Some heartbreak stays with you, even after you've spent years trying to move on. That might be the lyrical message of "Gravity Don't Pull Me," a new song by the songwriter and producer Rostam Batmanglij, who recently left his longtime day job in Vampire Weekend, but he insists that's not the whole story. "I want people to hear the song as ultimately having a positive message," he said in an interview with NPR, "of learning from your mistakes."
"Gravity Don't Pull Me" is the first time fans will see Batmanglij singing solo, front and center. The video, which he co-directed with Josh Goleman, is stark, focused on just Batmanglij, a microphone and two modern dancers — Jack Grabow and Sam Asa Pratt — in an empty room. Batmanglij sings about the "worst things [he] ever did" and the boy who broke his heart over an oscillating analog synthesizer while centered between Grabow and Pratt. He says he has wanted to make a dance video for about five years, and was inspired to work with Grabow after seeing a dance video he made for the Vampire Weekend song "I Think Ur A Contra." Batmanglij says he was proud of the rhythms he wrote for that song, and was impressed with how well Grabow's dance embodied them. So when he finished writing "Gravity Don't Pull Me" years later, he immediately thought to ask Grabow to choreograph a dance video for it. Grabow pulled in Pratt, who he knew from high school. Coincidentally, Batmanglij also knew of Pratt; he had seen a dance video Pratt made for the song "Osaka Loop Line," which Batmanglij produced as part of the band Discovery.
Batmanglij describes both the song and the idea for the video as coming to him in insistent moments of inspiration — he says he was "pretty much possessed by the song" as he was writing it and knew he wanted the video to be an expression of symmetry. At first, even he didn't understand that impulse. But both of Batmanglij's parents are from Iran, and eventually he realized he was drawing inspiration from the symmetry of Persian rugs. "I think it was a subconscious thing," he says. For most of the video, Grabow and Pratt dance as mirror images of each other. At certain moments, however, the two break from each other and dance independently. Batmanglij says Grabow and Pratt left moments open for improvisation when they choreographed the piece. The result is the striking imagery of two people falling perpetually in and out of sync with each other in a way that mirrors the song's heartsick lyrics: "So I bite my lip and I hold my tongue / And I wait for the pain to stop / But some days I still let you back in."
For Batmanglij, the lyrics, music and visual imagery are meant to inform one another. "I hope there's something bigger that lives between all those things interacting with each other," he says. "For me, the idea of writing a song, recording it, making a video — it's like, you go around the moon and you come back. You accomplish everything there was to accomplish ... It feels like telling the whole story."