Every so often, a pinch of boredom leads to greatness. Enter Chris Baio—Columbia graduate, newlywed, Vampire Weekend bassist. When the wheels of his rock band day job gradually began to decelerate in 2011, Baio turned to the studio, where, over the course of the next several months, he taught himself how to produce. For his hard work, Baio was rewarded with a record deal, an EP, and a tour across the annals of Europe. That same year, Baio quietly began scoring a microbudget indie, Somebody Up There Likes Me, starring none other than Nick Offerman.
As someone who shares ancestry with Scott Baio and Steve Buscemi, the latter of whom would go on to direct Vampire Weekend’s recent performance at Roseland Ballroom (but not before releasing a series of amusing videos promoting the event), Baio is no stranger to brushing shoulders with Hollywood’s finest. It is for this reason that when the time came to critically dissect Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend’s latest musical offering, Interview immediately requested the efforts of Baio’s real life friend and West Coast correspondent, Mr. Offerman. (Additionally, the thought of Ron Swanson himself listening to a song titled “Ya Hey” was simply too good to pass up.)
Having just finished a plate of bacon, Offerman spoke to Baio on a Friday morning in mid-April, when the latter, leafblower in hand, was halfway through his daily list of household chores.
NICK OFFERMAN: Ernest Borgnine.
CHRIS BAIO: Hello? Hey, Nick. This is Chris. Hey John! How are you?
JOHN TAYLOR: Chris! I’m well. How’s New York?
BAIO: Good. Weather’s beautiful in New York today.
OFFERMAN: Doesn’t suck in Los Angeles.
TAYLOR: Before we start, I was wanting to know—Nick, if I make it through the rest of this call without accidentally referring to you as “Ron Swanson,” do I get a reward? Say, a mustache comb?
OFFERMAN: John, your reward will be zero face punches.
OFFERMAN: So, Chris… you and I met working on the film Somebody Up There Likes Me, hailed by some as the best indie film of 2013—those “some” including our parents and my wife [Megan Mullally]. As a fan of the film, and also a producer and actor in the film, I was tickled pink with your contributions, and I hope that we’ll see more movie scoring from you in the future, because you really add a great deal of personality and whimsy.
BAIO: I really appreciate that. And, I really had such a great time going down there [to Austin, Texas], meeting you. Everyone seemed super friendly. It was like joining a family that I had never met before, do you know what I mean?
OFFERMAN: I do. I come from small theater companies in Chicago, so that’s what I love about low-budget indie movies, is that it’s like a little family of hippies all getting together and saying, “Hey guys, let’s put on a happening. It’s gonna be super groovy.”
BAIO: Absolutely. When I was recording, we had some really awesome barbecue. It helped fuel the recording sessions for me. I imagine it was pretty similar when you guys were filming.
OFFERMAN: Certainly. It has helped to fuel my life, and continues to… even just daydreaming about Austin barbecue fuels my journey to find projects that will bring me back to that particular Texas town. Now, I listened to your new album this morning, and I have to say, I thought it was terrible. [Baio laughs] Excuse me, I’m having a little gas from, uh, a large portion of bacon I just consumed.
BAIO: [continues laughing]
OFFERMAN: And, I am quite tickled to be involved with this interview with you, because I’m not a great follower of what the young people are listening to these days. I’m ignorant enough not to know what terms to throw around, but would you say Vampire Weekend is… “indie rock”?
BAIO: That’s definitely what’s written about us. We consider ourselves trying to write pop songs, which is one of the guiding principles of the band, but we also wanna be experimental at the same time.
OFFERMAN: Well, there’s a lot of rumors flying around that the band Vampire Weekend is actually just a front organization for a group of young Illuminati who call themselves “The Vampires,” and are based in the lower section of the island of Manhattan. I was able to pick out certain lyrics on your record…
BAIO: That proves that?
OFFERMAN: Yeah, that sort of gives a nod to that idea. In the track “Hudson,” it’s repeated, “You can change my stripes / but just wrap me in the flag.” In the song “Ya Hey,” it’s repeated, “Through the fire, through the flames,” and then what sounds like “Yahweh,” which is another name for “Jehovah.” Are you guys trying to further the cult objectives of the Illuminati organization?
BAIO: That’s a really good question, and I’m glad you went into the lyrics for that. I think that you’re definitely onto something there.
OFFERMAN: As a freethinking American, I applaud that. By all means, bring us out of the 20th Century.
BAIO: Thank you. I have something actually—I realize I never mentioned this to you in the times that we’ve hung out, but when I told our good friend and guitar check Eric Bailey that I was scoring a movie you were producing and acting in, he mentioned that he used to work at the Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard, and he sold you and Megan guitars maybe five or six years ago.
OFFERMAN: Oh gosh, yeah. He sold us two ridiculously nice Martin guitars. We decided one year for our anniversary to get each other guitars, and we went to the Guitar Center because we didn’t know any better. [Baio laughs] It’s a fine organization, the Guitar Center.
BAIO: Oh, of course! I’ve been to Guitar Center before.
OFFERMAN: They have an incredible selection of new and vintage instruments.
BAIO: How often do you play? Do you play with Megan a lot?
OFFERMAN: Megan is more into her singing right now, but we have aspirations of playing together. I always call myself a “student” of the guitar. It’s something that we’re both really enjoying—learning—and I hope to continue to make it a bigger and bigger part of our lives together.
BAIO: That’s great. We recorded most of the drums and bass of our album mostly out in L.A. at a studio called Vox, which is the oldest recording studio in America founded independent of any record label. I think it was…
OFFERMAN: Vox. I’m familiar. They opened in 1936. I happen to know that luminaries have recorded there over the decades, including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer… and of course, Jack Black.
BAIO: Oh, wow. I didn’t even know all that.
OFFERMAN: Did you feel any of that mojo? You know, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie did some recording there. Did you find any heroin in the cracks in the bathroom that you were able to enjoy?
BAIO: Oh gosh… one night, there was a pack of Corona Light floating around. I think that was as heavy as things got. A six-pack.
OFFERMAN: Sounds badass. Well, I really—a lot of the songs on your new record are really my bag. They’re quite beautiful. They’re the kind of music that make me think about my life, and how lucky my life is that I have two arms, and two legs, and ten fingers with which to make things out of wood.
OFFERMAN: All those things can make me very wistful, and I’m looking forward to listening to this record driving across town, which is one of the places where I do the most listening to music. I was wondering, there’s a song called “Young Lion.” It sounded like a bit of a salute, and I thought maybe it was about me?
BAIO: About you? Interesting… you’re the first person I’ve heard with that interpretation, but I find you kind of lion-like, in general. I guess the story of that song is, when we were finishing Contra, our second record, there was this morning where Ezra [Koening] was going to get coffee—I believe, at a Dunkin’ Donuts near Atlantic Center in Brooklyn. Ezra was feeling kind of stressed out, and this random guy, also standing in the Dunkin’ Donuts, said to him, “You take your time, young lion.”
OFFERMAN: [laughs] That’s a much better… inception than the one I had envisioned. Some friends of mine are big fans of Vampire Weekend, and there was a lot of talk about the love for your song, “A-Punk.” I was wondering, everyone knows that that song is featured on the game “LEGO Rock Band.” Do you guys ever fear that maybe that will turn out to be the peak of your time together?
BAIO: I remember, one of our first tours after our first record came out, we were playing so much Rock Band, and they asked at some point if we wanted “A-Punk” to be there. A couple of months later, we were at some festival, and we all played it backstage, playing our parts. It definitely felt like one of the greatest moments in my life.
OFFERMAN: Well, playing a game such as Rock Band with musicians of your ilk would truly be a consummation devoutly to be wished.
BAIO: That’s very sweet of you. I mean, you haven’t heard me do much singing, so that might be unpleasant, if you gave me the mic.
OFFERMAN: I look forward to accepting that challenge. By the way, I remember you telling me that you majored in Russian studies at Columbia?
BAIO: Yeah, and I minored in math.
OFFERMAN: What exactly were you thinking, for God’s sake?
BAIO: [laughs] I’m a year younger than the other guys in the band—so when we were finishing our record, I was still in school. I had accepted a job being a math teacher for Teach For America. So, that’s what I would have done at least in the two years after I graduated. But, where I would be right now if I were not so lucky to be in this band, I truly have no idea.
OFFERMAN: I think that’s a noble cause. My family has schoolteachers and librarians, and I think people who teach are probably some of our greatest American heroes. Certainly, underpaid and unsung.
BAIO: Absolutely. My bandmate, Ezra, taught English for a year after he graduated.
TAYLOR: Chris, when we last spoke, we talked about you buying a hockey jersey for your cat in the hopes that Mrs. Baio would slowly become a hockey fan. I was wondering, how is that working out for you? Nick, did you hear about this story?
OFFERMAN: Just bury the lede, why don’t you?
BAIO: [laughs] I never told Nick about that one. There was this point where, especially last spring, the Rangers had a really good playoff run, and my wife works a day job. When she would come home, it would be me on the couch, yelling as the Rangers played. So, I thought, the best way to make it better for her would be to turn her into a Rangers fan. We have a cat that she really loves, and I bought a little cat-sized New York Rangers cat jersey. I put it on the cat once, and the cat got really nervous, like I had put her in some kind of cage, or something. Overall, it wasn’t a very successful venture. My wife is still not a hockey fan.
OFFERMAN: [laughs] That was not the ending I was expecting.
TAYLOR: Nick, as someone who’s been happily married for some time, do you have any advice for Chris?
OFFERMAN: Well, you got the right idea in noticing your wife’s displeasure, and then brainstorming techniques to lessen that displeasure. That will serve you very well in all of the years of your marriage, which I hope is long and happy. You’ve seen my show American Ham, so you know that my very first tip for a prosperous life is to engage in romantic love. As long as you’re paying attention, and making gestures that say, “Hey, I’m thinking about you… some of the time… despite thinking about myself most of the time…” [Baio laughs] Nothing will score more points than a simple gesture. Bring in a beautiful maple leaf from outside, and put it next to a Post-It with a heart drawn on it.
BAIO: Alright. Thank you. Well, I don’t know if you got to run, Nick, but I got a little bit of stuff. Am I gonna see you at Sasquatch Festival? I think that’s the next time we’re gonna cross paths.
OFFERMAN: It’s my first music festival, so I’m actually a little excited. I think playing in a tent at a rock festival, I’m going to have to come up with some much more loud material, and, I’m supposing, cunnilingus.
BAIO: Sounds fantastic.
OFFERMAN: Well, let’s get together and raise a glass. There will be some meat items we can sample.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND’S MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY IS OUT TODAY. FOR MORE ON THE ALBUM AND THE BAND’S CURRENT TOUR, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE. ACTOR AND WOODWORKER NICK OFFERMAN CURRENTLY STARS ON NBC’S PARKS AND RECREATION, AND IS CURRENTLY TOURING WITH HIS ACTRESS WIFE, MEGAN MULLALLY. FOR MORE ON THE ACTOR, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.