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Vampire Weekend is an indie rock band that hails from the ‘city that never sleeps,’ New York City. Current members of the band include Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Chris Tomson, Rostam Batmanglij, Ieva Berzina, and Lauma Misune. Koenig is the band’s lead singer and songwriter, as well as a guitarist, while Baio plays bass. Tomson is the drummer of Vampire Weekend. Batmanglij is a multi-instrumentalist who co-writes songs for the band along with Koenig. Two part time band members include Berzina who is the banjo player of the group and Misune on the maracas.
All of the band mates attended Columbia University, which is where they met. Each member has a diverse background, yet distinct love and ambition for music. For instance, Koenig was an English major at Columbia; Tomson studied economics and music; and Baio majored in Russian and Eurasian regional studies with a minor in math. They began playing in a group during their senior year of college for a battle of the bands on campus. As for the band’s name, Koenig took it from the title, “Vampire Weekend,” of a short film that he and friends directed during summer breaks.
Koenig was born on April 8, 1984. He began his career as a songwriter when he was a preteen; the first song he penned was “Bad Birthday Party” when he was 10 or 11 years old. Famed American philosopher Richard McKeon, who has worked with UNESCO as a humanitarian, is Koenig’s grandfather. Batmanglij, born on November 28, 1983, is co-founder of Discovery, and he performs solo via the name Boys Like Us. As a music producer, Batmanglij’s stage name is ROSTAM. On a personal note, Batmanglij is openly homosexual.
Baio, born on October 29, 1984, attended his first concert--Cracker--when he was only 9, which ignited his passion for music. His favorite music group is Queen, stemming from the ‘90s cult classic film “Wayne’s World.” Baio is also a cousin to television star Scott Baio, who is best known as Chachi on Happy Days and Charles on the television series Charles in Charge. The band’s drummer, Tomson, was born on March 6, 1984. His favorite bands include the psychedelic jam bands of the Grateful Dead and Phish. Tomson is an avid soccer fan; his favorite club is Tottenham Hotspur.
Formed in 2006, the band has released two full length albums as of 2012 including their self-titled debut album and the follow-up album Contra. Released in January 2008, the debut album Vampire Weekend reached No. 17 on the Billboard 200 in the US and No. 15 on the UK Albums chart. Hit singles from the debut album include “Oxford Comma,” “Mansard Roof,” Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and “A-Punk.” “A-Punk” was the most successful single from the album, reaching No. 25 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, as well as the 4th Best Song of 2008 by the Rolling Stone. “A-Punk” achieved commercial success by being included on several video games, such as Just Dance 2 and Guitar Hero 5, as well as the television show The Inbetweeners in the UK and the US film Step Brothers.
Contra was a major success in both the US and the UK, as well as Australia. Released in January 2010, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The first single released from the album, “Horchata,” had been promoted for free on the Vampire Weekend MySpace page and the band’s official website. A second and the official single “Cousins” was released and incorporated into a music video. “Cousins” did fairly well and peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Alternative Rock chart and No. 3 on the UK Indie chart. It has since been covered by the British indie rock band Mumford & Sons.
On the cover of the Contra album is an image of a strawberry blonde female, who looks like she could be a teen or young adult, wearing a yellow polo shirt. Koenig found the photo in an archive, and selected it because of the girl’s expression, which he said, “read some sort of hesitation’ in her face.” The other band mates concurred that her vague yet startled look left the portrait open to interpretation. Thus the image was chosen for the cover of Vampire Weekend’s second album. Unfortunately no one had thought to gain legal rights to the image.
Koenig, during an interview, disclosed that he knew who the photographer was, Tod Brody, and that the unidentified woman’s first name was Kirsten. The photo had been taken in 1983, and was a still shot modeling photo for Ann Kirsten Kennis. After noticing her photo on the album cover Kennis sued Vampire Weekend in 2010 for a sum of $2 million for the unauthorized use of the image. The lawsuit bounced around between Vampire Weekend and the photographer, and came to a standstill when Brody skipped town. Brody’s lawyers then turned on him for lack of payment and communication, and they discontinued their representation of Brody in the lawsuit. Meanwhile, the band and Kennis settled outside of court. Vampire Weekend, in turn, sued Brody for getting them into the mess to begin with as Brody had been the representing photographer who provided the photo. The album remains with Kennis’s image on the cover.
In 2010 the band toured the UK, North America, and Europe, as well as performed live during the acoustic series MTV Unplugged. The band also performed for their second time on Saturday Night Live; Zach Galifianakis was the host of the evening. Other concerts and festivals Vampire Weekend played in 2010 include Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Austin City Limits’ Music Festival, as well as the Australian Groovin’ the Moo. Vampire Weekend received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Music Album for Contra; the Black Keys won the award for their album, Brothers. As of February 2012, both of the albums, Vampire Weekend and Contra, have been certified Gold in the US and Australia. In the UK, the album Vampire Weekend was certified Platinum; Contra is certified with Gold status.