In The Studio: Vagabon

Interview In The Studio: Vagabon

Recruiting Rostam Batmanglij to put the finishing touches to it, Laetitia Tamko is looking to the dancefloor on third record ‘Sorry I Haven’t Called’.

Vagabon thought she had finished her upcoming third album, ‘Sorry I Haven’t Called’. The New York musician born Laetitia Tamko was ready to get the record mixed when Rostam Batmanglij, the former Vampire Weekend star turned pop magician who has worked alongside the likes of with Carly Rae Jepsen, Clairo and Haim, sent her a DM. After accepting the invitation to swing by his studio, Laetitia played him a couple of tracks, including her balmy recent single ‘Carpenter’, then received an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“He was like, ‘I have to work on that song!’” she recalls. “So we worked on ‘Carpenter’ together, just adding some finishing touches, and then he said: ‘You know, I think I can help you finish this album in a way that you could feel good about’.” Though Vagabon admits that it “almost felt a bit too serendipitous” for Rostam to reach out just as she was approaching the final hurdle, saying yes was ultimately “an easy decision.” His passion for the music was palpable and, because she had spent so long with the record, “there was no way it couldn’t have me all over it”.

Vagabon describes Rostam’s contributions to the finished album as “a series of small changes that amounted to something big.” On ‘Carpenter’, for example, he suggested adding a swirling guitar line to the outro and swapping a pre-programmed beat for live drums including real congas. “I feel like these songs have always been special,” she says, “but one of the cool things to come out of Rostam coming on board is that the recordings feel just as special [too]. I really wanted the recordings – as well as the actual songs – to stand the test of time.”

Along the way, the two musicians fell into a comfortable creative rhythm. “He works very efficiently, which I appreciate,” Vagabon says with a laugh. “He’s also really honest – and I’m really, really honest.” This mutual candour proved crucial to punching up the production as much as possible. “I can trust him to tell me exactly what he thinks, and I have enough confidence in my ability to not, you know, spin out from feedback,” she says. “And I think that’s why it worked so well.”

In The Studio: Vagabon In The Studio: Vagabon In The Studio: Vagabon

“The beauty of music is sharing it with not just with listeners, but also with other artists.”

When ‘Sorry I Haven’t Called’ drops in September, it will have been almost four years since Vagabon’s last album, which was self-titled. Though she didn’t plan to leave such a long gap, she is happy with how things panned out. “I didn’t apply too much pressure on myself,” she says. “It feels like I needed every bit of that time not just to make this album, but [also] to live a life and be a person outside of my output as a musician.” Because without that lived experience, she would have nothing to write about? “Exactly!” Vagabon replies. “I mean, if the pandemic’s taught us anything, it’s that placing all that value on what you do [for a living] can be kind of complicated.”

Released in October 2019, the singer’s eponymous second album expanded the guitar-based palette of her debut, 2017’s ‘Infinite Worlds’, with flecks of electronica, new wave and house. Third time around, meanwhile, the galvanising pulse of the dancefloor was even more of a pronounced influence. “I knew I wanted to draw from house and club music, especially because I’ve been learning how to DJ,” she says. “I wouldn’t say I’ve made a dance record by any means, but I wanted it to be suggestive of those things.”

In places, the album certainly captures the spicy spontaneity of life after dark. “Made out with your best friend, and he loved it,” Vagabon sings over a sultry beat on ‘Made Out with Your Best Friend’. “For better or worse, it’s just a very real thing,” she says of the lyric, which came out during a “stream of consciousness” in the vocal booth. “Like, it’s an insane thing to say, but I thought that if I was enjoying it that much in the studio, then other people would enjoy it that much too!”

On that track, Rostam encouraged Vagabon to sing in French, her first language, for the first time since ‘Infinite Worlds’. Overall, she describes the album as more “confident and self-assured” than her “introspective” previous releases. What prompted this new-found confidence? “Well,” she says, “I think the most simple answer is that I was experiencing grief. My reaction to losing someone was complex, but one of the branches of my reaction was [realising] that I don’t have time to be self-conscious any more.”

Working on this album with Rostam and other close collaborators has also changed her attitude somewhat. “It’s made me realise that the beauty of music is sharing it not just with listeners, but also with other artists,” she says. “It’s expanded my world for sure, and I’m such a better producer and writer because of it. So I will definitely be doing more of that in the future.”

In The Studio: Vagabon

‘Sorry I Haven’t Called’ is out 15th September via Nonesuch Records.

Tags: VAGABON, Features, Interviews

As featured in the June 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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