Rostam Batmanglij is an American songwriter, composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist best known for his association with the indie rock electronic recording project named Discovery. He first gained popularity for his work with the indie rock band Vampire Weekend which helped to establish him as an upcoming talent in the indie rock genre. The brother of filmmaker Zal Batmanglij, Rostam began making electronic music at the age of 14. A major in music from Columbia University, he plays keyboards, percussion, and guitar. In his decade long career with Vampire Weekend, he produced the band’s debut album, ‘Vampire Weekend’, and the second album ‘Contra’, and co-producedthe album ‘Modern Vampires of the City’; all the three albums were critically and commercially successful. His fans admired his skills in reshaping pop music with elements of West African guitar blended with unusual polyrhythms and joyful melodies. After the band earned significant recognition, he branched out and formed the recording project Discovery with his friend Wesley Miles. As a solo artiste he recorded the tracks ‘Wood’, ‘Don't Let It Get to You’, ‘EOS’ and ‘Gravity Don’t Pull Me’ which earned critical acclaim. As a producer, he is quite in demand, and has worked extensively with artistes like Frank Ocean, Carly Rae Jepsen, Hamilton Leithauser, Charli XCX, and Santigold.
Childhood & Early Life
Rostam Batmanglij was born on November 28, 1983, in Washington, D.C., to Iranian parents who had migrated to the US. His mother Najmieh Batmanglij is a cookbook author, devoted to the traditions of Persian cuisine, and his father Mohammad Batmanglij founded Mage Publishers, a small press that promoted Persian culture. His brother Zal Batmanglij is an independent filmmaker.
His parents had first met at a party in Tehran. They attended college together in the US. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, they moved to France where their elder son Zal was born. However, the rigidity of the French society troubled them, and they feared that their children would lose connection with their Iranian roots. The family, therefore, moved to the US, and settled in Washington, D.C.
With Iranian culture remaining the focus of his parents’ American lives, Rostam went to the Potomac School, a prep school south of D.C. He recalls spending a lot of time in school singing traditional songs with his teachers.
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Rostam majored in music at the Columbia University. There he met Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, and Chris Baio, with whom he eventually formed a rock band Vampire Weekend (2006), named after a movie of the same name. The band quickly found success with their brainy lyrics and melodious music.
After he graduated, he produced the band’s self-titled debut album, which was released in January 2008. At that time he was also working different jobs including an internship at the Oxford English Dictionary. The album included the singles ‘Mansard Roof’, ‘A-Punk’, ‘Oxford Comma’, ‘Cape Cod Kwassa’, and ‘The Kids Don't Stand a Chance’, which were appreciated by critics.
Vampire Weekend’s second album ‘Contra’, which was released in 2010, was again a commercial success. Rostam sang, played the guitar and keyboard, and co-wrote the songs.
In September 2011, Rostam released a solo track ‘Wood’, which earned 4 out of 5 stars from Timeout Chicago's Brent DiCrescenzo. In November 2011, he sang a solo song, ‘Don't Let it Get to You’, which became the Hottest Record in the World on BBC Radio1.
The band’s third album ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ was released in May 2013, and was co-produced by Rostam and Ariel Rechtshaid. This was the first time the band worked with an outside producer.
The year 2014 was a busy year for Rostam. First, he produced and co-wrote two songs for Hamilton Leithauser's solo album, ‘Black Hours’, which was released in June 2014. He then produced two songs—‘Need Ur Luv’ and ‘Kingdom’—for Charli XCX. In December 2014, he remixed Ty Dolla Sign's song ‘Stand For’ into a new song ‘Long Way Home’. Next, he wrote the original music for a play by Kenneth Lonergan called ‘This Is Our Youth’, premiered on Broadway.
In 2015, he produced and sang the song ‘Water’ for Ra Ra Riot's fourth album ‘Need Your Light’. He also worked with Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen on her third studio album, ‘E•MO•TION’, and co-wrote the fourth single, ‘Warm Blood’, which was released on July 31, 2015.
In January 2016, he left Vampire Weekend to pursue solo projects. Rostam released two solo songs ‘EOS’ and ‘Gravity Don't Pull Me’, along with their music videos directed by him. That same year, he released a collaborative album ‘I Had a Dream That You Were Mine,’ with Hamilton Leithauser.
Rostam and his brother Zal Batmanglij collaborated on the film ‘Sound of My Voice’, which Rostam scored and Zal directed and co-wrote. Rostam also composed an original piece for piano that was featured in Zal's film ‘The East’.
In 2017, he released two solo songs—‘Gwan’ and ‘Bike Dream’—from his to-be-released solo album ‘Half-Light’. On September 15, 2017, he released the album ‘Half-Light’, which was about his time living in New York. Its breathtaking choral and instrument arrangements, distinctive beats, and intricate wordplay made it one of the year's most arresting albums.The first song of the album ‘Sumer’, is built around a sample of ‘Sumer Is Icumen In,’ an Old English song that he loved as a child.
In 2017, he also produced and co-wrote the song ‘Listen to Your Friends’ for the singer Declan McKenna's debut album ‘What Do You Think About the Car?’ Rostam is also involved with the electro-soul group Discovery which he had founded with his friend Wesley Miles.
The album ‘Vampire Weekend’ by the eponymous band sold over 27,000 copies in the first week of its release in the US, debuting at number 17 on the Billboard 200. By January 2010, it had sold nearly half a million copies. In the UK Albums Chart, it peaked at number 15.
The band’s third album ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album sold about 10,000 units on vinyl alone, debuting at number 1 on the Soundscan Vinyl Charts. It also charted number 1 at the Indie, Alternative, and Digital charts.
Awards & Achievements
‘Vampire Weekend’s third studio album, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2014.
In 2010, Rostam came out as gay in an interview with ‘Rolling Stone.’ “As a person who doesn’t identify as straight, any love song I write is contextualized by a queer identity,” he said. Since then, he has been openly gay, and talked about his sexual orientation in the magazine ‘Out’ as well.He said that Ed Droste of the band Grizzly Bear influenced him to publicly come out.
He says he is proud of his Iranian roots, and in fact, plays a 12-string guitar tuned like an Iranian instrument called a “tar.”