Web extra interview: Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. CBS News

(CBS News) Ezra Koenig grew up in various New York City neighborhoods before relocating to suburban New Jersey, where he developed his musical interests, leading to the formation (with three college friends) of the band Vampire Weekend.

In this extended web-exclusive interview Koenig sat down with Anthony Mason to discuss his evolution from a music fan to a musician with a "job."

Anthony Mason: "When did your interest in music start?"

Ezra Koenig: "I was always interested in music. I always grew up listening to a lot of music, playing music, even writing songs a little bit. And then the first time I was in a band, I was probably 13. So I've had bands kind of on and off since I was around that age when I first got a guitar."

Mason: "When you signed up to be in a band at 13, what were you thinking?"

Koenig: "Well, surprisingly for that age, we had a fairly specific agenda. We only had one original song. That was called 'The Beast From the Sea,' and it was this surfy-type song. And I think it's 'cause the amp I had had built-in reverb, so I was very fascinated by that.

"I think the reason that we formed was to play at our seventh-grade graduation. It was a bunch of friends, most of whom I'm still in touch with today, most of whom are still musicians. And then we covered a U2 song, something like that."

Mason: "So the stated goal of this band was to play at seventh-grade graduation. Did you get there?"

Koenig: "Yeah, we did it. And there's a video, we did decently. From there we started writing and recording a lot. All throughout high school, my best friend, Wes [Miles], who is now in a band called Ra Ra Riot, we would always hang out and we'd always have bands. And his dad had a bunch of recording equipment, so we made, like, hundreds of weirdo recordings down in the basement. So recording was always kind of part of -- we'd always be making albums back then! (laughs)"

Mason: "How unhip now. (laughs) It's amazing that you found this group of musicians that young."

Ezra Koenig of the band Vampire Weekend performs onstage at the 2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club, April 14, 2013 in Indio, Calif.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

Koenig: "Yeah. And also, you know, considering that we grew up in a tiny suburban New Jersey town. It's only about 7,000 people. Our graduating high school class was 86. I think it's the smallest high school in New Jersey. But there were a bunch of us who more or less liked the same type of music and were kind of fascinated by starting bands and the other things that have to do with being in a band, taking our own press pictures -- not that there's any press (laughs), but you know, doing that type of thing."

Mason: "So it sounds like you were pretty serious about this, in a way, from the beginning."

Koenig: "Yeah. It was a serious hobby for us. We enjoyed spending our weekends and free time doing that. This is kind of early Internet, this is still AOL days, so there wasn't that much that we could do with our music. We would burn a lot of CD-Rs and we'd play shows and sell them for, like, a few dollars. So there's a tiny little scene in the Essex County area."

Mason: "The Essex County music scene! Were you even thinking at that point that you wanted to be a musician?"

Koenig: "Well, I guess I already considered myself a musician in some funny way. And then of course, being in high school, I never felt 100 percent dedicated to this idea that I'm going to be a professional musician, 'cause I was having fun making music. I was interested in other things. When I applied to Columbia, I wrote that I wanted to major in evolutionary biology. And I really did, I wasn't kidding. I really did enjoy biology in high school.

"And so music kind of just felt like a part of the bigger picture. I was excited to go to college and kind of figure things out."

Mason: "Based on what you're telling me, it doesn't feel accidental, but it wasn't necessarily where you thought you were headed."

Koenig: "I always knew music would be a part of my life, but maybe because my parents are kind of artsy types who didn't end up doing it professionally, I've had this kind of thing hanging over my head about, take your artistic passion seriously, but kind of keep it real, in terms of the fact that, you know, you're going to have to get a job, you're going to have to make a living. So I had both of those thoughts in my mind all the time. And I find that there's something nice about having a professional career in music as an accidental situation, because if you ever start to think that it's something that you deserve or that's purely the result of hard work, it's a little bit too crazy because there's so much more at play."

Mason: "What do you mean?"


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