When New York art-pop outfit Vampire Weekend started out four years ago, band members were stunned when famous actors and musicians began popping up at their shows or declaring themselves fans.
The phenomenon recently reached its zenith when Peter Gabriel and Hot Chip covered the band’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” — a song originally inspired by Gabriel himself.
“At first, it was this totally surreal experience,” boyish frontman Ezra Koenig says of such kudos. “But, then you start to realize that everybody’s just normal, which is a good realization to come to — to not hold anybody in any higher regard.”
Nevertheless, Koenig, 26, was sweating bullets this summer when he finally met a certain TV star whose show Vampire Weekend (who play Berkeley on Saturday) regularly enjoyed on their tour bus.
Ostensibly, the quartet had been booked on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to perform their summery new single “Holiday,” from the sophomore “Contra” album.
But first, host Stephen Colbert conducted a typically tongue-in-snarky-cheek interview with the members, wherein he challenged Koenig when he said, “In one of your songs you have the lyrics, ‘Who gives a f— about an Oxford comma.’ I’m here to tell you I do.”
“I love that he took that stance,” Koenig says. “Because given the fact that Colbert is supposed to be this superconservative Fox News guy, I kind of felt vindicated that his character would take the pro-Oxford comma stance, as if it was some sort of law-and-order issue. But, even though we’d met him backstage and he was incredibly nice and charming, when we got out there I really did feel incredibly nervous. To be on that set that I’d seen a million times, with him in his persona, interviewing us — I found it hard to keep cool.”
Koenig is accustomed to pressure. The Columbia University grad’s former job was teaching eighth-grade history at a tough Brooklyn school.
That might explain the scholarly aura surrounding tracks like “Holiday,” a seemingly upbeat ditty that’s actually bristling with subliminal messages from lyricist Koenig.
“There’s a darker side to the concept of vacation,” he says. “That feeling of, ‘Do I really work all year just to do this for one week? Is this all I have to look forward to?’”
Stardom does have its pitfalls, though. Vampire Weekend is being sued for $2 million by the “Contra” cover model.
Koenig, however, is undaunted. He says composing their brainy, jazz-intricate material “is not easy, but the whole process is what makes us happy. Our best songs get written really quickly. Then the arrangement-production takes us months and months.”
If you go
Where: Greek Theatre, Gayley Road and University Drive, Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Contact: (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com