During the past decade, we’ve come to know Ezra Koenig as the frontman of the genre-jumbling, Grammy-winning indie-rock act Vampire Weekend and, more recently, the wry host of Time Crisis, his wonderfully all-over-the-place Beats1 show. Now, he’s added an unexpected line to his resume by creating Neo Yokio, an animated Netflix comedy-adventure series about a depressive, demon-slaying playboy voiced by Jaden Smith. Koenig spoke to Rolling Stone about working on the show in L.A. (while enjoying the city’s finest edibles), supporting Bernie Sanders and trying to finish the next Vampire Weekend album.
The sentence “The guy from Vampire Weekend made an anime with Will Smith’s son” sounds almost randomly generated. How did this show come together?
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.”
Jaden Smith is known for saying trippy stuff online about the nature of reality and dressing like Batman. What’s he like to work with?
I really struggled with casting that role, and finally I was, like, the only young actor I’m truly excited about is Jaden Smith. He’s a great actor, but he’s more than that. I like the way he thinks. I’ve always been a fan of his Twitter, how he uses social media. And when he read the script he really got it. He had a sense of humor about it, but he was also like,…