Vampire takes darker turn

Stan Behal (QMI Agency)

Stan Behal (QMI Agency)

JANE STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:36 PM ET

New York indie rockers Vampire Weekend insist their new album, Modern Vampires of The City, is the last in a trilogy. And yet the collection, in stores Tuesday, sounds like a darker departure from their previous punk-and-world-music-inspired grooves -- with church organs, choirs, and hymn-like harmonies backed by lyrics about mortality, death and God. The album cover, an evocative 1966 photo of one of the smoggiest days in New York City's history taken by New York Times photographer Neal Boenzi, only adds to the serious vibe. And the video for the first single, Diane Young, features a burning Saab. "We definitely talked about on this album trying to occasionally go for a more elegant, grand feeling," says frontman Ezra Koenig, 29, ahead of their Saturday Night Live gig this weekend. "And then other songs are kind of scrappier. They all kind of give a flavour to the album. One thing that (guitarist-keyboardist) Ros (Batmanglij) and I bonded over is that when we first met, is that we both had a real love of especially the more religious Christmas music, not like Jingle Bell Rock or anything like that. I think it's because even though neither one of us came from a historically Christian family, there's something about the power and the emotion in that music." Koenig describes the instrumentation as a mish-mash of distinct elements including religious and American music as opposed to Americana. "We all have a bit of an aversion to the concept of Americana just because it seemed so reductive," Koenig says. "I mean I think there's a lot great albums that would be classified as Americana but, for us, the idea of Vampire Weekend down on the farm, just sounded like a terrible idea for an album. Whereas we really did want to interact with things like gospel, folk, country, these kind of uniquely American elements but it was really important to us that it still kind of fit the vibe of the band." To recap, Vampire Weekend met while they were students at Columbia University and broke through with their preppy good looks and a 2008 self-titled album that spawned such hits as A-Punk. Their follow-up, 2010's Contra, was nominated for a best alternative album Grammy. Koenig says after touring the world for Contra, he lived in L.A. for about four months before returning to New York. "I started to realize exactly how provincial I was and how I missed some very basic things about a part of the country that I grew up in and my family and my own personal sense of history," says Koenig. "I think before that I always thought I was very cosmopolitan. I could go live anywhere. And I think I started to feel a little more tied to New York and even more American than I had at the beginning of my 20s. ... It definitely made me excited to go back to New York and start working." Koenig, who writes Vampire Weekend's songs with co-producer Batmanglij, says the two worked in New York and Martha's Vineyard before eventually heading to L.A. to work with co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid at the '30s-era Vox Studios where they recorded to analog tape with drummer Chris Tomson and bassist Chris Baio. The English literature major and former Grade 8 English teacher definitely takes his songwriting seriously. "Occasionally, we'd hit a wall," Koenig says. "From the beginning we had really good stuff but it was if you have three songs that you feel great about and then you write three that you feel okay about, you're going to be depressed. You want to feel like every song is great. "So occasionally there'd be a month period, waiting for that other song." jane.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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