Questions & Answers With: ROSTAM

Former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam has certainly kept himself busy since he parted ways with the New York indie icons. In the (almost) two years since announcing he’d be focussing solely on his solo work, he’s worked with a whole barrage of artists on various projects, whilst also getting down to business Half Light, his first album as a fully fledged solo artist. We called him up ahead of his first ever headline show on Dutch soil, when he and his live band took to Amsterdam’s Melkweg.

Hey Rostam, how are you?
I’m good thanks! I love it here.

It’s been almost two years since you parted ways with Vampire Weekend. How did the process leading up to Half Light pan out?
For me, it was just a gradual process of releasing music and being asked to perform in certain place. I was asked to play with Brian Wilson, and then also at a museum in Los Angeles; those experiences led to me feeling like it was time to make a whole album and put out into the world. It’s basically just what I’d always been doing, but even in 2014 I had this idea of making or finishing old recordings I had. All of these recordings were in different stages of completion, and in 2016 I initially had the idea to record twelve tracks and release one each month. I eventually abandoned that plan, and just spent the rest of the year finishing my initial recordings.

(c) Shali Blok
(c) Shali Blok

Could you outline for me the creative process you tend to go through when working on a new piece of music?
I guess it starts in one of three different ways. I’ll either sit with a piano or guitar and play, sing and record it all into a voice memo, or I’ll sit behind a computer and make a beat before compressing it into mp3 and listening to it on headphones in different places; my house, in the car, out and about or whatever else. If something comes to me and I want to sing on it, then it becomes a song. On this record I also started some songs off by simply writing string arrangements, the song Gwan is a good example of this as it was all about writing and recording the strings.

Did you find yourself under any kind of pressure to put out a solo record?
I was busy with so many different things after I left Vampire Weekend, and even before that I was busy on the side working with artists like Solange and Frank Ocean. I don’t think I’m capable of not doing anything, so I didn’t feel pressured at all.

Ariel Rechtshaid, amongst others, worked with you on some tracks. What did he bring to the table from a production sense?
The process of making this record started some years ago. Ariel is someone who I came to in 2011, and we worked on a bunch of these songs when they were sort of halfway done. He brought me a lot of encouragement, helping me to record my voice in particular; this was something that I’d always found hard to do alone. It was good to have someone like him in the studio with me. This was back in 2011, so out of that we found ourselves becoming friends and working on more projects together.

(c) Shali Blok
(c) Shali Blok

Half-Light wasn’t your first piece of solo work either, as you’d previously released Woods in 2011. Back then, did you ever envision your career heading down a solo, one-man-show path?
That’s a hard question to answer, but I think it boils down to the fact that I’d always just wanted to make an album. The ideas for Half Light originated when I finished college back in 2006, so yeah.

You describe your music as being about identity. Did you use the creation of Half Light as a device to carve out your own identity?
I don’t think I used Half Light to do anything, to be honest. If anything, it’s the other way round; the record uses me. Haha.

You’ve also kept busy as a producer in the time since you left VW. Has this helped shape the way you approached and worked on half light?
It doesn’t help, to be honest. When I’m working with other artists as a producer, I’m helping them realise their vision, and I’m realising a vision we share together. When I work on music as Rostam, it feels completely separate from that.

(c) Shali Blok
(c) Shali Blok

You recently played your first overseas Rostam show. How’s the reception been so far?
It’s been amazing! We had a really fantastic show in Stockholm a few nights ago, and there were even people screaming between songs to the point where it was actually slowing the show down. We had to wait for the screams to subside, haha.

What can we expect from Rostam in 2018?
I recorded a cover of my favourite Pogues song, and that’ll be out before the end of 2017. That’s a pretty exciting thing to happen, because I love the idea of constantly releasing music. I’m gonna keep doing that; I want there to be a steady stream of music coming from me, just non-stop.

Half-Light is out now. Stream it below.