Rostam Batmanglij spent his twenties building Vampire Weekend from a Columbia University dorm project into one of indie rock's biggest bands. But by 2013, Batmanglij – who wrote, produced and played keyboards for the group – was looking to branch out. "A lot of people get a high from being onstage," he says. "I found ways to enjoy it. But I get it from being in the studio."
Earlier this year, Batmanglij, 32, left the group in favor of a solo career and producing – a move he'd been talking about with his bandmates for years. Batmanglij had always been more comfortable offstage – he points out that he is the only member of Vampire Weekend who wasn't in a band in high school. "I was recording myself in my bedroom, layering myself. That was kind of like where I found a lot of joy."
Since leaving the band, Batmanglij stayed busy putting his imaginative art-rock stamp on tracks by Solange and Frank Ocean. He works out of his L.A. home studio, where decor is all white (inspired by Yoko Ono), and artists often stay in a tiny cottage out back. "It's all about making people feel more comfortable," he says. He pushes acts to find a "deeper space." "The most exciting songs to me are the unlikely hits," he says, "when you think, 'I love this, but why is it on the radio?' "
Batmanglij has been hearing a lot of songs like that lately. "It's really interesting a lot of people making records that don't really have drums," he says. "Also, this is hard to say, but when the Disney kids grew up, they started making urban pop, and then so all these urban artists who were huge kind of had to make something new or else they were just making the same music as the Disney kids. So I think that's been interesting to see that shift. It's creating surprising pop music."
Batmanglij produced "Ivy," a standout on Ocean's Blonde. "Frank played me an early version of the song and immediately when I heard it, I had a vision for what it could sound like. I muted everything that was in the track and I just left his vocal in there and I played guitar along to his vocal. I was thinking about those kind of chords and then I was thinking about the song 'Under Control' from the second Strokes album."
Batmanglij also focused on finding new sounds on I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, the recent debut by his duo with former Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser, which draws from doo-wop and Nineties indie rock. "I wanted to avoid using electric guitar as much as possible," Batmanglij says." I wanted to create a sort of warm cloud of sound that his voice could live inside of. So in order to do that, I was like really into using acoustic guitars like and keeping them really warm-sounding and letting the vocal cut through."
Batmanglij makes clear he's staying off the road with Leithauser as he promotes the album. "There's been some confusion about that," he says. "It brings me joy to hear people play songs that I helped them bring into this world." Instead, he's staying in the studio and working on several projects in the works for 2017, including producing Haim's next record. He also hints he might be working with Vampire Weekend again: "I don't want to make any announcements," he says when asked about working with the band. "I want some surprises for 2017."