“There were three potential titles for this album,” Rostam Batmanglij tells Apple Music. “One of them referenced gender, another was referencing America and nationality. As I’m saying this, I’m realizing that’s what I like about this title—that it can apply to gender or politics, and yet you might hear this record and not think about either of those things.” Listen to Changephobia, the former Vampire Weekend talisman’s second solo record, and plenty of things hit you. To name a few: Americana; unexpected time structures; guitar solos; gorgeous melodies; a lot of sax. “Stylistically, I was seeking to make a clean break from a lot of the music that I’ve made over the last 10 years,” he says. “I wanted to be a bit more abstract. I was thinking about minimalist art, and that was kicking around in the back of my mind in very simple shapes.” Accordingly, there’s a joyful union between a desire to keep things, as he says, to “one or two colors” and Batmanglij’s natural musical curiosity and invention. Let him talk you through the story of his second album, one track at a time. “These Kids We Knew” “I was just working on music to get out of my bedroom during lockdown, and then these lyrics started coming out of me. I really didn't think it was for the album. But then, as more time passed, I started to realize that it was not only for the album, but eventually that it was track one. I think as a queer musician I identify a little bit more with the younger generation because I relate to their attitudes towards sexuality and gender—it's a little bit distinct from people that grew up in the '90s and early 2000s. That made me think about the generation above mine, and just how each generation has different things that we have to contend with, whether it's climate or gender or equality. I kept thinking, ‘Who are these kids?’—and maybe in some ways it’s also me coming to terms with the fact that I'm not a kid anymore. I'm fully in my mid-thirties.” “From the Back of a Cab” “It started with this drum part without many chords, and it just kicked around on my iPhone but I knew there was something exciting there. One day I started playing this Americana piano along to these drums, and it felt very disconnected from the drum part, because the drum part is in 12/8, which is something that you hear in African music and Iranian music. I've become more interested in trying to use lyrics as the driving force, as opposed to just writing vocal melodies and figuring out what lyrics should go along with.” “Unfold You” “This features a sample from Nick Hakim [2015’s ‘Papas Fritas’] and features Henry Solomon’s sax playing which I later brought into HAIM’s 'Summer Girl.' Even though 'Summer Girl' came out within a few months of us starting to record it, 'Unfold You' took years. In some ways it had to—because the recording of the song tracks an evolution and a personal change.” “4Runner” “I was in a store in Japan when I heard this song, and to this day I haven't been able to find it. But I remembered how it sounded in my brain—it had 12-string acoustic guitar and had brush drums, and I just filed that away knowing it was a palette I should try one day. Years later, I was in the studio wanting to realize this idea. I started building it up with 12-string acoustic, drums, and Moog Voyager bass. I made a track that felt fresh and then spent a lot of time just driving around and sitting in my room listening to it, piecing it together what it should be about.” “Changephobia” “A few years ago I was sitting at a park bench in Massachusetts and someone told me change is good, and it just stuck with me. No one had ever said to me that change is good. This idea informed the whole album. I’ve also had a fascination with sax that dates back maybe a decade. I knew where I wanted to go musically, and wanted to push myself away from the same chord progressions I’ve used in so many songs. This was a new kind of chord progression for me, inspired by jazz. I asked Henry to play a solo over those chords, and he did about 36 takes. The second take had the magic, so that’s what you hear.” “Kinney” “The first day that I worked with Henry, I sang this melody to him—and he played it back on the saxophone. I didn’t think I was able to play it myself on any instruments, but Henry played it back to me, we put the melody on top, and the next thing I knew I had a song written—a sort of crazy 182 BPM drum ’n’ bass song. I was very doubtful on the outro, because it’s fully grunge. I worried there are some places you should never go. Ultimately, though, I’m glad I went here.” “Bio18” “I was on tour in Houston years ago and recorded these drums on my iPhone. I’d honestly been hearing the rhythm in my head since I was a kid in D.C. played on buckets on sidewalks. I was curious about where stuff like Charlie Mingus and Charlie Parker, that how that stuff kind of intersects with, like, the French classical composers like Debussy and Ravel. I was curious about the way those things overlap.” “[interlude]” “I have a rule that I need every song to be at least two minutes, even if it doesn't have lyrics. This was supposed to be a song on the album, but I could just never figure out what to sing. I had Henry play sax on it, and originally the sax was supposed to be a solo, and there would be a song on either side of the solo. Eventually I said to myself, ‘I don't know exactly what I want to say, but maybe the music is saying what I want to say.’ And so I kept it on. The original version of this album also had two other interludes, and I cut those but I kept this one. I don't know why.” “To Communicate” “Therapy and psychology are probably a huge part of what was on my mind as I was writing the lyrics of this album. But I think that shouldn't be something that's too obvious if I did it right. I like the idea that someone might hear the song and feel, ‘This is clearly about psychology.’ And another person might hear it and think, ‘This is clearly about someone that betrayed Rostam or Rostam feeling that he betrayed himself.’ Dave Fridmann mixed this song, and the one thing I told him was I wanted it to sound like The Zombies. His response was, ‘Then maybe you should speed it up about 10 BPM.’ And I think he's right. I did experiment with that. But it was too late in the game to speed it up that much. And maybe it's good that it doesn't sound too much like The Zombies. But hopefully it sounds a little bit like The Zombies.” “Next Thing” “It wasn't supposed to be on this album. I'd given up on it for a couple years. And then as I was finishing the album, I thought to myself, ‘You're going need to have a special bonus track for Japan, or it'll be good to have one extra thing.’ But once it was done, I liked it too much. The drums and the piano were recorded live at the same time, they were not recorded with a click track, which, for people who make music, you know that almost everything we hear is steady. And this song is not steady. If you dropped it into one of your DAWs [digital audio workstations] like Ableton, Logic, or Pro Tools and tried to line it up, it will constantly infuriate you. But that's exactly what I wanted from the song.” “Starlight” “Even before I had written the rest of the album, I knew that this was going to be the last song. It started on a bullet train in Japan, so it was originally called ‘Shinkansen.’ I was at a friend's wedding and he sang Chet Baker to his wife, which made me think there hasn't been a futuristic update of Chet Baker. This is my attempt.”

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