To aid in the writing of their third album, Vampire Weekend changed their songwriting habits, trying out different techniques including leaving their home base of New York for chilly, sparsely populated environs of Martha’s Vineyard in early spring. The Massachusetts island’s reputation as a playground for the rich and famous is a fitting writing retreat for a band with a catalog that includes songs such as the Louis Vuitton-referencing “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”
The trip was inspired in part because the album marked the first time the band had to sit down for songwriting sessions. With their first two releases — 2008’s “Vampire Weekend” (which exploded at that year’s SXSW in a surge of hype and hate) and 2010’s “Contra” — the group rode such a wave of attention, there wasn’t time to spend thinking about songs in that way. “It’s something that generally I’ve been averse to, because I don’t like anything that makes being in a band feel like a job,” said lead singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig. “Even though it is a job and we’re very lucky that we get to do it as a job, something about that professional mentality strikes me as the opposite of the environment that we started in, the pure excitement of making music.”
Feeling stir crazy from working in New York, Koenig and bandmate Rostam Batmanglij loaded a car with recording equipment and headed north to Massachusetts, taking a ferry to the island, where a friend offered them a place to stay. That was April, before the tourists arrive, and the former whaling hub offered a peaceful place to concentrate on music.
The new material, or at least the four songs the band offered as a preview, picks up where the band left off on “Contra,” with pop woven from pieces of African, Caribbean and American music and occupying a bigger space than their much-loved debut. “Diane Young” showcases an effect that changes the quality of Koenig’s voice; he is at once young and old. Two of the other songs, “Unbelievers” and “Obvious Bicycle,” feel built on a foundation of early American music. “I think it’s our most American-sounding album,” Koenig said.
To help build excitement for the release, the band took out an add announcing the album’s title and release date in the classified section of The New York Times, though the ad did not mention the band’s name. It isn’t the only connection to the gray lady — the album’s cover art was taken by a New York Times photographer in the 1960s; Koenig said there is at least one more reference to the paper elsewhere on the album.
The album’s title, “Modern Vampires of the City,” is a reference to the opening line from reggae musician Junior Reid’s song “One Blood.” Koenig said they chose the title for a few different reasons. He liked the song’s message of unity, but he was also drawn to the idea of “modern vampires.” “I like hearing people use the word vampire in a more metaphorical ways. We’ve never really associated ourselves with ‘Twilight’ or Dracula or anything,” Koenig said. “It was nice to kind of decontextualize it a little bit.”
Vampire Weekend at SXSW
5 p.m. Friday at the Radio Day Stage in the Austin Convention Center and 12:15 a.m. Saturday at Stubb’s, plus taping “Austin City Limits” at 8 p.m. Sunday.
More from the Northeast
King Tuff. Glammy garage rock and pop from Vermont with an impressive array of guitar moves (11:30 p.m. Friday at Bar 96 and 11:45 p.m. Saturday at Hotel Vegas).
Marnie Stern. Self-taught guitar wiz with an explosive and frantic playing style is set to release a new album, “The Chronicle of Marnia,” on which she promises a move away from the density of her past work. (10:15 p.m. Tuesday at Mohawk outdoor, 1 a.m. Thursday at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room and 9 p.m. Friday on the Hotel Vegas Patio).
Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The new single from the New York-based trio sizzles with upper-register guitar work and Karen O’s doomy vocals (11 p.m. Wednesday at Stubb’s).
Phosphorescent. Matthew Houck moves away from the country sound of his last couple albums with the sprawling, emotional “Song For Zula,” the first single off his new album (10:15 Wednesday at the Hype Hotel; 11:55 p.m. Thursday on the Red 7 Patio; 9:30 pm. Friday at Bar 96).