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Hamilton Leithauser reveals the story behind 'A 1000 Times'

Jon Dekel

If the melody of “A 1000 Times” rings oddly familiar, that’s no coincidence.

“I took the entire structure from '500 Miles;' I'm not ashamed by that at all,” Hamilton Leithauser boasts of the addictive lead single from his critically lauded collaborative album with Rostam Batmanglij, 2016's I Had a Dream That You Were Mine.

The former Walkmen singer first fell in love with the traditional folk song (often credited to Hedy West) when he heard the Joan Baez version some years back, and had tried fruitlessly to reinterpret it ever since. So when Batmanglij asked him to find a topline for a beat he’d been working on, Leithauser saw an opportunity.

“I took it home and then six months later, [Batmanglij] was at my house in Brooklyn and we were standing around the piano and we wrote the entire song in about 20 minutes,” he recalls. “It was like a wandering around, kind of New York dream song. I don't know why those were the lyrics but it just came pretty quick and it just had a nice feel. It sort of set up the way the whole record is gonna go. That's why it's first.”

Musically and lyrically, "A 1000 Times"’s theme echoes the story of its creators, who first met in 2008 when Batmanglij’s band Vampire Weekend asked to open for the Walkmen.

“[Vampire Weekend singer] Ezra Koenig had actually been the intern at our recording studio we had set up in Harlem. A couple years later he got this band together and asked if he could open for us. The whole thing took about five months to come together, and, in the meantime, they put out a record and did Saturday Night Live before flying out to open for us in an Atlanta club,” Leithauser says, laughing.

Some five years later, the pair would reunite after a mutual friend suggested the two songwriters try to work together. “I just walked a couple blocks to his house,” Leithauser says, smiling. That night, they wrote I Had a Dream’s baroque musical closing number, “1959.”

The next time they met, Batmanglij had moved to Los Angeles.

“The common theme: the outsider living in New York and maybe all his friends are gone. A little bit lost-feeling,” Leithauser notes. “Or maybe everything changed before he realized it and now he's sort of coming to terms with how everything's changed a lot.”

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