EW Interview: Vampire Weekend talk about their current tour, 'Breaking Bad,' and serenading One Direction

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Image Credit: PETER YANG for EW

Vampire weekend have been touring nearly nonstop since their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, bowed at No. 1 in May. During their brief hometown stopover in New York City last week, we grabbed frontman Ezra Koenig and drummer Chris Tomson to catch up and toast their absent comrades at East Village bar Scratchers. (Bassist Chris Baio now lives in London, and guitarist/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij was visiting family.)

Read on as we talk DVDs, babies, and Steve Buscemi with Koenig and Tomson. And maybe get them a little bit drunk.

EW: You guys have played every festival from Coachella to Glastonbury this year, and now you’ve got dates through October, including a slot at Austin City Limits next month. That’s a lot of time on the tour bus — how do you pass the time?

EZRA KOENIG [sipping Patron]: I like to read, watch TV.

CHRIS TOMSON [drinking a pale ale]: There’s a real big movement within the band to read books on electronic devices. There’s been a real uptick in that lately. And in the past, we’ve done a lot of serial television shows. Either very occasionally collectively, but mainly on our own. Someone will go down into an Entourage hole or something like that.

EK: We do like the kind of lesser Owen Wilson movies. And there was a time when I was watching the first few seasons of Martin. I usually watch that before the show, and then later maybe watch some Sopranos or something.

CT: Actually, this next tour, when TV season starts up again, we’ll probably definitely going to set the bus DVR to Key and Peele. That’s coming back strong. We also like the show Nathan For You. Dude’s Canadian.

It must be hard to keep up with your favorite shows on tour. 

CT: Well, we’re going to be in L.A. on the day that the last Breaking Bad airs. And apparently — I don’t know anything about this, [bassist Chris] Baio told us about it — but at Hollywood Forever Cemetery there’s going to be a party where the cast is going to be there. They’re going to show the first episode and then the last one, with maybe a Q&A thing. So I think we’re all trying to hustle up and catch up so we can be ready if we can get into that thing.

Are you guys collectively in the same spot on the show?

CT: No. I know Baio’s way up to date. He’s even leaving his wife behind to stay up to date. I’m a couple behind, and I think Ez has a season and a half to catch up.

EK: Yeah, I watched the first few seasons, and then I really stopped caring. But I feel like I’m too young to not keep up with what everybody’s talking about. But worst-case, I don’t finish it, I’ll just walk up to Walt and be like, Hell of a series, man. And take a picture and post it on Instagram.

Speaking of TV, Steve Buscemi [a distant relative of bassist Chris Baio] directed a broadcast of one of your concerts recently. Any chance of a Boardwalk Empire cameo?

EK: We’re such modern guys, I think it would just ruin the vibe. [Laughs] Though Chris and I are from New Jersey…

CT: I’d rather hold out for the Sopranos reunion Christmas special.

Do you guys have plans to work with Buscemi again?

EK: Well, we’ve been gone a lot, but… I still think about him a lot. Also, he introduced us to his boy [NYC mayoral candidate] Bill de Blasio. We actually filmed this little thing with him. Bill de Blasio came and paid his respects, so I guess we’re becoming political kingmakers in New York.

You’ve also been vocal about loving Game of Thrones, which has a tradition of inviting musicians to the show.

CT: Specifically drummers! I’m probably the biggest fan.

EK: He actually reads the books.

CT: I just finished the fourth book. I’m just putting it out there: any part they want to have me for, I can grow a great beard. I can even shave parts of it off to be a little bit crazier. Like the Tyroshi dude – that’s a deep cut.

So, Vampire Weekend has done SNL three times now. Is the band aiming for the Five-Timers Club?

EK: It’s been amazing that we even got to do it three times. Making the Five-Timers Club seems unlikely, but Paul Simon, I think, has performed on SNL more than any other musician, and we’ve been compared to him more than any other musician, so… maybe it’s in our favor.

CT: But if we do, Lord willing, I doubt they’ll call in the Tom Hanks cameo.

At the VMAs, you two introduced One Direction and sang a snippet of their “Best Song Ever” a cappella. Did you actually meet them?

EK: We were about to buy them some drinks, but then Lady Gaga swooped in and gave them a pep talk or something. She was still butt-ass naked.

That group has a famously rabid fan base. Have you heard back from their followers?

EK:  I think, generally, 1D fans were chuffed that we were on the same stage as them. But truthfully, what a lot of people might not know but we know from checking our Twitter feeds every now and then, is that there’s a surprisingly big One Direction-Vampire Weekend crossover. Our fanbase is pretty diverse — a lot of different types of people, different ages, different counties and stuff.  So we feel very connected to them. And I noticed when One Direction first came out, a lot of… I’m sure even if I opened up my phone right now, if I scrolled through for a couple minutes, I would find somebody asking me some 1D related question. “Do you like 1D? Who’s your favorite member? Who’s the hottest?”

So who is?

EK: I don’t know a ton of them, but Harry Styles… he does this thing where he pretends that he’s Jewish, which I think is very funny.

CT: In what capacity?

EK: It’s really weird. I noticed this a while ago, kids would sometimes say to me , “Oh, you’re Jewish, just like Harry Styles. That’s real cool, because I like both of your bands.” And I’d be like, “That cat’s Jewish? Really? Whatever, who knows.” And then the other day, it was Yom Kippur, and he tweeted the night before [about fasting] and getting hungry by the time you sing “Kol Nidre,” which is like a very specific prayer you sing during the service the next day. So he tweeted this to his, like, millions of followers, and I was like, “What the f— does this mean!” And then I realized, he basically kind of just enjoys pretending to be Jewish. And I was like, you know what? I don’t remember, like, f—ing Lance Bass making weird jokes like that back in the day. So One Direction is cool, they make weird jokes. And you know what, their music… they have some good songs.

Moving on: The new album is definitely New York-themed, but Ezra, you briefly moved to L.A. between this one and the last.

EK: Well, see, I wasn’t actually planning on moving there. I just thought I’d check it out for a while and see what was what. I was relatively unencumbered at the time — I didn’t have an apartment or any furniture, so it was easy just to go there and sublet and hang out. And now, as many of my peers and colleagues are moving to LA, I think, like, “Man, L.A.’s really fun. Should I move there?” But then I remember, at the end of my brief stay in L.A., I said to myself: Never move here. It’s like that film Memento — you make a note for yourself, and then you can’t remember exactly why, but you remember it and you want to stay true to it.

So [VW keyboardist/songwriter] Rostam Batmanglij’s mom is a noted culinary figure. Did any of that DNA get passed down to him? Does he ever cook for the band?

EK: He’s not cooking to often, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t.

CT: His only weapon on the bus is a microwave and a sink of nonpotable water, so it’s kind of hard to really cook it up.

EK:  The musician’s lifestyle isn’t too conducive to it. We all came up together eating chicken fingers at Columbia [University], so we stay true to our roots. But I bet in maybe the next 5 to 10 years, we’ll see that heritage coming out a little more.

CT: I will say Rostam has a great palette. Like generally, if I’m like confused and I think I can taste something, he can pick it up right away.

It’s been pretty well documented that babies like your music. Do you guys like babies?

CT: Vampire Weekend is solidly pro-babies.

EK: I saw a baby a few weeks ago, and it was really cute. And it got me thinking, like, babies are all right. But I’m more excited for them to grow up and herald our comeback in 20 years.

CT: When they buy tickets to the ATP Don’t Look Back.

EK: Right — when we come back for the 25th anniversary of our first album. [Laughs]

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