Refreshed after a dip at Sydney's Bronte's beach, Ezra Koenig is enjoying a rare spell of R&R in the sand and surf after an arduous two years on the road.
Confined to a hectic tour schedule since early 2008, singer-guitarist Koenig and his New York-based indie rock nomads Vampire Weekend have found life in transit a challenge at best.
"It's difficult," attests the 24-year-old frontman on the phone, "especially being the singer because you have to worry about your voice all the time and not getting enough sleep and all that stuff. But I've found a lot of mental peace from reading books, especially when we're touring in the van."
Despite the sleep-deprivation and motel-hopping lifestyle, Koenig says a motivating force for Vampire Weekend has been to witness their own incremental rise of late, both in the growth of their radio profile and live audiences.
"If things had gotten worse over the course of the year then I think we would have gone crazy," he suggests. "But the one thing that got us through was that things kept getting better and better for us. More people were getting excited about the band."
It was during the quartet's marathon global jaunt that Koenig believes the seeds for their second album Contra were planted. Unable to jam out new songs in transit, he instead kept a daily captain's log of "little melodies and lyrics".
"It might even be as slow as one line at a time but things popped in to my head on tour," he says. "I've got lots of note books and word files."
Much of that has since coalesced into last year's Contra, including the first single Cousins, a kinetic slice of reverb-soaked guitar-pop recorded in Mexico City's storied Coyoacan neighbourhood.
The band's original vision for the album was to record on the west coast as an ode to California's rich and colourful musical history. But after such a long period away from home Vampire Weekend returned to New York albeit with a vision of breezy Pacific sounds in their heads.
"When I was a kid in the 90s one of my first loves was ska," says Koenig, "so when I think of music in California, Sublime was a band that came to mind. At first I thought they were just some fake white boy version of Jamaican music but then I started to think of them as a very real taste of Southern Californian culture and the interaction between Jamaican culture and Mexican culture and whatever - it's all in there. The more you learn about music the more you recognize it as a form of fusion."
Contra's cool coalition of dancehall, Brazilian baile funk, faux-Afro pop and American suburban punk a la Descendents provides an eclectic soundtrack for chief lyricist Koenig's lament on the loss of youth's innocence.
"I think it's just a product of growing up a little bit," he says of the album's sentimentality. "It was written when I started having responsibilities, I had to pay for my own health insurance and at least pretend I was an adult with some sort of authority.
"That doesn't mean it's a black hole of depression against the first (2008's self-titled) album which was non-stop laughs and parties but to me this one is a little bit more nuanced."
Koenig reveals he learnt a valuable lesson in artistry from his father, a set supervisor for film director Spike Lee in the 1980s.
"I got to see how movies are made and the thing that struck me the most was the incredible boredom," he laughs. "It seems like this glamorous and exciting process making a Hollywood movie but it's actually incredibly hard work.
"And it's not that different from making an album. People assume that being in a band is all about getting wasted and not having a care in the world. But putting on a show and making an album, you have to work hard at it. And you see the finished product as a work of art and as entertainment but it's not always entertaining for the people making it."