from our Direct sales team and ADA. iTunes gave us the pre-release stream which boosted preorders and visibility in a noticeable way. Amazon's level of promotion on their website and Kindle was unprecedented. For the first time, Starbucks also carried a Vampire Weekend album. 

Blake Thomas, our advertising guy, came up with a very creative combination of physical billboards, sniping, street postering, Google ad words and targeted banner ads. 

And lastly, our radio department in conjunction with Matt Pollack from Monotone have really made credible impressions with "Diane Young" at comm and non-comm formats. Mostly, there's an immediacy and emotional connection that fans across all demographics have made with Vampire Weekend and that supercedes anything that we could do in a traditional marketing and promotional sense. 

This album sold 10,000 more its first week (134K) than Contra (124K) did in 2010, how did this album’s rollout three years later differ from last time if at all?
This album campaign was an even more thoughtful and upgraded version of the last one. 

The band did a fair amount of press, TV appearances and other media, which outlet was the most beneficial?
Everything was of equal value.

How did the Steve Buscemi's AmEx Unstaged campaign help with the roll-out?
These were great as they showcased the band's sense of humor and also gave us a platform for a worldwide concert webcast that came with a lot of advertising.

How’s the band’s tour going and who’s booking it?
Adam Voith is their agent at Billions. Dates are going well with a lot of sold out shows.