On the heels of his first solo EP Sunburn, we visited Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio in his very pleasant backyard in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to talk about pursuing his own side projects, taking up boxing, working on the new Vampire Weekend album and the merits of music you can read to. Stream the EP and read our Q&A below.
Stream: Baio’s Sunburn EP
Was branching out to do your own music something you’ve always wanted to do? For a while I was really sort of shy and scared about trying something on my own, and maybe this sounds a little weird to say, but being in a successful band made the idea of failure become really, really scary because I hadn’t experienced it. When you’re 16 and you don’t know any better and you just pick up a guitar and start writing songs, you’re not thinking about succeeding or failing because its not like on those terms but for a very long time I just thought I probably shouldn’t try to do anything on my own, but I started taking all these DJ gigs when we were touring the last Vampire Weekend record, and some of them were so terrible—like 10 people, like five people. It was sort of funny to experience—realizing that failing at something is not the worst thing in the world. You can get a kick out of it. I guess I would say experiencing failure made me way less scared about doing my own thing or sharing my own thing.
When did you decide that you were going put out a solo EP? The process of recording these songs for the EP started in February of last year until about two months ago, when the very last bit came into place which was Matias Aguayo’s vocal on the song “Tanto.” I started getting more into learning how to produce stuff about a year ago because I knew the basics of how to record music, but, you know, I play in a band with a really great producer. It’s kind of a weird feeling to travel the world and be on tour and be successful in a band and not be able to record something that doesn’t sound terrible on your own. It was something that had frustrated me for awhile, so when I knew I was going to be home [off tour], my first priority was learning how to do things like that.
How do you know Matias Aguayo? I don’t, actually. I really think now is the easiest time at any point in history to make music. The technology has been relatively democratized where it’s a six hundred dollar program, or if you know you can’t afford that, you can find a cracked version online. As someone who makes music I find that super exciting, but another real plus is that I can make a song with someone that I’ve never met or had a conversation with. When I originally sent that track to Alex Waldron [of Greco-Roman], it had a sample off an Italian folk record um from the ’60s and I liked it, but when I sent it to Alex he was like the vocal annoys me a little bit, so he gave me a list of people to contact about singing the hook, and Matias’ name was the one that jumped out because I was a huge fan of Closer Musik, which was his group on Kompakt when I was in college. I remember listening to them a lot and they were a band I feel like you could read and dance to. I love his solo record, I love Ay Ay Ay. I thought, yeah sure ask him, he’ll probably say no and when he came back and said he was willing to, I was so thrilled.
Did you share any of the material with your bandmates as you were working? No. I kind of wanted to strike out on my own in a way, and I sent it to them basically when it was done. Usually I hear [side project] stuff my bandmates do when it’s finished.
Now that you feel like you’ve gotten to a point where producing for yourself is coming more easily, do you have any interest in producing for other people? I would love to produce other people. I’d love to send beats out. I’d love to score more movies. When I think of where I want to be in 20 years—if I’m lucky enough to still be able to afford rent in New York without a day job by playing music—I would probably rather be producing or scoring movies than on a tour bus.
It seems like you’ve branched out considerably this past year. I like that mentality about music because I don’t ever want to be complacent. I mean, I think there are some musicians that I love, but they’ll reach a certain age and they’ll sort of stop listening to new music or things that are happening. I love Bryan Ferry and I love Roxy music, but I read the book The Thrill of it All recently, but at a certain point Ferry essentially stopped listening to new music. He’s someone I admire, but I would never want to be like that. I think that if you’re going to be a producer and that’s a role you want to pursue, it is important to always stay up on new stuff. The other thing I did last year was I scored this independent movie Somebody Up There Likes Me. That was very different music, mostly acoustic guitar stuff. It’s directed by the filmmaker Bob Byington. He’s based in Austin. But writing music for that, which is very simple melodic music and short pieces that are mostly like a minute to two minutes long, having that and also having these long, more rhythmic song for Sunburn was neat. Having two very different projects and having these two collaborative relationships where I felt like I could send people raw music and get honest feedback—in the case of the movie, I was sending Bob these guitar sketches.