The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij build on easy chemistry to make 'I Had a Dream'
Sometime after parting ways with longtime band the Walkmen, singer Hamilton Leithauser signed a contract with Domino Records for what would become his first solo album, 2014's Black Hours. Soon after the signing, a Domino exec ran into friend Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend and told him about Leithauser's new solo endeavor.
“Then Rostam just wrote me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to come over to his house and try working on music sometime,” said Leithauser by phone recently. “I didn't have that much faith that it would work, to be honest, but I went and we just tried it out. And on that first day we wrote part of the song that became ‘1959.' We clicked.”
In addition to “1959,” which closes out Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam's 2016 album I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, the pair wrote two songs that appeared on Black Hours, which Leithauser had been working on for some time.
“When we finished those two songs, it felt obvious to both of us that we had more stuff we needed to do,” Leithauser said. “It was going in a new direction, and I really liked that.”
For I Had a Dream, Leithauser went out to Batmanglij's home studio in Los Angeles for songwriting sessions that began early in the morning and stretched late into the day. Though the two had met years ago when Vampire Weekend opened for the Walkmen, the musicians didn't know each other well, but the easy chemistry between them brought surprising sounds and styles out of left field.
“At the beginning it was like, wow, what is this record that we're making? … We both share a love of country and Leonard Cohen and soul, but we never discussed it,” said Leithauser, who brings his touring band to the Newport Music Hall on Saturday, Feb. 11.
One track, “When the Truth Is…,” started out with a hip-hop beat. “I thought, ‘There's no way in hell I'm ever gonna be able to sing over that,'” Leithauser said. “But then I watched that Muscle Shoals documentary the night before, and I saw all those people, and I thought, ‘I just wanna do that.' … I went in and [said], ‘OK, just roll the tape.'”
The resulting track is an utterly soulful, smoky torch song that finds Leithauser singing in his signature, stone-washed caterwaul, “I'll always be lonely and you'll never hear the truth.”
“I always try to reach as much as possible [when singing],” Leithauser said. “I try to get into a different place. In the end, you always end up sounding like yourself, so if you're not really trying to reach, it's gonna be, ‘Been there, done that.'”
As the record neared completion, it became clear that Batmanglij was more than just a producer. Leithauser said the songs were true collaborations. “Working with Rostam was more like being in a band together. That's why we called it ‘Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam,'” he said. “We'd formed a group together, and we were writing everything from the ground up.”