In case you forgot or missed it, Rostam, or Rostam Batmanglij, is no longer in the noted band Vampire Weekend. Instead he’s busy collaborating with other artists and releasing his own solo music. Almost exactly a year ago, he put out his debut album Half Light, which he followed up with a remix EP in June. Today, Batmanglij has released a new standalone single called “In a River,” a song he has been playing live this year. It’s a mandolin-driven ballad that ultimately builds into a folksy, stomp-along section with fiddle embellishments (one fears Mumford & Sons and Jordan Peterson might be proud.)
In a press statement, Rostam explained that he had created the recording from a non-metronomic combination of primitively recorded live audio of the song from his tour and studio-quality material. “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,” he explained. “That audio became a road map for how the song should move.”
“In a River” also comes complete with a minimal animated video. Watch that and read Rostam’s full statement about the song below. Check out our interview with Rostam from last year here.
In January we started rehearsing the song for the Half-Light North American Tour and it became a staple of every show. When we came back from that month-long tour I booked time at Vox Studios in Hollywood and jumped into recording the song. 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.