Ezra Koenig performing in San Francisco in 2014
Ezra Michael Koenig
April 8, 1984
New York City, U.S.
|Alma mater||Columbia University|
|Home town||Glen Ridge, New Jersey, U.S.|
|Partner(s)||Rashida Jones (2015–present)|
Ezra Michael Koenig (born April 8, 1984) is an American musician, singer-songwriter, rapper, television producer, record producer, radio personality, and screenwriter. He is best known as the lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist of indie rock band Vampire Weekend. Additionally, Koenig is the creator of the Netflix animated comedy series Neo Yokio and also hosts the Apple Music radio talk show Time Crisis with Ezra Koenig. Time Crisis is airing its fourth season, as of 2019.
Over his career Koenig has received many accolades for his efforts including 5 Grammy Award nominations for his work with Vampire Weekend in 2010, 2013 and 2019 (including Album of the Year), with wins in 2013 and 2019 for Best Alternative Music Album. He was also nominated in 2016 for his production work on Beyoncé's album Lemonade.
Koenig was born in New York City and is the son of Bobby Bass, a psychotherapist, and Robin Koenig, a set dresser on film and TV productions. His parents lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan before moving to Glen Ridge, New Jersey shortly after their son's birth. He is Jewish, and his family came to the U.S. from Europe (including Romania and Hungary). He grew up in Northern New Jersey and attended Glen Ridge High School. Ezra has a younger sister, Emma Koenig (born 1988), who is the author of the blog and book "FUCK! i'm in my twenties" and wrote on the ABC-TV comedy, Manhattan Love Story. Ezra began writing music around the age of ten, and his first song ever was titled "Bad Birthday Party".
After graduating he taught English through Teach for America at Junior High School 258 in Brooklyn, New York. Students recalled Koenig bringing his guitar with him to class, despite trying to hide it and his music career. He was described as a "laid-back" teacher who successfully made bonds with his students. In fall 2007, a deal with XL Recordings cut short Koenig's teaching career.
During his schooling and college years, he was involved in numerous musical projects with Wes Miles, a childhood friend and now current frontman of Ra Ra Riot. Koenig and Miles' formed an experimental band, The Sophisticuffs, which was described as "wildly inventive musical work". In 2004, Koenig formed the rap band, L'Homme Run, notable for the comedic track, "Pizza Party", with Andrew Kalaidjian and fellow Vampire Weekend band member Chris Tomson, played saxophone for the indie rock band Dirty Projectors and worked as an intern for The Walkmen.
In 2005, Ezra formed the indie rock band Vampire Weekend. The name of the group was in reference to an unreleased indie film of the same name that Ezra and his friends produced during a vacation. In the film, Ezra portrayed the protagonist, Walcott, a man hell-bent on escaping Cape Cod as he believed vampires were coming. Many songs from the band's eponymous release made reference to the film.
Ezra met his bandmates at Columbia University, prior to 2003. After already having met drummer Chris Tomson, Koenig became acquainted with Rostam Batmanglij. The two immediately bonded over Radiohead at a party during freshman year and vowed to start a band one day. Rounding out the group was Chris Baio, Koenig's suite-mate in his sophomore year, and they shared a love of Destiny's Child. The group immediately got to work, playing their first show in 2006 at a battle of the bands in a campus basement. They placed third out of four. Later that year, some of their demos appeared online, earning raves from sites like Stereogum and Pitchfork. Before they knew it, they were selling out shows and appearing on the cover of Spin without even having released an album.
Their eponymous debut album arrived on January 29, 2008, and by the end of the year they had performed on Saturday Night Live, played for 40,000 fans at England's Glastonbury festival and sold nearly half a million albums. The album was self-produced while they were working full-time jobs. Since then, the band have released another three albums: Contra (2010), Modern Vampires of the City (2013), and Father of the Bride (2019).
The band has been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards. In 2011, Contra was nominated for Best Alternative Album, however the band lost to The Black Keys. In 2014, Modern Vampires of the City won the Grammy award for Best Alternative Album. Following the win, Koenig exclaimed, "I'm the pre-eminent Ezra of my time, and when I die, then we can talk about who comes next."
The show, Time Crisis, mainly features Koenig and a variety of notable guest stars, including regular co-host, L.A. based painter and former Dirty Projectors member, Jake Longstreth. Each episode is two-hours in length, during that time, Koenig and company discuss relevant news topics, respond to obscure listener emails regarding 1970s rock music, explore the current terrain of U.S. politics, as well as frequently analyzing the history of corporate snack foods. Additionally, Koenig compares and contrasts contemporary popular music with music of an era relevant to the discourse of the specific episode.
Other guests have appeared, such as Jonah Hill, Rashida Jones, Mark Ronson, Florence Welch, Jamie Foxx, Tim Heidecker, James Corden, David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors and Koenig's sister, Emma Koenig.
The show debuted on July 12, 2015, and new episodes air fortnightly. As of May 10, 2020, 120 episodes have aired. The show is in its sixth season.
Following a hiatus from Vampire Weekend, Koenig wrote and produced an animated comedy-adventure series about a depressive, demon-slaying playboy voiced by Jaden Smith. The series, titled Neo Yokio, debuted on Netflix in September 2017. The show was written and produced in 2015, with the final sound mix being completed in January 2016, however, due to issues with Fox, the show was postponed until finally being picked up by Netflix.
Yokio is presented in the style of a Japanese anime series. However, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he stated that he believes the show is not a traditional anime, "First of all, out of respect for true anime, I've always called Neo Yokio "anime-inspired" – it's a hybrid. But I've always been a fan of anime, and I always wanted to do something that was kind of an homage to it. Maybe a loving parody. Initially the people I was working with thought I should be the voice of the main character, but I was, like, 'I just spent seven years being the frontman of something, using my voice all the time. What I need right now is to slip into the background of something.'"
Upon release, the show's first season received mixed reviews from critics, earning a 54% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Writer, Shannon Liao of The Verge criticised the show's story and voice-acting, citing, "the initial glamor of the backdrops and talent involved wears off fast. It has awful voice acting, and a pointless, predictable story that’s only surprising because it’s so willing to hit the bottom of the barrel." Contrastingly, The New York Times gave the show a more optimistic review, stating, "if a defensive reading of the line, “Yes, my girlfriend broke up with me to take a finance job in San Francisco,” makes you chuckle, “Neo Yokio” may be for you."
On an episode of Time Crisis in early 2018, Koenig spoke about the future of Yokio, hinting that "Neo's not dead." However the following month Netflix cancelled the show after one season and a Christmas special.
Other projects and appearances
In 2009, Koenig provided vocals on the song "Carby" on LP, the debut album from Discovery, a group which features Vampire Weekend keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot vocalist Wes Miles. Additionally that year, he appeared on "Warm Heart of Africa" by The Very Best, "Pyromiltia" by Theophilus London, "I Could Be Wrong" by Chromeo and "Dynamo" by Abd al Malik.
In 2012, he performed "I Think Ur a Contra" with Angelique Kidjo in her PBS special. He appeared and provided vocals in the music video for Duck Sauce's "Barbra Streisand". His recording of the song "Papa Hobo", by Paul Simon, was included as part of the soundtrack for Max Winkler's film Ceremony.
In 2013, Koenig was featured in the song "Jessica" by Major Lazer. In 2014, he was featured on "Ezra's Interlude" by Chromeo, as well as "New Dorp, New York" by SBTRKT. Additionally that year, he appeared on the HBO drama series Girls and performed the voice of Ryland on the animated series Major Lazer. At the 86th Academy Awards, Koenig accompanied Karen O on backing vocals and acoustic guitar for her performance of the Oscar-nominated song "The Moon Song" from the film Her.
In 2016, Koenig was credited as a writer and producer on the song "Hold Up" by Beyoncé. Due to these contributions, Koenig was nominated for a Grammy-award for the album Lemonade. In January and April 2016, Koenig vocally supported political candidate Bernie Sanders by performing at a number of his rallies.
In 2017, he made an appearance in Charli XCX's music video for "Boys". In 2018, he was credited as a songwriter and producer on the single "I Promise You" by James Corden, from the film Peter Rabbit, which also featured prominently Vampire Weekend songs. His demo of the song was also released.
Since the age of 9, Koenig has been an admirer of music. In a 2014 interview with Vulture, he stated, "My dad is a massive music fan, so even just growing up in the house, he was buying new cool music, up through when I was born. So I was very familiar with the Ramones, Run DMC, Blondie—core New York music. My parents would often play the Ramones song, "We’re a Happy Family", so I remember when I was 9 or 10, learning the lyrics and trying to understand." By the time he got to high school, his taste slightly changed, "I had some older friends who were really obsessed with hip-hop, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest. There’s something about Midnight Marauders; it feels like a late night in the city album."
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