Rostam Batmanglij is the name, but he goes solo by the the former. His debut solo record is called Half-Light, a project released with serious critical acclaim last year. He also has production and writing credits behind the music of Frank Ocean, Charli XCX and Jack Johnson. If that’s not enough to be considered a household name, you might also know him as one of the founding members of Vampire Weekend, a band he was a crucial member of until his departure in 2016. Now, he’s on the road, and he’s in town tomorrow, Saturday, April 6, at the White Oak Music Hall. FPH spoke with Rostam about ivy leagues, Meet Me in the Bathroom, and mixing positive with the negative.
Free Press Houston: So as I am pretty sure most of the readers are going to know at least a little bit about your previous musical endeavors, but can you talk a bit about your musical upbringings and prior work? What is Rostam about
Rostam: Well, I think my goal across all the different things I’ve done is to try and do something that hasn’t been done before, you know?
FPH: So you went and made music at Columbia University. What were your original intentions with a degree in music from Columbia as opposed to Julliard, a school in the same city that specializes in music?
Rostam: Yeah, that’s a pretty good question. I wanted to learn about more than just one thing, and that was why I wanted to go to Columbia. They have something called the “core curriculum,” which includes art humanities, music humanities, literature humanities, and contemporary civilization. So basically it’s the great works across different mediums.
FPH: Did you make the move to New York prior to school or had you been there prior? Also, did you get to catch some of those early NYC rock shows?
Rostam: I moved to New York when I was 18. Damn, I definitely had — I’m pretty sure I saw smaller groups that were — wait, I remember seeing Animal Collective at this building that was about 10 blocks away from the main Columbia campus. It was where there were courses on electronic music. I saw a lot of smaller, more experimental bands play throughout college, but I was into the New York bands. When I was 17 I started getting into the Strokes. I got into the Strokes before they put out an album; I heard their three-song EP and loved it. I started following them before they put out a record.
FPH: Can you talk a bit about the significance the Walkmen to you personally?
Rostam: Yeah, the Walkmen was a very significant band to me, because I got into them and stayed into them throughout my 20’s. As it would happen, I started making a record with [vocalist] Hamilton Leithauser around the time I turned 30. I basically spent a decade of being an admirer of the Walkmen and then found myself of collaborating with Hamilton.
FPH: I’m wondering about your thoughts on the NYC rock exposé Meet Me in the Bathroom. While there are not necessarily any shocking revelations about Vampire Weekend in the book, there are certainly some for the other bands like the Strokes and Ryan Adams, or perhaps the Strokes and Ryan Adams, to be more specific. What was the process of being interviewed for it like? Do you think the book has elements of fiction in it, considering Julian Casablancas has claimed a portion of it is?
Rostam: I was interviewed for that book three or four years ago, to be honest. I have the memories of meeting with [author] Lizzy Goodman at Whole Foods. Lizzy had actually written a profile of me for “Out Magazine” back in 2010. It was one of the first profiles of me as an individual, so I’ve known her for a while. I started at the end of the book and then started at the beginning. I’ve been working through the outside to the inside. I can’t say that I’ve really read every word of that book, but I think I will at some point. But I’ve read a lot of the beginning and a lot of the end.
I don’t think that Lizzy would intentionally misrepresent anything in the book. However, I do think that the fact that some people are interviewed for that book and other are not automatically gives you a specific window at that time period. I think that there is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In this case, it’s going to be close to impossible to express the whole truth. I think that Lizzy is trying to get there, so I don’t think anything that’s not quite true is her intention, to be portrayed as untrue.
FPH: One of my favorite quotes in the book is from Har Mar Superstar: “The whole Grizzly Bear scene, MGMT, do they even party? … They just never lived that grimy thing. I don’t think they even came to the East Village until after we were done with it, until we destroyed it.” But you guys partied, right?
Rostam: Uh, I don’t know what that means. There are so many levels of [partied], so… I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. But I think the East Village was way too expensive for a lot of us to live in. Like, by the time we were making music in New York — like, pretty much everyone you mentioned now lives in Los Angeles. Here’s the thing: Har Mar Superstar might be talking about the East VIllage as this grimy place, but by the time we got there it was too expensive to live in, and then over the 10 years we were considered the “Brooklyn band,” New York in general got too expensive. Pretty much everyone left. To me, I find something fascinating about this idea of the “grimy party place” that New York is portrayed as, or specifically the East Village, because it has changed over the years.
FPH: So Half-Light is the record. You’ve mentioned in the past that the song “Gwan” is as happy of a song as it is sad. Are the other tracks influenced by this concept as well?
Rostam: Yeah, I think that’s what I’m getting at with the album, and especially the title Half-Light. Like, something about that time of day, it’s like emotional in the sense that the emotions are positive and negative, which I think is something worthy about expressing.