It’s always, “I have an idea for an album.” For better or for worse, I like big ideas. Literally, my earliest ideas for Vampire Weekend were things that made us exciting to some people and immediately written off by other people. I told the rest of the dudes, “I don’t think anybody should wear T-shirts onstage.” That feels like an artifact, when there was this thing about preppy clothes.
And do you regret any parts of that? Because the combination of preppy clothing and African influences was polarizing.
It’s hard to say. No. Well, maybe like a few lyrics here or there, a few phrasings. The actual album, the majority of the songs, the presentation, I don’t particularly regret. When I look back at that time and think about what we could’ve done to be less controversial, it’s all very cowardly. There were a lot of bands who came from upper-middle-class backgrounds. But such a big deal was made that we went to Columbia -- off the top of my head, there were members of Animal Collective, The Walkmen and The National who went to Columbia, and the amount of ink spilled over their collegiate and class background is not even close. We could’ve really downplayed the whole college thing. Rather than wearing a $50 button-down shirt, I could’ve worn a $300 leather jacket, and weirdly, that would’ve gone down easier for people.
When I think about referencing African music -- which, frankly, is a much more valid conversation than the preppiness -- I think again of artists who interpreted black music, or interpreted the music of other cultures, I should say, in ways people were more used to. When I picture a version of Vampire Weekend that’s less controversial: Don’t call the song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” take out the hand drums, then you’ve got a song that’s going to rub people the wrong way a bit less. But none of this gets to the underlying issues. Honestly, it’s better to be straightforward.
Since your last album, rock has become less important to the mainstream. Is that something you think about when you’re writing and recording?
I think about that stuff all the time. Of course, you’re aware that you’re releasing an album in a moment when the conversation is about how irrelevant rock is. But there’s a type of power, or something interesting, about unfashionable things too. You just hit a point where you’re on your own trip, and it’s more interesting to examine your own feelings about what you once found unfashionable and just find what’s interesting about your own project.