When Chris Baio isn’t playing bass in Vampire Weekend or making oddball, observational tweets, he’s been DJing everywhere from a former sauna in Vienna to Seoul to New York’s own Le Bain. He’s also been producing mesmerizing, sun-bathed electro tracks. Three of these songs comprise his debut solo effort, Sunburn, made under the name Baio. The EP was released two weeks ago on Greco-Roman, after the Matias Aguayo-featuring “Tanto” was previewed to acclaim. We visited Baio (and his cat) at his Brooklyn apartment to talk touring, recording and Roxy Music.
What was the recording process like?
I got off tour in February of last year and knew that I was going to have some free time on my hands, and I knew that being kind of idle and aimless makes me unhappy. I just knew I had to do something to keep myself busy. And I'd been DJing for a long time, pretty seriously, and would do it whenever the opportunity arose. I was very passionate about doing that, and I knew I wanted to make my own tracks in the vein of the stuff I was into playing. So I got off the road, got into production, bought some cheap microphones and just started recording stuff around the apartment. I have a piano in my apartment, some tracks would begin just with piano chords and harmonic movement and ideas like that. In that time, I took a class in East Williamsburg on mixing and mastering audio, because it was important for me to have a handle on things like that before having the confidence to start sending tracks out to people that I knew. Basically, around September of last year, I got to a place with the music I was making that I felt confident enough to share with people. One person that I shared it with was this guy called Alex Waldron, who along with Joe Goddard from Hot Chip and a guy named Dom, whom I have yet to meet, are the three heads of Greco-Roman, the label that's putting the EP out. So in September, I started sending him tracks and ideas and we started a dialogue that ended up with this three song EP.
There's a process of learning how to produce and record, and I already play in a band with an incredible producer. One of my biggest regrets is that when I played music when I was 16 or whatever, it was always 'write a song on guitar, then play with bandmates.' I never thought of seriously pursuing production. So the first song on it, "Sunburn Modern," that was over a year between when I started the track and when I finished it. Now I'm at a place where it probably takes me, if I have an idea that I find compelling, around four days to finish a track. Which is good, it's important to not take a year to do a song, usually.
Have you thought about working with other artists as well?
Yeah, absolutely, I would love that. I absolutely would love to do things like that. For a really long time, my life was about touring, for three and a half years, and now that I've been off the road for a year and a half, I find that I live a very different life from that. And they've both been equally fulfilling, I would say, and I would love, as I get older, to do more work with other artists, produce other artists. Also, I scored a movie last year. That's also something I'd love to pursue more later on in life.
Who's someone that you would like to work with?
That becomes tricky. Well, for one, I'm incredibly psyched already that Matias Aguayo, that I can say now that I've worked with him, even though I haven't met him. He sent the vocals over for that track, and I think his voice is an incredible instrument, and that's why I'm so psyched that I have had the opportunity to work with him. Someone else who I think has a magnificent voice that I would love to one day work with is someone like Karen O, I think her voice is just fantastic. It's hard to name one person, but I'm totally open and we'll see what the future holds. I'm not thinking about it in terms of aggressively approaching or anything, it's more see[ing] who I meet and what falls into my lap or whatever.
Is there a particular track on the EP that's your favorite?
It's shifted. Right now, it's probably “Tanto” because I got those vocals from Matias for the track maybe a month ago, so it still feels fresh and new to me when I listen to it. That's probably the one I enjoy the most, but at different points in time, each of the three has been my favorite.
It sounds like the relationship with Greco-Roman has been a pretty significant part of this project. Are you a big Hot Chip fan?
Absolutely. I really love that band. I think they're so fun and they're incredible at just writing really, really strong pop songs with really, really strong production and they seem to constantly be coming up with fresh ideas. That song "Flutes" that came out, I'm completely obsessed with that song. I guess they're probably on their fifth album now. They're just so consistent, they obviously seem very committed to writing dope songs and I totally admire that. And with all of that band, it's neat how they go off and do their own things between records, and then they come together and make records. Like, I really enjoyed the band that Al and Felix made, called New Build, they put out a record about two months ago now. Joe put out a really cool record called the 2 Bears earlier this year, and the single that he did last year, one of the last Greco-Roman singles was "Gabriel" with this girl Valentina. That is such a dope record. Yeah, I'm totally a huge fan. I haven't met Joe yet, but I'm psyched to be associated with his label.
Do you eventually hope to put out a full solo album?
It really depends. What I like about dance music is that there's a model of putting out singles and EPs, and I feel like that's something I can keep doing no matter what else I'm doing, whether it's scoring a movie or going on tour with the band. Someday, sure, I'd love to put out a full-length, but that feels like years away right now.
What's your take on the growth of electronic music and DJ culture in the US?
I think it's neat that people seem really, really psyched on electronic music. But also, if you think about it, the idea of house music and four on the floor, there have been hits every year for the past 20 years in America where that's the rhythmic basis of it. So while it does seem like young people are more psyched about it than ever, it's not like it came out of nowhere. I think there was this attitude when Chemical Brothers and Prodigy came out in '97 that electronic music would be the new grunge, I think that was a dialogue that was happening at the time, they were calling it 'electronica' at the time. Both those artists had a huge influence on me at the time and still do. For the past 20 years, it's been a big part of both pop music and underground music in America.
And now the dialogue is about "EDM" and the growth of the Winter Music Conference in Florida.
Yeah, I guess there is much less of a culture, if you think about Europe. The times that I've DJed over there, it's pretty common just to go out with a group of friends and go dancing from the time that you're 16 or 18 years old. There's not that same culture. Obviously, because it was illegal, I didn't go to dance clubs until I was in college. That's this big conversation that's happening, and it's not something I ever think about when I make music, it's more I just sit down, see what idea comes to me, and try and carry it out and serve that idea and take it as far as I can. I'm not thinking about EDM's place in America when I'm doing that.
So that's not something you feel like you're a part of at this point?
It's just such a wide umbrella at this point, it's as wide an umbrella as rock. I just don't think about things in those terms when I make music, but I'm psyched to be going out and DJing more with the release of the EP.
I just think most people aren't loyal to one genre any more, and I think most people who are really passionate about music listen to electronic music in one form or another. At least that's the case with most people I know.
So besides the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy, what are some of your other influences?
I love Trax Records, their compilations and their back catalogue is so cool. As far as people who put out records recently, I really loved a bunch of records that came out in 2010, including the Chemical Brothers. I thought it was incredible. That record's called Further, and they put out a really dope record. It's probably their seventh or eighth record, and it's super, super good. I actually went and saw an airing of Don't Think, their concert movie, and it was fun to watch that. People like Four Tet, Caribou, Gold Panda, Matthew Dear. There's so many. All of Kompakt Records, Matias, Michael Mayer. I could go on all day, there's so much that I love. I love the John Talabot record that came out this year. Pional is an artist that's also affiliated with John Talabot, out of Spain. I don't even know if it's a band or a person, but I think their music is really good.
Is it important to you to establish a distinct identity from Vampire Weekend?
Yeah, absolutely. Putting out an EP and making my own tracks, one way or another, it makes me more than just the guy that plays bass in that band. That's definitely a goal.
You mentioned touring in Europe and the different environment there. Where have your favorite places to go been?
For DJing, I played a place in Vienna called Pratersauna, which was so cool. It's this old sauna that they converted into a club, and there are all of these empty pools that people dance in. Backstage, there's a full pool. The vibe there is just so great and the people are so nice, so I had a great gig there. London's always fun to play, I'm going to go over there next month and play at this festival called Lovebox and play a place called XOYO, which I haven't played. I went and saw some people play there, and I think it's a really cool club. I had a really good gig actually in São Paulo, at a place called Bar Secreto, when I was on tour last year with the band. That was just a cool place with a smaller dancefloor and people being into it. Amsterdam, I've had a couple of good gigs there, Barcelona. I love Spain in general. I'd love to play Portugal, I've never played there as a DJ. But I really enjoy Razzmatazz, and I really want to play Sonar, which is a festival they have for electronic music in Barcelona, hopefully I'll get to do that someday.
So that goes back to the international dance community.
There's a lot of big places there. The place that I want to play more than anywhere else in the world right now is Russia. I studied Russian as an undergrad, and I've never played there ever as a DJ or with the band. So I hope that I can do that sometime in the near future.
Do you try to keep up with the music scene in Russia?
I just met someone last week when I was doing an interview, and I was talking about how much I'm fascinated with Russia as a place, and he sent me over a couple artists from there. For a long time, I think it was super hard for artists to get out of Russia. And there's such a fascinating music history there, even from the '90s to the present. There's a book I read when I was in college called Russia Gets The Blues, and there's just this tradition of Russian singers performing old American blues standards at the time that there was the crash of the economy in the mid-’90s in Russia. There are all of these recordings of Russians singing these blues standards in really thick Russian accents. It's a very quirky thing that I find pretty fascinating. Now, with Soundcloud and things like that, and just the internet, it becomes more possible for someone in America to hear Russian stuff. So one artist that this guy sent over to me that I really dug was called Nocow. That's one I'd love to learn more about and check more out.
So your music goes over better where there's more of a dance culture?
Yeah, I've had better gigs in Europe than America. I hope that changes. I had a really nice gig in San Francisco last week. But for the most part, that's where my best gigs have been. Oh, also in Seoul, in Korea, that was probably my favorite gig I've ever had. Just the crowd was so psyched, I think because more bands and DJs tour Japan, so in Seoul, people were super grateful both when the band played and when I DJed. The energy was incredible.
What's it like touring by yourself instead of with the band?
A little lonelier. I can handle it, I read more. I'm at the point where most places I go, when I DJ, I know someone in the city, so I have friends I can hang out with. But yeah, it's a little lonelier.
What have you been reading?
I just bought Lolita, because I haven't read it since I was 18 years old, and I still consider it my favorite book, so I wanted to reread that. I read a book called The Thrill Of It All, which was a history of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. I've been going through a pretty intense Roxy Music phase over the past couple of months, I really enjoyed reading that book.
What's inspiring the Roxy Music phase?
I have no idea. I put on Country Life two months ago, which is a record I've always loved, and something about it really clicked with me. I think there's just something so quirky about their arrangements, so there's just so much going on, there are so many ideas in every single song. Not every idea necessarily works that they have, but it's always fascinating and interesting. And they also just made so many good records, and it's always exciting for me. It reminds me of being 19 or whatever and knowing Bowie's hits, but not knowing that he released 10 incredible albums in a row in the ‘70s, and being able to go from one incredible album to another as a listener. If you were alive at that time, you'd have to wait 18 months or two years between each record, but to have that kind of hindsight and get to experience 10 incredible albums from the same artist in a really close period of time, there's something really thrilling about that as a music listener. With Roxy Music, none of their albums are bad, and a lot of their albums are great, so that's why it's been very exciting for me.
So it's the whole discovery aspect?
Yeah, exactly. It's hard to explain, but something just clicked, with his singing and their arrangements. Their songs are so quirky, but so dope.
Obligatory: what's the status of Vampire Weekend LP3?
It'll be done when it's done. That's really all I can say. It can be tricky, you don't want anything you say before an album's done to influence the way people are going to listen to it, because things change over the course of the process. So there'll be a time where it'll be the only thing I'm talking about, but it's not that time now.
Do you want to shout-out anything else you're into right now?
My sister's a great artist, she did the cover of the EP. Her name's Al Baio, and she also has a backpack blog called Backpack Block Party, so I'm going to shout my sister out.
I was very happy, she came up with something I really enjoy. In making this small project, I get to work with a lot of my friends who do stuff in different creative fields. Like my friend Tom, who I've known since I was six years old, he took the main press shot of that. He's a really talented photographer. Do you know that show Sleep No More? He did the press shots for that, and he's been someone I've known since I was six years old, and it's cool that I get to work with someone who I'm close to. Same thing with my sister, she's a painter and an artist, but we've never gotten to collaborate on something before, so it's been nice with putting out this EP that I get to do that now.
Do you have any plans to do a music video?
Yeah, we're going to do a music video for the song "Sunburn Modern." I'm kind of deciding now what treatment we're going to go with, but there's going to be a video for that.
Do you plan on having much of a hand in directing that yourself?
No, I want to give feedback to whichever one we go with and talk with them and have a collaborative dialogue, but directing a music video would be biting off more than I can chew. I don't know the first thing about camera angles and very important things for making a video that looks good, which is important for me. Obviously, I love music videos and I love movies and things like that, I find the process of being a director really fascinating, but I know that I know nothing about how to direct. I don't want to be my own guinea pig.
Can you talk a little more about the movie you scored (Somebody Up There Likes Me)?
It was directed by this guy named Bob Byington, who's based in Austin, who I met through a friend, Lauren Hunter, who's also based in Austin and does a lot of music supervising. I actually played in a band with her when I was in college, called the Midnight Hours. We've stayed in touch, and we're good friends. She brought me in, and it's this comedy. Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, he produced the movie and he's the second lead in it. It was really neat, it was a different creative exercise for me as far as Bob would give me a list of movies where he liked the score as references, and in my apartment I would make these little sketches and send them to him, and he'd pick the ones that he liked. It's just a different exercise as far as writing music goes, and I enjoyed that. If I think about what I want to be doing in 20 to 25 years, scoring movies seems more fun than being on a tour bus in my '50s.
Do you think a lot about what you want to be doing in the future?
No (laughs), we have no idea where the world will be, where the planet will be. I don't dwell on that very much. I tend not to think about stuff in the past, and you'll just get swallowed up in anxiety if you really think about all the possible things that could happen to you in the next 20 years. But between those two options, if I'm lucky enough to have that choice in 20 years, I would probably choose movie scoring to touring.