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Rostam Batmanglij is happy. It’s been three and a half years since the formerly New York-based songwriter and producer decided to leave the city he’d called home since college and move to LA, but according to Rostam, it’s been the happiest time of his life. “Maybe that’s just getting older,” he says with a chuckle, and sitting next to his publicist’s swimming pool in Beachwood Canyon on a mild July afternoon, it’s easy to see the advantages.
The migration of musicians to Los Angeles has become common enough that NY Mag recently went deep on the subject, with popular indie artists like Rostam, James Blake, Charli XCX, and Tobias Jesso Jr. leaving their homes around the world for the palm trees and traffic jams of Southern California. There’s a logic there, particularly now that Rostam has abandoned the security of one of the most successful indie rock bands of the last decade — the popped-collar pop savants Vampire Weekend — to strike out on his own with his solo debut, Half-Light.
Rostam’s story is one that’s definitively American; that a gay, first-generation American can find success on his own in 2017, regardless of what the current powers would have you believe. “What I’m trying to do with this album is to present an alternative to a fear of what you might not understand,” he says. In creating and not losing hope in uncertain times, Rostam’s American dream is not only intact, but tactile, and shareable among his fans and listeners.
As Nick Sylvester explains in NY Mag, Los Angeles is the residence of many of the major music labels and publishing houses, and a place where you can rub elbows with a music supervisor for Netflix rather than a hip Bushwick band. For a musician like Rostam, it may not have been certain what opportunities he could find by moving to LA, but it was enough to know that the opportunities are out there.
He’d previously been to LA for work to record with producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Sky Ferreira), plus his brother, The OA creator Zal Batmanglij, had already moved out there a few years before that. “I came home from a tour in 2013 and I had a feeling about New York that I never had before,” he said. “Which was basically ‘I don’t really want to live here anymore.’ So I left, and I left pretty quickly.”
His 2016 departure from Vampire Weekend was not nearly as swift, reflecting years of balancing his own solo endeavors with his work in the band. From the beginning, Rostam’s idea of being in a band, which was formed during senior year at the prestigious Columbia University in New York, was an experience that felt new for all parties involved, with no expectations of how long it could last. Each member had their own roles and Rostam quickly established his as that of producer.
“I’d done a lot of recording throughout college,” he explained. “I think I’d impressed Ezra [Koenig] in different ways with these different decades I was able to reference in the recordings I was making. He’d come to some of the classical concerts where pieces I’d composed were performed. He saw the sort of range of things I was into, and they intersected with the things that he was into. So the first Vampire Weekend album was the first record I produced.”
That first self-titled Vampire Weekend album from 2008 still reflects much of who Rostam is, both as a musician and producer. Certain moments — the whimsical, feathery harpsichord and string arrangement that open “M79,” the woozy, slow-motion verse that wades into “I Stand Corrected,” the prancing cello that parades through the middle of “Walcott” — are touchstones that draw a direct line to where his solo debut record, Half-Light, has found him as an artist.