Interview: Stars align: Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam

Stars align: Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam

Rostam Batmanglij and Hamilton Leithauser were searching for new creative climes after leaving their respective bands Vampire Weekend and the Walkmen. They found the answer in collaboration.

Sometimes simplicity is the best. With Hamilton Leithauser enjoying new creative climes post-the Walkmen and Rostam Batmanglij focusing on production and song-writing after departing from full-time duties with Vampire Weekend, the two have now worked together on a proper full album after various musical dalliances in the past.

And what are they called? Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam. No mucking about there, then. 

On one hand, ‘I Had A Dream That You Were Mine’ does hark to simplicity, calling back to eras of decades past where things weren’t quite as eclectic as today. On the other, the duo explore these straight-forward climes with a spontaneity that throws structure out the window, and brings these old vibes to the modern day with a mighty thump. 

“I found it pretty easy to work with Hamilton because I knew his music really well,” says Rostam, who also notes he’d been toying with ideas on where to take his voice for quite a while beforehand. “I’m a little wary of getting in the studio with people whose music I don’t know very well, because I feel it’s my duty as the producer to be familiar with pretty much everything they’ve put out. I think we found a sound pretty quickly that we could expand on.” “It clicked pretty quick,” agrees Hamilton. “Before we had even worked on those songs [together on his solo record ‘Black Hours’], we’d started working on the song that became ‘1959’ on this record. A few years later when we had started working on more music we picked that song back up - that was one of the first started but the last finished for this.”

“I’m the kind of person who can work on one song for like five years and not think twice of it!”

Rostam Batmanglij

It’s a bit of an anomaly of the LP, with their first three days in the studio spawning the start of at least six songs. “We wrote and recorded simultaneously at Rostam’s studio,” explains Hamilton, “so a lot of the stuff that you hear is the first take. Right when we had the idea, we’d try it and record it right then. That’s why the songs have unusual structures, because you’d put the things together right then, and for some reason that allowed us to not come up with the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus songs. It seemed to take an unusual turn.” 

“We both listen to tonnes of different stuff,” Hamilton continues, “but it seemed like we had this mutual interest in trying to capture a lot of sounds from the late 1950s and the early 1960s, like country music, doo-wop music, soul music and early rock ‘n’ roll music. It seemed like that was the sound pretty early, that that was becoming our sound.”

“We were getting this unexpected country sound or the shoo-be-doo-wops were originally started on ‘Black Hours’ with ‘I Retired’ - that ends with a big shoo-be-doo-wop part,” he goes on. ’This record, we started with ‘Rough Going’ and it really was there right from the start: “From the guys who brought you ‘I Retired’ comes… ‘Rough Going’”. You can see we went from one right to the other. That was the starting point.” 

‘A 1000 Times’ had another long lead time. “We were just sitting in the room and Rostam was making this beat,” remembers Hamilton, “putting together a bunch of instruments, making this verse sound, and I was trying to come up with something to sing on it. I really liked it but I couldn’t, and I told him, I really like that so give me a copy and let me see what I can do.”

“A lot of the stuff that you hear is the first take.”

Hamilton Leithauser

“A couple of months later we were in my apartment in New York, sat down, and Rostam played it on the piano and the structure of the song was probably done in an hour right then. The writing actually took many months but it wasn’t day in, day out pounding away,” Hamilton explains. ”We heard it, let it stew in the back of our minds, then worked on it again. We had an intense creative moment, then we walked away from it, and then had another one and that was it.” 

“That’s how we did everything on this record - it was all or nothing. We got together and did five days and worked all day long and we really put in a lot of hours and then after that, we’d go home. That was really more about stepping back, taking a little break, coming back to it with fresh eyes and a new spontaneous excitement about everything. Because we did it that way the record sounds like we captured that spontaneity.” 

And now, those snatches of intense creativity are out there in the world. “I’m thrilled. It did take a long time,” says Hamilton, Rostam laughing and adding: “it did take a long time because I’m the kind of person who can work on one song for like five years and not think twice of it!” Now they’re ready for the world to hear it, and they’re going to focus on this album… for now at least. 

“He and I always work,” Hamilton laughs. “We’re like maniacs. We’re always doing stuff.” Well, that’s all they’re going to focus on talking about, at least, with Rostam teasing, “I think that you’ve got to wait until 2017 to spill the tea.”

Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam’s debut album ‘I Had a Dream That You Were Mine’ is out now.

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