Exclusive: Vampire Weekend's Baio Comes Into His Own

If Vampire Weekend are known for anything, it’s their impeccable sense of style. Chris Baio, the band’s bassist, stepped into Milk Studios and didn’t disappoint with an alabaster button down and ebony dress pants, with his blazer draped effortlessly over his arm. But Baio wasn’t here to talk fashion, after a trilogy of some of the most acclaimed records in recent memory with his fellow vampires, he has spread his bat wings and soared out into the world solo for the very first time.

Well, almost first time. Baio has released two EP’s over the past several years, 2012’s Sunburn and 2013’s Mira, that have shown a far more techno-danceable side to his musical output. Everything has come together with The Names, his debut LP out on September 18th, a record that he has self described as “Bowie and Ferry-influenced pop songs and dumbsmart arena techno.” Between wrapping up production for the new album and prepping for the first bout of live shows, the bassist-turned-DJ sat down with Milk’s Daniel Paez to discuss how he feels about being back in hometown NYC, the ‘journey-like’ structure of his new album, and his undying love for David Bowie.

I heard you opened for Chvrches at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, how was that?

It was really fun! Then Names is something that’s been in my head for five years, so getting to perform it and start sharing the music was fantastic. I played a small show on Monday night at Elvis Guesthouse, but it was more of a friends and family thing. It was like playing at a combination high school reunion/family reunion. When you’re singing and you look down you don’t necessarily want to see your best friend you’ve known since you were seven years old. There were definitely familiar faces in the Music Hall last night, but a lot more unfamiliar faces. The crowd was warm and receptive. You don’t always hear that opening for other bands, but Chvrches have some nice fans. I felt welcomed and had a great time.

Is it different playing shows in New York, since you got started here?

Yes, absolutely. I love New York and there are more people that I love living here than anywhere else in the world, but it’s the most stressful place to perform. That’s because I’m always worried about forgetting to put someone on the guest list. It’s happened a couple of times with Vampire Weekend. The first 10 minutes on stage all I could think about was, “Who did I forget to invite this time?”

What artists or bands influence your work on ‘The Names’?

It’s sequenced as two, 20-minute mixes on each side. While producing it, I was thinking about the records: Maggot Brain by Funkadelic, Low by David Bowie, and Stranded by Roxy Music. Those are some of my favorite 70s art-rock records. The goal was to make the record a journey, so if you listen to one track and move forward ten minutes you’d be like, ‘How the fuck is this the same album?’ It’s interesting, sometimes there are overt influences and sometimes there are subconscious influences. One subconscious influence that came to the fore after I finished recording was a band called The The, a 80s and 90s solo-act, led by Matt Johnson. My manager thought that there were some similarities between my voice and his voice so he put me into contact with Bruce Lampcov, an incredible producer who stopped working about ten years ago. He worked on records like David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Peter Gabriel’s So. He also co-produced the last three The The records. So my manager sent him the unmixed version of the record and he liked it enough to un-retire and mix it, which was amazing. I’m so happy with how he got it sounding.

If you could go back in time and go see a show of a musician/band that is no longer performing, who would it be and why?

I’d see David Bowie on the “Station to Station” tour. He seems to have retired; it’s possible he’ll never perform again. The videos of his Nassau Coliseum gig are amazing. It would be so awesome to be able to see that in real life.

Who is someone you would love to collaborate with in the future?

My favorite photographer, Matthias Heiderich, took the picture on the cover of The Names. I found out about him from reading the design blog, ISO50. So I just emailed Matthias and said, “Hey I’m a huge fan of your work. Can I use this image of yours as my album cover?” He got back to me and said he had never had a photo of his used for an album cover, so he was very gung ho about it. So I got to collaborate with my favorite photographer! In terms of other stuff… you know what would be fucking dope? Since David Fincher makes a music video every five years, that would be incredible. I’m not counting on that, but I love his work and I love his movies.

What’s an issue that you think more people should be paying attention to?

There have been powerful moments over the last year where a lot of important dialogues have been brought to light and it makes me proud to be an American. Things like the Supreme Court ruling of gay marriage make me so psyched. I’ve been thinking about drone strikes as of late, I even made reference to them in my record. They’re something that is already publicly debated about, but I think improvements need to be made. There is not transparency in terms of when strikes are happening, where they’re happening, and how many casualties they cause. There needs to be an official count. Things are getting better but there’s always room for improvement.

I also heard that you’re going to Japan to start your world tour. Are you excited about that?

I am! I’ll be there in mid-August. I got offered to play at this festival, called Summer Sonic, and it’s such a dope line up. John Hopkins will be performing after me. His record Immunity is one of my favorite records of 2013. Matthew Herbert and Thom Yorke are going to be there too. Getting to do something like this so early on makes me so fucking happy. My sister also lives in Japan and the show is the day after her birthday, so that’s a nice bonus too.

Do you go to the other members of Vampire Weekend for feedback on your solo work? Or are you trying to keep it entirely separate?

I’m not the first person in the band to work on solo stuff. Ezra has done so much cool vocal work. Rostam made a record as Discovery with Wes from Ra Ra Riot, a track on Charli XCX‘s record, and a song with Carly Rae Jepsen. They send me stuff when they’re done and I send stuff to them when I’m done. After my record was finished in January, they were three of the first ten people in the world that I sent it to. I’m not hitting them up for advice every day or anything, but being in a band with them and touring the world for eight years, it’s hard not to be influenced and inspired by my band mates.

Pre-order ‘The Names’ here

Photography by Dan Wilson

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