You probably know by now that Ezra Koenig is the hyper-literate lead singer of Vampire Weekend, one of the most critically-acclaimed American bands of the 21st century. On the band’s last tour, Ezra came up with the idea for a Japanese anime-style vision of New York City, cast with A-list actors and designed by a team of Japanese production artists and Korean animators. The end result, Neo Yokio, was released as a series on Netflix this fall, co-written with Adult Swim alum Nick Weidenfeld, featuring the creative narrative touches that Ezra is known for with his band. We chatted with Ezra about the making of Neo Yokio, his love of anime and the joy of making a little blast from the past.
Evan Pricco: First thing’s first, did you, like us, spend many a late night watching Adult Swim cartoons and thinking to yourself that these were some of the most creative writers and producers in TV? I remember specifically that era where Nick Weidenfeld had all those shows, actually right around the time Juxtapoz did a whole issue dedicated to Adult Swim, and just being really into it.
Ezra Koenig: Of course. Xavier: Renegade Angel is one of my favorite shows of all time, so I was pretty psyched when I first met Nick. All that Adult Swim shit is incredible. Tim and Eric, Eric Andre, Jonathan Krisel—all geniuses. I was in college for a lot of that stuff, so it was the perfect time to download some shit off Soulseek at 3 a.m. and expand my consciousness.
Let me apply that same question to Japanese anime. Obviously, Japanese animators have a style, and that style is quite iconic. So much so that artists like our friends Takashi Murakami and Mr. have translated the style into fine art. How did you get into that style and when did you know you wanted Neo Yokio to have that authentic Japanese anime look?
I’ve always been a fan of anime. I’m far from an expert, but a lot of key shows and movies were important to me throughout my life. I probably saw Mad Bull 34, this insane violent vision of NYC from Japan, before I saw Mean Streets or Annie Hall. Like, anime presented to me the city where I was born before Scorsese or Woody Allen. Neo Yokio always had to be a collaboration with Japanese anime artists. I don’t think we could have called it Neo Yokio otherwise. Also, on a basic level, 1980’s and ’90’s anime is just my favorite type of animation.