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August 2018
Feature

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: Once, twice, 'A 1000 Times' amazing

Some partnerships just work: The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser and ex-Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij have teamed up for a very special album.
Published: 9:28 am, October 12, 2016
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: Once, twice, 'A 1000 Times' amazing
It all sounds incredibly simple. Two prominent members of two of the most successful modern indie rock bands of the last decade meet up and start making an album together just because they both love each other’s bands and their music. Essentially, that’s the story behind the partnership between The Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser and ex-Vampire Weekend producer extraordinaire Rostam Batmanglij and their inspiring collaborative album ‘I Had A Dream That You Were Mine’

“I was just a fan,” begins Rostam, as he tells of a musical connection that has blossomed over the last four years. “I loved all The Walkman albums. I don’t feel that way about many artists. He was on a shortlist of people I really wanted to work with for about eight years of my life. When I heard that he was working on some new music, I reached out to him. We had a pretty good vibe in the studio from day one.”

To hear Rostam tell it, it was a case of instant musical chemistry. However, for the more reserved Hamilton there were a few social kinks to iron out as he got used to a new environment. “We had met before in 2008 but we didn’t get to be friends,” says the singer. “I had met him again over the years through mutual friends and I liked him but I didn’t know him until he found out I was doing a solo record in 2012. He wrote to me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to try working together?’ I went over and he was really a stranger. I was right there in his living room, where he has his recording stuff so we had to get to know each other.”

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Very quickly, it became apparent though that the two Washington DC natives had a lot in common, and a quick smart musical intuition was beginning to form. “We clicked quickly as personalities,” adds Hamilton. “There was a lot of familiarity and easy conversation.” It didn’t take long before the convivial vibe turned into musical inspiration with Rostam offering up a piece of music for him to sing. “I’m in a room with this guy I’ve only known for 30 minutes and I’ve got the headphones on and I’m going to sing on this thing,” laughs Hamilton. “It is a funny moment when you get together with your friends and just start singing, but I liked the thing he played me. We came up with something really quickly and the song we wrote on the first day we ever met became ‘1959’, the last song on this record.”

The album the duo have created is a record that complements both musicians’ characters and represents each artist challenging themselves and doing something different. Originally, they thought it would be another Hamilton solo album, like his 2012 solo debut, which Rostam worked on. However, it made perfect sense for a record in which they both worked so closely together and were attuned to each others process to bear both their names, as Rostam explains. “At first we didn’t know what we were doing, [but] after we had six or seven songs it felt like we were finishing a record that was both of our babies.”

“The majority of the work we did came from being two people in a room together,” he continues. “For Hamilton and I to make a whole record where we wrote the songs together, it just made sense to put both out names on it and preserve our two identities.”

Both musicians used the album to explore different ways of working. “I felt very free making this record,” says Rostam. “Both Hamilton and I have spoken of having a feeling from when we first started working together, that we were able to make music that we had always wanted to make but were incapable of making on our own.”

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For Hamilton the album allowed him to make a cohesive record telling a lyrical story. “It sounds like a person who’s trying to get in touch with someone and is having trouble with that and maybe dealing with a lot of changes in their life and in their city,” he says. “It’s about trying to deal with that and trying to get used to it. It’s one character’s thought that goes through the whole record. That’s the story.”

While the album mines some classic sounds and styles with elements of baroque pop, country and folk, it’s all wrapped up in a supremely modern, fresh and vibrant production that makes it a compelling listen. Both Hamilton and Rostam were completely switched on during the making of the album to the dangers of making something too overly reverential. “I wouldn’t feel happy making music that referenced nothing and I wouldn’t feel happy making music that was just revivalism,” asserts the producer. “For me the ideal is music that does both and that was in the back of my mind when working on this album.”

It’s easy to understand why the album works so well when you listen to both men talk about each other. They’re musical kindred spirits. “There’s a lot of diversity in Hamilton’s voice and there’s a narrative in his songwriting. Those were the two things I loved about him,” says Rostam. “I wanted him to sing in all the different ways that he’s capable of singing. He can do Frank Sinatra vibrato and crooning. Few people can sing like that. He can also scream and howl.” Even more than his voice, it was Hamilton’s song writing skills that he admired. “The Walkmen songs that I loved were ones that had more narrative than impressionism. The ones that I connected most with where the ones that had a story that was pretty clear. I wanted to pursue that on this record.”

For Hamilton the relationship was built on admiration and trust. “He’s really good at what he does and we get along personally,” he says. “We have this shared aesthetic and knowledge of each other’s music and history. It works because I liked Vampire Weekend and he liked The Walkmen. There was this trust. When you start doing something that’s very different, which this record turned out to be, you have to trust that this guy’s done it before so I’ll try singing on his thing even though this sounds a little funny right now.”

It might have initially sounded a little funny and a little weird, but the partnership between Rostam and Hamilton has endured and ultimately flourished. Both men will no doubt go on to do even bigger things, but you can imagine them reconnecting this special musical partnership years and even decades down the line, like David Byrne and Brian Eno have done so successfully. These are two men born to make music with each other.
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Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam’s album ‘I Had A Dream That You Were Mine’ is out now.

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