Rostam: Former Vampire embraces the ‘Half-Light’
As a musician, Rostam Batmanglij has always worn many hats. In his decade with Vampire Weekend, not only did he serve as the Grammy-winning indie-pop band’s producer, he is credited as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and lyricist on all three of their albums.
His ongoing list of diverse production credits, which range from Solange, Frank Ocean, and Carly Rae Jepsen to Haim, Lykke Li, and Charli XCX, many times also find him contributing with additional instrumentation, arrangements, engineering and mixing.
Batmanglij has scored a Broadway play as well as a pair of feature films, and in 2016, collaborated on a full-length album with Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen.
But what he hadn’t done, at least not until last year, was release an album of his own.
Half-Light, Batmanglij’s stunning 2017 debut, was recorded under his first name and positioned the creative polymath in both familiar and foreign territory.
Although the album served as a perfect personal showcase for the long-serving musical multi-tasker (he had a hand in just about every facet of Half-Light), it also forced him to take center stage.
During performances, he shares that stage with a live drummer and a string quartet to best recreate the lavish spectrum of sounds found on the record.
Batmanglij released a 4-track EP of remixes from Half-Light earlier this year, is said to have contributed to Vampire Weekend’s upcoming fourth album, and will once again work with his older brother, Zal, on the score for the second season of the elder Batmanglij’s Netflix series, The OA.
He also recently took the time, ahead of his performance at the Belly Up on Sept. 13, to answer some questions from his home in L.A.
There is so much diversity across the 15 tracks of Half-Light. Did you labor at all over sequencing it?
I did sort of labor over the sequencing. And I definitely thought about making the song Half-Light the first one on the album. Sometimes I wonder how people would hear it if that was the case. But I also envisioned Sumer as the album opener while I was making it. So yes, I did change the order a few times, but I ended up going back to the original sequencing.
Did you have an overarching idea about the album as a whole? Or was it more about putting a bunch of songs together in a way that made sense?
I had a beginning and an end, in terms of the larger framework of the album. And I had some songs that I knew would live in the middle. But I did not realize that there were so many lyrics about things like sunrise, sunset, nighttime, and daytime. I guess that was living in my subconscious. So when it came to the point of when I wanted to name the album, Half-Light just kept making more and more sense. Not only did I realize that it made sense as a title, but the songs then made more sense together.
Does the live show focus on Half-Light or span your entire catalog?
It’s mostly Half-Light. But there are things from all different eras of my career. There are six of us on stage. Some people don’t know that. After a show, some people will say, “it’s so cool you brought the string quartet for this show.” And I have to explain to them that the string quartet IS my show. What I like about that setup is that we’re able to cover a lot of ground. And we can make songs that weren’t on Half-Light make sense with the strings.
Do you throw some surprises in there as well?
We’ve been playing a new song in all of the 2018 shows so far. It’s called In a River and I’ve played it live since January. It’s coming out on September 12, so San Diego will be the first show when the song is actually out. And I’m really excited for people to hear that recording. Every time we’ve played it live, we’ve had an incredible response. It really makes you wonder if you can get a crowd involved with a song they’ve never heard before. And also, what happens when they’ve heard it?
You released Half-Light Remixes EP1 earlier this year. Is it difficult for you to let another artist manipulate your work?
There is definitely a “letting go” factor with remixes. But it was fun to do, and fun to see from the other side. I think the whole idea of a remix is that you had your chance to put your vision of a song across, and it’s now about letting someone else have their chance.
You named it Remixes EP1. Will there be an EP2?
I guess the reason I decided to say EP1 is because I thought there was something nice about leaving things open. Maybe five years from now, or 10 years from now, I may want to do some more remixes. Or maybe someone I really like will ask to do another remix. I think I just like the idea that everything can be in some kind of organized system.
Have you started working on a follow-up to Half-Light?
I have a handful, maybe more than a handful, of songs that are works in progress and have a ninety-nine percent chance of being on the next Rostam album. And then I have other songs with other people — some of them are getting finished, some of them are close to being finished, some are in progress and far from finished. There is a bit of an assembly line kind of thing going down. At some point, they’ll get finished and come out. And I think that’s the mentality I have for my new music as Rostam. I just want it to come out when it’s done. Eventually, there’ll be an album.
Can you talk about those songs with other people?
I would love to be able to answer that. And there are some producers that are willing to give the laundry list of who they’re working with. But I feel like that’s a bit of a dangerous thing for a producer to do. In some ways, I feel like there’s a safe space that you have to create when you’re a producer. And you really have to get the artists to feel comfortable. One of the ways you do that is by keeping their trust.
Beyond working again with your brother, do you intend to continue composing for film and television?
I love scoring projects from time to time. And if the right project comes along and the timing is right, I’ll jump into it again. But really, my life’s work is in the unit of the song. Everything I know about classical music I want to integrate into the song. And that’s what I’ve always been trying to do since I was 19 or 20 and really started to make music that had a sound to it.
I considered going to grad school for composition and making a career out of being a classical composer. But I had this realization that what I really loved was songs. I love being able to fit music from all different kinds of worlds into the unit of the song.
Classical music is something I was really drawn to as a kid. I didn’t grow up with parents that played classical music. They did play other kinds of music in the house, and it did impact me, but from a really young age, I had a pull towards classical that was outside of any obvious family environment. I was just drawn to it. And as a person, my philosophy is not one of elitism and not one of exclusion. So for me, even before I studied it, I was always experiencing a sense of awe and wonder in classical music. And really, I want that for everyone.
Rostam with Buzzy Lee
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 13
Where: Belly Up, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach
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