The Very Deep Merch Galaxy of Vampire Weekend

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Vampire Weekend was always keenly attuned to image—think of the band’s Wes Anderson-adjacent love of Futura font, or its vintage-photo album art. But even though Koenig went through a sustained period of T-shirt obsession in his teens, he explained during a recent phone call, he never expended too much energy on his band’s gear. “Even when Vampire Weekend started, T-shirts would be this kind of necessary evil,” Koenig said. “Like, OK, now we gotta put something together for the tour—you need something to sell.”

With the release of Father of the Bride, something shifted. “I think now, with this album in particular, we’ve hit some kind of revised golden age,” he said. “There’s definitely something more fun about it, probably because of the bootleg stuff, where it actually feels like a dialogue with the fans. Versus this kind of—I don’t know how to put it—this corporate mandate of, like, Get some shirts off the shelf.”

To be clear, Vampire Weekend still makes and sells officially-licensed merch; choice cuts on the band’s site include a tie-dyed tee and a preppy crewneck sweatshirt. But roughly coincident with the release of FOTB was a wave of audience-designed gear, heavy on the tie-dye, and puff-paint, and even a little embroidery. Notably, a large number of pieces bore graphics with seemingly nothing to do with the band—but plenty to do with something else in the VW galaxy.

Koening has hosted the Apple Music-streamed Time Crisis since 2015, accompanied on all but a handful of the show’s 100 episodes by Jake Longstreth, a painter and the guitarist for Richard Pictures, the self-described “best southern california based grateful dead cover band [sic].” If Vampire Weekend is a repository for all of Koenig’s most cinematic thoughts, Time Crisis is the place for his funniest ones: one recurring segment is a deep dive into corporate fast-food arcana. But Time Crisis is most notable for its tone. It’s a genial, internet-addled riffstorm, a never-ending bit between friends—provided those friends are, like, Rashida Jones and Jonah Hill. As a result, the show has acquired an audience of fans who love being in on the joke. “It’s kind of a modern-day, post-hipster Beavis and Butthead, with all the references,” explained Markus Price, who runs @timecrisisuniverse, a fan-art account devoted to the show.

When the hosts started riffing on a 2017 episode about which song in the VW catalog could best accommodate a Dead-style extended jam, a joke was born: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” would become “8 Minute Cape Cod.” The idea would pop up on further episodes of the show, and eventually on a shirt—in Futura, naturally—that Koenig wore to this magazine’s GQ Live event in December 2018. And then it was…everywhere. Zazzle sells three versions. Redbubble sells five, along with stickers. And dozens more homemade and Insta-sold versions have popped up during the FOTB tour.

It’s not just Cape Cod. “There were these guys who made this long-sleeve that said, like, ‘Ezra and Jake’s’ in the Ben and Jerry’s font,” Koenig said of a tee spotted during an early show on the tour. “It’s, like, a very deep shirt. It references [the Grateful Dead live album] Europe ‘72, Ben and Jerry’s, all this Time Crisis minutiae. And we were like, Oh, this is funny, wow, they really made this incredibly detailed shirt. So they sent us some, and that was that.”

That, of course, was not that. “As we’ve gone on tour, I feel like I’ve seen that shirt—at least one of those shirts—at literally every single crowd we played, including in Europe,” he continued. “It was one thing to see they’d made the shirt. It was another to see, like, OK! It’s out there! People are wearing it to the show.

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