Former Vampire Weekend songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rostam (né Rostam Batmanglij) has just unveiled a new single in the form of “In A River,” his first release since his debut LP from last September, Half-Light. Rostam has made a point of becoming a particularly technical and strategic songwriter that doesn’t let down on the emotional front either, gaining many fans since his solo debut.
Sticking true to his history of utilizing world instruments, Rostam uses the mandolin as a base for “In A River,” with his light, almost weightless voice breezes on top of the warm instrumentation. The song is the first for Rostam to write using originally the mandolin, according to a press release. But there’s even more backstory to the single than just the mandolin itself.
During his North American tour after Half-Light, Rostam began rehearsing and playing the song to live audiences, and fell in love with the sound and energy that the song brought in a live setting.
“When we came back from that month-long tour I booked time at Vox Studios in Hollywood and jumped into recording the song,” said Rostam. “At that point we had played it some twenty times in front of twenty different audiences across the country. About halfway through the tour I started bringing the audience into the song and asking them to clap along after that second chorus. I have memories of how those claps sounded, I can still remember how hard they hit in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a packed theatre with a foot of snow on the ground outside.
“When we got in the studio, I knew I wanted to capture the feeling we got when we played it live, so I pulled the audio off a YouTube clip from a few nights prior- in San Francisco- and dropped it in the Pro Tools session. That audio became a road map for how the song should move. The tempo fluctuates widely- kicking up as the drums enter and the violins solo, then settling into a slower groove when we get back to the chorus, finally slowing down even more as the song ends with the 808 bass and vocals. It’s so rare that modern music gets ‘off the grid’ but ‘In a River’ is a hybrid. It’s steady for the first half but then free in tempo from the moment the drums come in.
“I often want the songs I produce to be meeting places for organic and electronic sounds- old traditions and new ones. ‘In a River’ is new territory for me because although it’s a studio recording, it’s pulling from one of the oldest traditions in music, a live performance in front of an audience.”
The studio release of the single is accompanied by a simple yet captivating animated visual, where the camera follows along a simulated river while various weather effects occur to match the song, while the lyrics are shown at the bottom of the screen.
Rostam started his musical career during his time at Columbia University, where he developed as a producer, songwriter and recording artist, especially with his bandmates in Vampire Weekend, before forging his own path as a solo artist.
Check out the video below.