Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig: “Growing up in the suburbs doesn’t preclude you from making exciting music”

The singer and guitarist chooses his favourite records

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Originally published in Uncut’s January 2009 issue (Take 140)

In this archive piece, singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig chooses his favourite records. Preppy Afropop, perhaps? Nope, Venom actually…

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The first record I ever bought
Various Artists – Billboard Top Pop Hits 1962 (1994)

This was one of the earliest tapes I ever had. It had The Four Seasons, oldies, doo wop and stuff. When I finally had a radio in my room when I was 9 or 10, I’d listen to this station in New York called 101.1 which just played oldies. I’d listen all night, waiting to hear “Dream Lover” or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. These epic songs of the ’50s and ’60s were the first songs I got obsessed with.

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A record my parents had which I loved
Madness – One Step Beyond (1979)

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My parents had a great record collection, going all the way up to the year I was born, 1984. My dad had a lot of 2-Tone, and I’d listen to “One Step Beyond” by Madness. Being a kid in New Jersey, that was a transmission from another world: the weird accent, the sax line, and the cover. They’re all leaning on each other, this huge group of dudes. I didn’t have a concept for that – it was this bizarre thing.

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The record which got me into “world” music
Fela Kuti – Expensive Shit (1975)

Even though his music isn’t a huge influence on Vampire Weekend, I’d say Expensive Shit was probably the first African record I listened to a lot. In my early teens, I was into punk rock, and looking at the album cover, it fit in with that aesthetic. I learned the backstory about Fela getting busted for drugs. It was my introduction not only to the music, but also to the political situation.

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A record that reminds me of school
A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991)

I had a group of friends who were all into rap, and we’d drive around and listen to jazzy, laid-back East Coast hip hop. If you didn’t go into New York it was boring, so we’d spend endless time driving in my friend’s car listening to Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul. I wrote an article for my high school newspaper about the hidden links between punk and rap.

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A record people might be surprised I own
Venom – Black Metal (1982)

I read this alarmist right-wing book about cults in my school library, and at the time I was like, “Cults – this is amazing!” There was a section on satanic cults. They had a whole chapter about Venom and their Black Metal LP. It quoted the lyrics to “Sacrifice” about drinking a chalice of blood – and I remember thinking ‘this is so stupid and crazy’: I had to buy the album. It wasn’t as heavy and scary as I thought it would be.

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