They wrote songs about grammar conventions, idyllic upmarket holiday locations and college life.
They dressed in collared button shirts, neat knitwear and boat shoes and spoke, at least in frontman Ezra Koenig’s case, carefully considered, nasal tones.
It’s understandable that some labelled Vampire Weekend a bunch of overeducated rich kids. But there was more to this New York City band than met the eye.
The whole idea of Vampire Weekend in the beginning was to be a preppy band.
"The whole idea of Vampire Weekend in the beginning was to be a preppy band," Koenig told Exclaim in 2013.
"But one thing I didn't realise was that, for me, preppy-ness was funny and weird, a bit of a costume; something that I liked on an aesthetic level but half hated.
“But all that stuff was always built into the music; the self-critique, the insider-outsider stuff was always part of the music, [but] there are those who wilfully misunderstood it.
"We set ourselves up so well to be a type of villain for uncharitable listeners.
"The fact that people freaked out so much at the time also confirmed my feeling that there was something inherently interesting or worthwhile about riffing on preppy clothes and money. I can't believe how little music talks about money and class, when you consider that it's the biggest social issue or problem that we have.”
Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Tomson met at Columbia University and bonded over a shared love of rather disparate styles of music.
They had experimented with various groups making rap and folk country songs, but their interests extended beyond these.
Koenig grew up with his parent’s record collection which ranged from The Beatles to Grandmaster Flash, along with King Sunny Ade and Orchestra Baobab from Senegal. Batmanglij’s childhood was spent listening to his parents’ Persian and African music, and then developing a passion for classical music and Nirvana’s Nevermind.
Whilst their influences seem miles apart, that was part of the appeal.
“We never felt as though we were pushing these things together that didn’t belong,” Rostam explained in 2012. “It was more like we felt like we’ve found connections within these different musics and we’ve always felt as though they do belong together and it wouldn’t be that hard to put them together.”
When Vampire Weekend was released early in 2008, the chiming guitars, propulsive African and Caribbean rhythms of songs like ‘A-Punk’, ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ and ‘Bryn’ delighted many and had others calling the band out for cultural appropriation.
But cultural appropriation has a distinct blandness about it. It feels blatant, uninspired and pointless. The strongest impression you get listening to this taut collection of pop gems is of a group of people who are both big music fans, and capable of crafting songs with a sense for dynamics, texture and bringing something of their own to the music they loved.
“We like pop music, but African and Caribbean music are huge influences, definitely punk and new wave and even classical music, so I guess when you say those all out loud it sounds a little bit bizarre, but hopefully when you listen to the album they mix well together,” Koenig explained to triple j’s Richard Kingsmill in 2008.
“We naturally looked toward people who were playing electric guitars and drum sets who weren’t typical rock musicians. I think one of the greatest electric guitars traditions outside of rock’n’roll is African music and its really exciting to look at how differently you can play an instrument that you really associate with rock.”
Koenig says that ‘Oxford Comma’ was an important breakthrough for the band’s sound and his guitar playing.
“About three quarters of the way through there’s a guitar solo,” he told Kingsmill. “And I remember in our very first practice just talking about the way we could make this African guitar solo but still fit it within the context of what’s essentially a pop song.”
There was also a failed film project inspired by 1987’s The Lost Boys that played a significant role in some of the locations and characters on the debut record.
Koenig had started the project with friends developing the storyline as they went along. A character named Walcott wakes up one morning to the news that vampires are taking over the country.
His father tells him he has to go to Cape Cod to tell the Mayor the dreadful news in this attempt at a coming of age movie. Whilst the friends ran out of ideas and enthusiasm for the film, its working title, Vampire Weekend, came to be adopted for a much more fruitful project.
Whether their preppy image and African influences pissed you off or whether you found yourself pogoing energetically to their songs, there was an awareness and intent behind their motivations as a band.
“What we realised is that people sometimes don’t know how to separate the songs from the person singing them,” Koenig told the Telegraph in 2010.
“There are a lot of blurry lines, but that’s what gets me excited. As an artist you have the luxury of maybe presenting an issue in a certain way, as opposed to actually solving it.”
Though they remain steadfast on the matter of challenging themselves with their music making.
"From the very beginning we always hated the idea and we’d always check ourselves to make sure we weren’t doing anything that we thought was just kind of retro or vintage or just recreating something from the past,” Koenig told ZDF.
“As much as we like to reference types of music, that was always a danger zone that we wanted to avoid. You have to always hope that you’re doing something you haven’t heard before and for us that’s sometimes how we know that we’re onto something, is we get really excited and it feels fresh."