Seven Tracks: Rostam

Seven Tracks: Rostam

An in-depth look at his production work...

Rostam is a genuine polymath.

Coming to the fore as a member of Vampire Weekend, Rostam Batmanglij's abilities as a producer grew and grew, until eventually he found himself in a solo realm.

Work with some huge pop names followed, but his ability to move between high profile and underground projects has allowed him to mark out a highly individual path.

Take new album 'Changephobia'. A lush, at times almost baroque listen, Rostam fuses modern pop tropes with neo-psychedelia, jazz, and more, creating something truly boundary-less in the process.

Recently returning to the record for a Deluxe Edition - adding two specially chosen covers in the process - it's the perfect display of his dexterity.

Clash caught up with Rostam to discuss his production work in-depth for Seven Tracks.

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Clairo - 'Bags'

Claire brought me this song and she had fully written it and already begun recording/producing it. There’s a seven-inch vinyl where you can hear her original demo. I had a sense of where she wanted to go with it but I really didn’t want to change the essence of her production, just build off of it. It became a puzzle for us—like “how do you add to this without subtracting anything?”

I really wanted to make you feel like you were floating when the chorus hit. A big part of achieving that was having Danielle (from HAIM) come in and play drums for us. When the chorus came I asked Danielle to do a 16th note pattern— all of a sudden the song felt like it was touching on ‘Room On Fire’ and Joy Division, the kicks and snares were still landing where Claire had programmed them, but now you had this added energy driving the track forward. I also added a subtle pad at that moment, it’s just a little bit celestial, a little bit dreamy, a touch of ambient music. 

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HAIM - 'Now I'm In It'

This one started with a track I made in Sweden in 2014. I didn’t know who it was right for and then years later I was in the studio with HAIM and I pulled up the session.

So much of their music comes from the three sisters working together, we have also written a bunch of songs from scratch in the studio—this, however, was a rare exception because I had a beat with a groove that I felt could work with their sound. As soon as I pulled it up Danielle started singing these amazing melodies and pretty soon after it was on it’s way to becoming a HAIM song.

Danielle kept asking what guitar I used to record the main repeating guitar line. It’s not a real guitar, it’s a sample of just two notes that was in a folder somewhere on my computer, but I’m side-chaining it really hard against the kick pattern to make it sound alive and make it groove.

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Charli XCX - 'Need Ur Luv'

This one also started in Sweden, I may have worked on the beat on the airplane ride over there even. The topline was written and recorded in this rundown, old mansion in a town called Strangnas— it was me, Charli, and the most incredible Noonie Bao and Andrew Wyatt.

Charli wanted to tap into the energy of punk music on the Sucker project, but get there from some new entry points. She had a vision from the outset. I think this song ended up being a good example of that. It was our attempt at fusing 60s pop with the 2000s-era’s classic shuffle beat.

Someone told me it’s Kim Petras’ favourite Charli XCX song, which makes me happy to hear.

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Discovery - 'It’s Not My Fault'

This was one of the first songs where I used the technique of pitching 808 bass to move with the chords of a song. If you listen to the first half of the song the 808s are sticking to the one chord. Then halfway through the 808 notes starts moving. It was something we discovered kind of by accident but it’s a technique I started using alot after that.

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Lykke Li - 'Hard Rain'

At some point in the process of creating this song Lykke suggested it should have a guest vocalist rap on the middle eight. We even bounced out a version of the song with an open middle eight, in case people wanted to try things.

Eventually we decided she should be the one to do a spoken-word bridge, it ended up being something between talking and singing. The auto-tune in that moment takes you out of the classic Lykke Li palette of sound, but the lyrics are still very much of her world.

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Vampire Weekend - 'Diplomat’s Son'

I think this song represents me opening a new chapter in my work as a producer where integrating the music around me became a component of what I do.

The M.I.A. sample is from the song 'Hussel' on her album 'KALA'; there’s a moment in the middle of the song where she sings “We jam on it like, ‘doom cha cha chikadoom cha’”. I loved that album so much— I wanted a piece of it to be part of the song.

The Toots and the Maytals interpolation came from hearing the bassline from 'Pressure Drop' playing through a broken speaker at a bar and wanting to use the chords (I heard it wrong and turned around the order). The end of the song has these interlocking electric guitars that were mostly recorded on my iPhone, with a loop pedal layering them.

I kept a loop pedal and an electric guitar set up in my living room back in 2009 and it was always leading me to write guitar parts that built off eachother.

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Cosha - 'Run The Track'

Cassia was still Bonzai when we started this song. She was staying in the backhouse next to my old studio and we were working on new music at odd hours of the day.

I’m so proud of what we hybridised on this song. Her verses land between auto-tune singing and auto-tune rapping. The choruses are a drop, but they’re also a vocal hook. It’s her voice that I’m manipulating with Soundtoys Little AlterBoy to create what sounds like a flute.

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'Changephobia' is out now.

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