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February 2021

Dams of the West: "I didn't want just to put anything out; it had to feel important"

Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson is branching out on his own, with an album that sees him stretch his creative muscles.
Published: 9:56 am, March 05, 2017
Dams of the West: "I didn't want just to put anything out; it had to feel important"
"If I made a record exactly like Vampire Weekend that would be terrible… I can't sing like Ezra, Jesus Christ!" Drummer Chris Tomson neatly introduces his new project Dams of the West, which is also his first foray into the solo world since the band went on hiatus back in 2014. "If I had attempted to make an album that sounded like Vampire Weekend, for whatever reasons, that wouldn't have been good!"

Dams of the West's debut album, ‘Youngish American', isn't too far from what you'd expect from a member of Vampire Weekend, though it does veer away from their unique brand of "preppy-indie". There is, however, an expected familiarity, especially from the prominent rhythm section. "That band is very much a part of my DNA," Chris explains, "so it would much make sense that you can hear some of it translating into the music that I'm making, but also at the same time it's fairly different."

Throughout ‘Youngish American', you can hear Chris's strength as a songwriter; powering straightforward rock songs such as ‘Will I Be Known To Her' contain immortal lyrics like "No self-confidence, alcoholism and a taste for clutter." The majority of the record concerns the milestone of turning thirty. "Age is but a number, we all know that, but I do think that there is something karmically and cosmically odd about turning thirty," he laughs. "Especially being in the position I'm in with Vampire Weekend, and in some very odd and lucky way, having done so much of what I dreamed of doing. It's both met my expectations, and not; I do think time was a lot of the inspiration for these songs."

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It's been a tumultuous time for Chris, going it alone after working with his bandmates for so long. "All of the more intense feelings that I've felt, I felt a while ago as I was making it. I'm excited, a little bit nervous," he says. "This album in no way takes away from Vampire Weekend, and I think in a lot of ways it's healthy for the long-term growth and viability of the band, of everyone being able to do other stuff outside of it all."

"Straight up, I've zero concerns about Vampire Weekend artistically and all of that," he continues. "I love those guys; I love being a part of that band. This album came up because when we finished up Reading & Leeds in 2014, I knew we were going to take a long break and music is the only thing I'm relatively qualified to do, so I sort of strapped down to see if I had songs with me that were worthwhile putting out. I think out of respect for Vampire Weekend and everything that we've done, and how much I love and respect that band, that I didn't want just to put anything out; it had to feel important to me.”

Dams of the West has given Chris the opportunity to strengthen his creativity and shine as a songwriter while paying respect to everything he's achieved thus far. "I had a great time making this album," he says, "and I feel very strongly about it. I'm a free market guy, so we'll see how it goes regarding response, but I can foresee this happening again - and I certainly hope it does. My goal with this was to make a sustainable and separate thing, obviously related to Vampire Weekend, but you know, not necessarily beholden to it. We shall see, but I certainly hope that it becomes a thing."

As for the future of his other band? "Vampire Weekend will continue for a long time, but I don't see it being quite as dominant of all of our time and mental energy as it was in our twenties," says Chris. "That's a part of us as people and as a collective growing up and changing."

"We're working on the next album," he adds. "There's no time frame, but work is being done! I actually feel like a way better band mate having done this, and learning a lot of stuff about myself, musically, conceptually, lyrically or whatever. I'm a better for having done this album on my own, and I think that will continue to be the case the more I do."

Dams of the West's debut album 'Youngish American' is out now.

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