Do you like Arcade Fire?
Ezra Koenig: Not only do we like Arcade Fire, we actually like them as people too. We giggle with them at festivals.
Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij says he routinely advises closeted queer people he meets to “come out now,” but that doesn’t mean he disagrees with Merritt’s point. He acknowledges that there is a subversive way of getting the world on your side and even engaging them with ambiguously gay subject matter, before essentially pulling out the rug and confirming that, yep, you’re gay. (A move like this is reminiscent of Adam Lambert’s post-American Idolcareer, Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, etc.)
“I think that is a means of combating homophobia and I think it’s an effective one,” says Batmanglij. He revealed his own sexual orientation in a 2010 feature story published in Rolling Stone (and discussed it further in Out), around the time of the release of Vampire Weekend’s second album,Contra, which featured a song with gay subject matter, “Diplomat’s Son,” co-written by Batmanglij.
“It was important to come out when there was something expressing my sexuality in a real way, which I think happened in [‘Diplomat’s Son’],” he explains. “As Ezra [Koenig] and I were working on the song, I realized that when the song came out, I needed to be totally comfortable with being gay, and for everyone to know I was gay.”
Pitchfork: The Contra album cover is really striking— what’s the story behind it?
Ezra Koenig: The picture is an actual candid document of a person in New York City in 1983— those are the clothes that she was wearing and how she did her hair that day. We didn’t hire one of our friends to throw on a vintage Polo shirt or anything.
Pitchfork: Her expression is intriguingly blank— it almost looks like she’s frightened by something behind the camera. What was your initial take on her overall vibe when you saw it?
EK: The first expression that I read into her was some sort of hesitation. We had a lot of discussions trying to figure out how old this person was when the picture was taken— she could be 15 or 27. The ambiguity of her age and expression made me feel like she was on the cusp of something, which really matches the vibe of the new album. Because you see people in their 50s with a family and children, and they can have a look of self-assuredness. But people between 13 and 30— the age range seems to grow every year— don’t have that sort of stability. Sometimes it comes across in the way that you carry yourself. Wrapped up in her expression is this question: “How is she feeling?” Maybe she wasn’t even really sure at the time.
Ezra talking about his love for ska music
Ezra Koenig: Well, growing up in the '90s, my first true love was ska music. Partially because I grew up and my dad had '60s Jamaican records and records by the Specials. Me being a kid in the '90s, I listened to a lot of music that was from California -- Voodoo Glowskulls and the like. With a little bit of perspective, I started to think about how third wave California ska is not an imitation of anything else. Obviously, it's in a lineage, but it really is its own thing. And it's fun to think about California being a part of that, too.
Chris Tomson: We've toured through Austin twice before, just for our own shows, not for this. It's a really cool city, at least in a driving sense. It kind of pops up out of nowhere, cause Texas is a very large state. In fact, you have to drive like ten hours west to get to the next city.
Interviewer: Bigger than France apparently.
CT: That's what I'm told. There's good barbecue and stuff...
Rostam Batmanglij: But is it better?
Ezra Koenig: We call it the France of America.
CT: I've heard Austin is Texas' California. That's what I've heard.
Ezra: France is the Texas of Europe.
Ezra Koenig: Chris was reading in his bunk and I just gave him the finger. Does that count as a prank or is that just...an aggressive thing to do?
Chris Baio: It scared me. It was really scary.
Were you known as Mr. Koenig (in class)?
Ezra Koenig: Yeah. That and Mr. K or K-No. I like K-No. And I wasn’t really that much older than some of the kids, but I naturally would try and talk about music and politics and stuff I was interested in that I thought they could relate to.
Do you know the girl in this song (Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa)?
Ezra Koenig: It’s a composite. I know all the girls. Yeah. Umm. Yeah. I know the girl. I wrote different parts of it at different times. When we started, I just had the chorus, which was about one person. I wrote the verses later, which have a different vibe than the chorus, and I kinda had someone else in mind. [Everybody laughs knowingly.]
Yes folks, Rostam’s thinking big. He’s started writing non-fiction, like his father, who writes books about Iran and his mother, whose Persian cookbooks have made her something of a culinary celebrity. Then there’s his art. As Rostam talks, he flicks through some marker drawings, explaining that he wants to make 500 original sketches to go with each copy of his solo album. He’s even invented a couple of fonts that will fit on a USB stick for his fans to drop onto their computers. “I want it to be a world you can step into,” he says of the upcoming record. “So you get various things from me.
Weekend at Rostam’s, NME December 2011. I personally look forward to this.
That was an intense time for me,” Rostam says. “I guess I didn’t want it to be something that would turn into tabloid fodder. But everyone was very supportive. I still have lady fans on Twitter. They say, ‘I dont’ care if he’s gay, I love him anyway!’” he laughs. “So keep trying ladies! I’m kidding, I’m kidding… I’m gay.
Rostam on publicly coming out as gay