When Rostam Batmanglij was a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. must have been 13 or 14, he figures he used to ride around in his older brothers car listening to a collection of Bruce Springsteens greatest hits. So it was probably inevitable that the musician and producer (and former Vampire Weekend member) would end up decades later with a song like 4Runner from his mesmerizing new album.
A sexy-dreamy bop about two lovers road trip up the West Coast, 4Runner carries some big Boss energy the propulsive tempo, the images of stolen plates and a blanket on the backseat, the very Im on Fire falsetto at the end of the tune. Asked if he hears it too, Rostam smiles and reveals that it wasnt just that formative experience at play: Throughout the process of making his Changephobia LP, he was listening intermittently to the audiobook of Springsteens memoir, Born to Run.
Its a fun thing to pick up and put down because you can take the time to listen to the records hes talking about, says Rostam, whos 37 and works under his first name. He talks about his first record not sounding good, production-wise, and about how insecure he was about his voice. When I went back and listened to that record, I was like, Yeah, it doesnt sound good. He laughs. But his voice sounds fantastic. To him, it was his downfall; to me, it was the best thing about it.
Rostams craftiness and his analytical thinking not to mention his interest in music history are all over the meticulously rendered Changephobia, which mingles fuzzy rock, aquatic R&B and 1940s- and 50s-style jazz. The album, his second solo disc, arrives after a few years in which he primarily wrote and produced for other acts such as Clairo, Maggie Rogers and Haim, with whom he earned a Grammy nomination for album of the year with 2020s Women in Music Pt. III.
Says Danielle Haim of that Los Angeles sibling trio: My sisters and I, sometimes we get in our heads a little bit. But Rostam just knows how to pull you out: Yes, go with that! Its very freeing.
She recalls the session in which they came up with Gasoline a slinky psych-soul jam the band recently recut with Taylor Swift as an exercise in speed. He started playing this cool guitar line on his vintage Strat that I love, and suddenly we were going back and forth with lyrics, she says. Its crazy how fast were able to put ideas together.
For all the musicality it deploys, Changephobia feels like an emotional breakthrough for Rostam, who identifies as queer and whose parents fled from Iran during that countrys revolution. The intimately detailed songs ponder romance from a point of view not often heard in the largely straight white world of indie rock; Rostam, avoiding gendered pronouns in his lyrics, sings in a high, breathy voice that gently rejects old-fashioned binaries.
Hes never felt unwelcome in the indie world, he says, though the role he sees for himself makes clear the need for more representation: I want my project to speak to Iranians in America, to nonwhite people in America, to queer people in America.
Changephobias title hints at a kind of intellectual scaffolding what Rostam describes in an explanatory YouTube video as an examination of a fear of the unknown, of a future that is not yet familiar, one in which there is a change of traditions, definitions and distributions of power.
Of his time in Vampire Weekend, Rostam says, We were very entwined creatively for eight years. Im too close to it to have any perspective.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Yet the albums effect is deeply personal, as in the wistful Next Thing, about his move his escape, as the lyric has it from New York to California in 2014, and in the title track, a woozy internal monologue set to a swinging drum-and-saxophone groove: Used to be afraid of what I felt / And what was coming up ahead / Then I learned I wasnt so strange / Nothing I should hide from myself.
I want the songs to come from the central nervous system, not the brain, he says at his studio in a hilly neighborhood on L.A.'s Eastside. More instinctual. The room is decorated with clean white furniture to match the clean white walls; there are keyboards, guitars and a set of weights that Rostam says he started lifting in the early days of the pandemic after he wondered what his life would be like if he were stronger. I started with 25 pounds, but I keep having to escalate, he says.
On a bookshelf near a window sits the Grammy he won for Vampire Weekends 2013 album Modern Vampires of the City, his last with the group before he announced on Twitter in 2016 that hed quit because his identity as a songwriter + producer needs to stand on its own.
Its easy to draw a distinction between Rostams approach on Changephobia and the chillier, more cerebral tone struck by Vampire Weekends mastermind, Ezra Koenig. (An important exception to Koenigs control of the bands storytelling, Rostam notes, was the 2010 song Diplomats Son, which Rostam explicitly fashioned as a queer narrative.)
Does he like Koenigs lyrical style, which for all the bands acclaim has long been criticized for valorizing a certain WASP-ish ideology? Rostam, who speaks like someone picturing his words in print, pauses as he considers the question. I cant really answer that because I feel like we were very entwined creatively for eight years, he says. Im too close to it to have any perspective.
The son of Najmieh Batmanglij, a well-known Persian chef and cookbook author, Rostam cofounded Vampire Weekend while he was still studying music at Columbia University. Hed already begun working outside the band by the time he officially left, but following his departure he collaborated widely with Frank Ocean, Solange and the frontman of another New York indie band, the Walkmens Hamilton Leithauser, with whom he made a handsome duo album in 2016.
He also wrote music for a Broadway production of Kenneth Lonergans play This Is Our Youth and for the Netflix sci-fi series The OA, which was created by Rostams brother, filmmaker Zal Batmanglij. Rostams solo debut, the intricately orchestrated Half-Light, came out in 2017.
For Changephobia he knew he wanted to take more care with his vocal performances than he had in the past one result, perhaps, of having coached all those other singers in the studio and to skip the string arrangements that defined Half-Light; in their place, he recruited saxophonist Henry Solomon (who also appeared on Haims album) to contribute ornate solos to seven of the LPs 11 tracks.
A lot of the time when I play with people, they say, Thats too busy dont play all that stuff, Solomon says. Rostam was like, Actually, can you play more notes?
The sax player adds that Rostam talked excitedly about his love of bebop and invoked Charlie Parker as a touchstone, which says something about his eagerness to find a place at the center of mass culture in 2021. (Rostam himself admits he was trying to sing a little like Chet Baker in the albums swooning closer, Starlight.)
Though some of his work has taken him to the margins of mainstream pop last year Clairos Sofia hit No. 98 on Billboards Hot 100 after it went viral on TikTok Rostam insists hes not particularly attracted to the Top 40 factory that he likens to a tantalizing cliffside for people who write songs and produce records and move to L.A.
Which is somewhat difficult to understand at a moment when Jack Antonoff, who also used to play in a hip rock band and now counts Swift and Lorde among his clients, is making some of the biggest records in music.
I feel like you revealed a lot with the word biggest, Rostam replies. Thats not what Im interested in at all. What Im interested in is something completely opposite to that, which is meaningful.
Cant a big pop album be meaningful too?
But how do you know that your experience of the meaningfulness isnt tainted by the bigness? In a capitalist society, were constantly tricked into thinking theyre the same thing. And theyre so far from it.
Rostam gets the appeal of having the largest possible platform for his ideas; he took meetings with major labels about releasing Changephobia before deciding to put it out himself. But the bigger the platform, in his view, the more intense the pressure to compromise which may also explain why he quit Vampire Weekend just as the band seemed to be approaching its commercial peak.
Rostam Batmanglij as a member of Vampire Weekend, performing in 2014.
(Chiaki Nozu / WireImage)
Asked if he thinks hes ever really explained why he split more clearly, that is, than in that gnomic tweet Rostam laughs and says, Why does anybody do anything? Then he pauses for even longer than he did last time. Id rather just let my choices the music that Ive made and been a part of speak for itself. (Of his participation in Vampire Weekends 2019 Father of the Bride album, he says, The extent to which I worked on it mightve been overstated.)
Maybe my real answer, he adds, is that I like that you havent gotten a good answer. As open as he is on Changephobia, Rostam closely guards the details of his private life; he doesnt talk about a boyfriend or partner, for instance, and he asks that this story not reveal too much about where he lives.
People have told me Im paranoid, he says. But my parents survived a revolution that was so chaotic that their lives were at risk. And the truth is that you have to be paranoid in America to survive. The word woke has come to mean so many things now white people decided it was available to them, which I dont necessarily agree with but woke is specifically about staying aware of the ways in which there is a system that is designed to oppress people of color.
I come by my paranoia honestly.
He knows some might read that and scoff, even without having seen the shiny Tesla parked outside his place. The thought brings a smile to his face.
I was in Palm Springs on mushrooms with my friend Jeremy, he says, referring to the writer Jeremy O. Harris, whose Tony-nominated Slave Play about the intersection of race and sex in America was the sensation of Broadway in 2019. As a joke he thought itd be funny to look up my net worth. The first one I saw made me laugh it was so far off.
Too high or too low?
I dont want to say.
- Disease, Demons, and DiscordHow the Vampire Myth Was Born - Atlas Obscura - October 20th, 2021
- Night Teeth Review: A Vampire Thriller Thats Too Cut-and-Paste to Have Any Bite - Variety - October 20th, 2021
- More 'disease' than 'Dracula' how the vampire myth was born - The Conversation US - October 20th, 2021
- Nail Artist Savannah Walker Put Real Braces on Her Vampire-Teeth Manicure - Allure - October 20th, 2021
- Slay Vampire Appliances Lurking in Your Home this Halloween - Business Wire - October 20th, 2021
- Nerds Gets Spooky: Revisiting 'The Little Vampire' - Nerds and Beyond - October 20th, 2021
- Review: Night Teeth Is A Fun Vampire Movie Thats All Teeth And No Bite - Comic Years - October 20th, 2021
- 'Legacies' Season 4: Will Hope Finally Embrace Her Vampire Side This Season? - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - October 20th, 2021
- Interview With The Vampire Series Casts Bailey Bass As Claudia For Upcoming AMC Adaptation - Comic Years - October 9th, 2021
- Interview with the Vampire TV Series Starts Filming in December - MovieWeb - October 9th, 2021
- Sora In Super Smash Bros., Interview With A Vampire Cast & Source Material Modifications, And James Gunn Has ANOTHER DC Project In The Works |... - October 9th, 2021
- The Fall 2021 Preview Guide - The Vampire Dies in No Time - Anime News Network - October 9th, 2021
- "What We Do in the Shadows" revels in the fecklessness of vampires who fail upward - Salon - September 5th, 2021
- Tony Lindsay Returns to Speculative Fiction With 'Melody Knight a Vampire's Tale' - PRNewswire - September 5th, 2021
- When Will Vampire Diaries Co-Creator Julie Plec Acknowledge the Horrible Treatment of Bonnie Bennett? - The Mary Sue - September 5th, 2021
- LA By Night, the best damn vampire show around, is returning for its final season - The Next Web - September 5th, 2021
- Psychology of friendship: the rise of the social vampire - Stylist Magazine - September 5th, 2021
- Sharkmob Explains Where 'Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt' Fits in the Series Canon - Newsweek - September 5th, 2021
- 'The Revenant', 'Interview With a Vampire', 'The Patriot', and More Get Many of Their Props From the Same Place - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - September 5th, 2021
- Blade Reboot Director Explains How The Vampire Hunter Is Being Handled For The MCU - CinemaBlend - September 5th, 2021
- Meet The Ferat Vampire, A Modern Interpretation Of A Classic By Skoda - CarScoops - September 5th, 2021
- Bonnie Tyler hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is about vampires - Boing Boing - September 5th, 2021
- Fantasia 2021: Fear Is a Blessing in Spanish Vampire Fantasy 'All the Moons' - PopMatters - September 5th, 2021
- 'What We Do in the Shadows' Season 3: What Joining the Vampire Council Means for the Roommates - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - September 5th, 2021
- From 'Interviews With Some Vampires' to 'Wellington Paranormal' - The Evolution of 'What We Do in the Shadows' - Bloody Disgusting - September 5th, 2021
- [Review] Glenn Danzig's 'Death Rider in the House of Vampires' Has All the Charm...and Flaws of 'Verotika' - Bloody Disgusting - September 5th, 2021
- Dracula fans furious after being told they cant see the vampires grave at North Yorks church... - The US Sun - August 24th, 2021
- Interview With the Vampires: Inside the Making of What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 - Rolling Stone - August 24th, 2021
- What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 Prepares For Colin Robinson's 100th Birthday - Den of Geek - August 24th, 2021
- Edge Evokes the Shadow of The Blood and the Vampire on SmackDown - Last Word on Baseball - August 24th, 2021
- Film Review: ALL THE MOONS: The Best Vampire Film in Years [Fantasia 2021] - FilmBook - August 24th, 2021
- New "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" YA books will focus on Willow's kid being Chosen - Boing Boing - August 24th, 2021
- Why Stephanie Meyers Specifically Wrote That All Vampires In 'Twilight' Must Be White - YourTango - August 24th, 2021
- 'Interview With the Vampire' Is Coming to a Small Screen Near You - Esquire - July 26th, 2021
- Blood Red Sky Pits a Vampire Against Hijackers and Almost Lives Up to That Killer Concept - Gizmodo - July 26th, 2021
- Interview With the Vampire AMC Series Taps Mad Men, Game of Thrones Alum Alan Taylor to Direct (EXCLUSIVE) - Variety - July 26th, 2021
- 'What We Do in the Shadows' Season 3 Teaser Peddles a Nice Bone, an Evil Bucket, and More - /FILM - July 26th, 2021
- 6 Vampire Movies Are Dominating Netflix This Weekend - We Got This Covered - July 26th, 2021
- Alan Taylor to direct Interview with the Vampire - Flickering Myth - July 26th, 2021
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer quiz: Get full marks and you're the chosen one - The Tab - July 26th, 2021
- Rules Vampires Have To Follow In Every Twilight Movie - Looper - July 26th, 2021
- Vampire Slayers Unite: Kate Beckinsale Wanted to Mash Together the Worlds of 'Blade' and 'Underworld' - Bloody Disgusting - July 26th, 2021
- The Most Brutal Deaths In Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Looper - July 26th, 2021
- No money to bury child victims of 'Vampire Killer' - The Star, Kenya - July 26th, 2021
- Nicki Swift The Real Reason David Boreanaz Left Buffy The Vampire Slayer 19 hours ago - Nicki Swift - July 26th, 2021
- The Untold Truth Of Interview With The Vampire - Looper - July 11th, 2021
- Is Cofidis a team of vampires? - CyclingTips - July 11th, 2021
- For female vampire bats, an equal chance to rule the roost - The Ohio State University News - July 11th, 2021
- Fairer sex: Colonies of female-only vampire bats live in equal societies - The Independent - July 11th, 2021
- What Happened To The Cast Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? - Looper - July 11th, 2021
- New track by Vampire Weekends Ezra Koenig features in I Think You Should Leave - NME - July 11th, 2021
- 10 Best Im Dead And I Know It Moments In Vampire Horror Movies - WhatCulture - July 11th, 2021
- Dave Bautista is Allegedly Looking to Do a Vampire Movie - TVOvermind - July 11th, 2021
- 'Near Dark' Is A Uniquely American Masterpiece Of An Unheralded Cinematic Subgenre: The Vampire Neo-Western - Decider - July 11th, 2021
- Let the Right One In TV Series Will Include Multiple Vampires - ComicBook.com - July 11th, 2021
- The skeleton of a 'vampire' discovered has revealed its secrets - Gentside - July 11th, 2021
- Microsoft announces Redfall, a vampire shooter from the team behind Dishonored - The Verge - June 14th, 2021
- Vampire: The Masquerade coming to Roll20 with new 5th edition module - Polygon - June 14th, 2021
- Some Thoughts On Vampire The Masquerade: Winter's Teeth #6 - Bleeding Cool News - June 14th, 2021
- AMC's Interview with the Vampire Series Is Making Some Big Changes from the Book - TVweb - June 14th, 2021
- Interview with the Vampire: Louis will be played by a black actor in the new adaptation of the novel Explica .co - Explica - June 14th, 2021
- Revisiting the Disappointingly Brief History of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' Video Game Adaptations - Bloody Disgusting - June 14th, 2021
- Interview with the Vampire TV Series Reveals a Big Twist to Anne Rice's Novel - MovieWeb - June 14th, 2021
- Scarlett Moffatt insists vampires walk among us and is convinced Richard Madeley could be one of them... - The Sun - June 14th, 2021
- Arkanes New Fantasy IP is Reportedly Called Omen; Vampire-Related and Coming Next Year Rumour - GamingBolt - May 21st, 2021
- Jakobs Wife is an amazing vampire marriage therapy mash-up you can stream at home right now - San Antonio Current - May 8th, 2021
- Van Helsing's final season wants vampires to 'pay the price' in deadly teaser for Episode 5 - SYFY WIRE - May 8th, 2021
- V Rising is a vampire action-adventure game where you get your own castle - Destructoid - May 8th, 2021
- Resident Evil Village is more schlocky B-movie than Tall Vampire Lady thirst trap - British GQ - May 8th, 2021
- Candice King Wants to Reprise The Vampire Diaries Role on Legacies - TV Fanatic - May 8th, 2021
- 'The Vampire Diaries': Fans Love to Visit the Real-Life Mystic Grill Inspired By the Hit Show - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - May 8th, 2021
- So, I Just Watched "Twilight" For The First Time, And I Have 21 Very Important Questions - BuzzFeed - May 8th, 2021
- Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley Say They Fought At the End of "The Vampire Diaries" - Seventeen.com - May 8th, 2021
- Everything to know about PRP therapy, the Vampire Facial for your eyes - image.ie - May 8th, 2021
- This Week in Anime - Is Mars Red Too High Brow? - Anime News Network - May 8th, 2021
- Vampire facials spa owner linked to HIV cases faces 24 charges - WJW FOX 8 News Cleveland - April 23rd, 2021
- The Boys From County Hell Puts Its Own Bite on the Vampire Genre - Gizmodo - April 23rd, 2021
- Boys from County Hell Review: Irish Vampires and a Plucky Horror Comedy - IndieWire - April 23rd, 2021
- Boys From County Hell Review: Irish Vampire-Comedy Tries to Reinvent the Myth - ComicBook.com - April 23rd, 2021
- How Vampire Weekend guided me into fatherhood - The Guardian - April 23rd, 2021
Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero