Last November, Chris Baio (who goes by the moniker Baio) released his debut album, The Names. He previously released two EPs, 2012’s Sunburn and 2013’s Mira, but this was his first venture into the world of lyric writing and song singing. Not to simplify an understandably long and arduous process, but, in short, he nailed it.
An album self described by Baio to contain "pop songs and dumbsmart arena techno”, The Names is what happens when the best ingredients of indie pop and electronic music fuse together perfectly, it’s the exact right mixture of carefree dance rhythms and introspection inducing lyrics.
The album is engrossing and keeps your attention with songs like “I Was Born in a Marathon’ a tune that seems to be one half kinetic beat and one half languid lyrics. There’s also “Sister of Pearl” with its bouncy indie-pop feel and exceptionally catchy lyrics, similar to but not exactly mirroring the Vampire Weekend sound. The Names is like that eccentric restaurant you bring your picky friend too. Yes, you can order the burger, but also yes, you can order the foie gras.
I caught up with Baio while he was still in London on what he described as the “best weather day of the year” two days before he was set to to embark on the rest of his Summer 2016 tour. We talked about The Names, what it’s like to put down the bass and pick up the microphone, and how social media has changed the relationship between artist and their fans - oh, and tweeting about tunnels of dookie (no seriously).
You moved to London in 2013 while you were still on tour for the third Vampire Weekend album, how did the shift from living in New York to a new city have an impact on your decision to pursue a solo music career?
It definitely had a huge role in it. It was my first time living in another country. It wasn’t the most extreme move. I was moving from one global city with 8 million people where English is the predominant language, to another global city of 8 million people where English was the predominant language, but my time was 100 percent mine. I felt like I had a voice and I knew songwriting was something I wanted to pursue. I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t been here. I’d come home from tour and I’d write lyrics while I was traveling and by this time two years ago I had the whole album written. I was recording and I worked in a studio in London getting my vocal performance where I wanted it to be.
As you’ve toured for The Names is there any marked difference between crowds in the US and crowds in the UK?
Not particularly. I think there’s been a wide variety of shows. I just played in Latvia for the first time in my life, and I really enjoyed that. There’s always so many variables. How dancey the crowd is, how much they like the electronic versus how much they love the pop songs, and It’s not always based on that.
In Vancouver it felt like a very dancey crowd, but that crowd was just as dancey as the one i played in Berlin a month later. I played a show on a Monday night in Chicago at 9pm but that crowd was into the songs with more of the pop vibe. There hasn’t been a clear breakdown by country, but it’s been incredibly fun playing the songs all over the place and seeing the different reactions.
Did you realize that there might be different reactions based on whether or not the crowd had a preference for pop music or electronic music?
That came more apparent as I toured the record, it wasn’t something I was thinking about overtly while making the record. I did want it to be something upbeat, to be able to play an hour of music that if you didn’t know a note of it would be exciting and thrilling, I feel like people can come to the show and know nothing about the music and still enjoy it.
At Sasquatch [Music Festival] 90 percent of the people didn’t know the music. One of the songs on the album, “Endless Rhythm” has this huge breakdown, and when it got to the end of the breakdown, the crowd started cheering as if the song had ended. There’s a sort of universality to a really driving beat and big sounding house track.
You’ve played pretty large crowds with Vampire Weekend and while DJing but you mentioned recently in a tweet that you would be happy to play a song you wrote to “four people”. What is it about the experience of playing your music live that makes the amount of people in the crowd inconsequential?
[Laughs] Yeah I said I would crawl through a tunnel of dookie to play for four people. I think back to the early days of Vampire Weekend and feeling very insecure about myself as a songwriter, and the confidence I needed to build to do that. It’s a very hard endeavor to make a record. It took me a long time to get to that place.
The Sasquatch show we were playing for 7,000 people, and in Leeds I played to like 15 people and I loved them both. It’s a new process for me and it was a very solitary process to create this record, and to share it with anybody else is thrilling and heart warming to not sound too cheesy. That’s where i was coming from with my tunnel of dookie tweet.
You mentioned in an interview that you enjoyed the process of writing lyrics for The Names if you had to pick your favorite lyrics from the album what would they be?
I think the phrase “it is what it is until it was what it was.” There is something simple in the idea that you can kind of take every situation and say “it is what it is” but eventually enough time will pass that something becomes “ what it was" and you won’t be able to change it. it’s a complex idea and it’s expressed in 11 words. I put it into quotes in Google search and it’s something that hasn’t really existed before. I’m proud of those lyrics.
Frontman versus Bass Player, what feels more natural now?
Probably still bass player, because I’ve played like 700 shows as a bass player and I love dancing like an idiot. I do love them kind of equally. I tend to get a lot sweatier with bass because I have a heavy sling on my back so my back hurts a bit more but I love them both.
You do a great job of connecting with your fans on social media, be it through Twitter or Snapchat. How do you feel social media has changed the way artist communicate and connect with fans, and do you see that interaction evolving in the future?
It’s definitely something I think about, and it’s very different being a musician now than it was 20 years ago. There’s an element of mystique that’s lost, but I think a lot of artist are still trying to be mysterious, which is not how I am when it comes to social media, through tweeting about a tunnel of dookie.
I feel like it’s another form to express myself artistically, and if I’m not feeling inspired musically I can try to come up with a tweet or something. Rather than fight it and try to be cooler than the tide of time I’d rather embrace it and do the best I can do with it.
I’m a Baio fan, by way of being a Vampire Weekend fan, so I have to ask are there any plans for a follow up to Modern Vampires of The City or The Names?
With regard to the band, it will happen when it happens, and I don’t think I’ll be putting out another record before that. But you can’t put any sort of expectation or deadline on something like that. Every Vampire Weekend album has gotten finished way after it was supposed to. Only thing I can say is it will happen when it happens. It’s not an exciting answer but it’s the right one.
What can fans look forward to at your Atlanta show next Wednesday at Terminal West?
A thrilling hour of energetic music, goofy movements, a DJ set vibe, with a dancing frontman vibe. I haven’t played a show in Atlanta in a really long time and I have some really good memories so I’m excited to come back.