Behind The Song: Vampire Weekend’s ‘Diane Young’

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(Alex John Beck/XL Records)

(Alex John Beck/XL Records)

By Jeremy D. Larson

The story of “Diane Young” starts, as all good stories do, with the torching of a Saab.

On March 18, Vampire Weekend released a video for “Diane Young” featuring a couple of junked Saab 900s just burning away with the New York City skyline in looming in the background. Maybe 10 seconds of footage was slowed down to all 2 minutes and 45 seconds of the band’s first single from Modern Vampires of the City. Hypnotic and as we we later learned unofficial, the video caused controversy in small corners of the internet where Saab-enthusiasts nest.

“Vampire Weekend Are A Bunch Of Dicks” decried Gawker‘s automotive vertical, Jalopnik, going on to say that the original owners of the Saabs were none too pleased with how their former Saabs were being treated. Lead singer Ezra Koenig later apologized to the Saabophiles, saying, “I hate the idea that somebody would not know the actual fate (of the cars).”

Fate, incidentally, is something that crops up on “Diane Young,” which of course is a not-so-disguised homonym for “dying young.” Koenig sings in the third verse in fifth gear: “Nobody knows what the future holds/ And it’s bad enough just getting old/ Live my life in self-defense/ You know I love the past ’cause I hate suspense.”

It’s a common theme in pop music, just grabbing hold of the wheel of  life and living . But as Koenig is one of this generation’s master lyricists, there’s more than just platitudes and affirmations: It’s 18th holes, Kennedys, government agents, extended golf championship metaphors and, of course, Saabs.

Funny thing is, there was a time when the whole band wasn’t really sure they wanted the song on the GRAMMY-nominated album.

“That’s pretty typical with us,” Koenig told Radio.com. “There’s times where people get bummed out about a song, or start to lose their faith, and hopefully its not everybody at the same time.”

(Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CBS Radio)(Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CBS Radio)

One thing about “Diane Young” that separates it from most other songs on the radio this year was that effect on the chorus. You know the one; you’ve tried to do with your mouth.

“I remember right before sitting int he studio with Rostam [Batmanglij] and Ariel [Rechtshaid] — who co-produced the album with Rostam — right around the time I was really starting to  feel this song was like ‘man there’s something really boring about it,’ and that was right around the time there was the breakthrough of the vocal effect.”

That ‘vocal effect’ makes the song, gives it that singular quality that’s not quite Auto-Tune or vocoder, but this “crazy format-shifting thing” that producer Ariel Rechtshaid and the band cooked up.

Vampire Weekend are nominated for Best Alternative Album for Modern Vampires of the City at this year’s GRAMMY Awards. Tune in January 26 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.

More from Radio.com‘s Behind The Song series

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