ABOVE: CHRIS BAIO. PHOTO COURTESY OF THOM KAINE
Before he was in a band called Vampire Weekend, Chris Baio was a DJ. Each week, the New York native would carry his laptop from the Columbia University library to a studio space where, between the hours of two and four in the morning, he would broadcast music across campus. “It was very fun,” Baio says with a chuckle, “playing for the 10 people on the Internet who were listening to me.”
That was five years ago. Today, Baio is playing sets before considerably larger audiences. Sunburn EP, Baio’s first outing as a solo artist, is a breezy, reflective, and groovy sentiment—with one foot steeped firmly in the tomes of House and the other in silky R&B. “I wanted to make something that you can read to and something you can dance to,” he explains. Despite this description, Baio promises there will be dancing (but no going apeshit onstage), and that the beats will be loud (but not too loud). “My mom is really kind of stressed about my hearing,” he says. “She wants me to start DJ-ing with earbuds in my ears.”
Baio answered our phone call from his apartment in Brooklyn, where he had just finished making his second cup of coffee—French press—and is busy packing for his upcoming European tour. We touch on what any normal Brooklynite has on their mind: Russia, the new HBO show Girls, purchasing hockey jerseys for cats, boxing shoes, and heartbreaking pranks.
JOHN TAYLOR: I’m sorry, I’m just trying to picture you, as a Russian Lit major, reading 50 pages of Anna Karenina and then rushing to go play a DJ set.
CHRIS BAIO: [laughs] I budgeted my time well enough that I would finish my homework on time.
TAYLOR: Has Vampire Weekend ever toured in Russia?
BAIO: No, we never have. I really hope to travel there in the next few months as a DJ. I went there as a student in 2006, to St. Petersburg. It’s such a weird place. I absolutely want to return there.
TAYLOR: One of my best friends, who does a lot of video work there, keeps telling me these stories of old, salty Russian men chilling on porches and the weird things they say. It sounds like another world.
BAIO: It’s neat. Like, I remember going to a market one Sunday with some friends, and there were so many dudes with blankets out that just had old broken TV remote controls to sell. And that was like, it.
TAYLOR: What were you drinking while in St. Petersburg?
BAIO: There’s this drink called Jaguar—it has energy and alcohol in it. It was disgusting, but me and my friends really got into it. One of my good friends, he was really into a thing called Gintonic, which is basically just a gin and tonic you can get at newsstands.
TAYLOR: So do you chase your vodka, or drink it straight?
BAIO: When I was there, I would drink it straight. Now, I’m mostly a beer man. When I [drink hard liquor], it usually doesn’t end the best, so I keep it chill with beer.
TAYLOR: Do you watch the HBO show Girls? I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it, living in Brooklyn.
BAIO: Yeah! They film it in Greenpoint, which is the neighborhood I live in. Have you seen last week’s episode? There’s a scene where this jerky character is working at his coffee shop job, and he’s being a dick to this customer. And this coffee shop is a few blocks from where I live. It’s called Cafe Grumpy. It’s funny, because all the people who work in that place are actually super, super nice.
TAYLOR: Do people recognize you on the street? Do you ever prank or surprise strangers? I was reading an article the other day about Bill Murray crashing house parties and karaoke bars for like, no reason. I thought that was awesome.
BAIO: Sometimes if I go to a show, someone will recognize me. But the neighborhood I live in, there’s so many people who are in successful bands that it’s really not a big deal. And I like that. I like the energy of going to lunch with a friend, seeing the three dudes from Yeasayer walking in, and saying hi to them. I think that’s neat.
I’m not really much of a prankster, but I’ve definitely been pranked. I never really liked being pranked, so I generally try not to prank people.
TAYLOR: You’ve been pranked?
BAIO: I remember being like, 12 years old, and this was in the days before cell phones, or at least, having a cell phone. Some girls, I can’t even remember who they said they were, called and said they had a crush on me. But it turned out to be a prank, and I thought that was just straight up nasty, you know what I’m saying?
TAYLOR: That’s awful!
BAIO: I know! You’re just sort of developing. You’re insecure, your bones are growing… you have trouble sleeping. And all of a sudden, someone’s pranking you on top of that? It’s tough growing up.
TAYLOR: 12 years old.
BAIO: I think. Maybe I was 10. It’s such a hazy memory, but it’s one of the ones I remember. I’ve taken a decade and a half, but I can look back on it now and laugh about it.
TAYLOR: Well, if you feel the need to talk it out, I did take a few classes in counseling psychology.
BAIO: [laughs] I appreciate that, John.
TAYLOR: I was talking to Pat Grossi [Active Child] the other day, and he was telling me that comfortable shoes are really important in the studio. I’m wearing my Sperrys right now. You?
BAIO: I like being barefoot in my apartment. The comfiest shoe is the human foot, I think. There’s all sorts of articles that say wearing a shoe is actually bad for the human foot. I love to go barefoot whenever I can.
I will say this—I just started boxing recently, and I got some boxing shoes that are bright red. I think they look really dope. They come up really high. You just made me think of those.
TAYLOR: Boxing shoes! You always think of the gloves when it comes to boxing, never the shoes…
BAIO: [laughs] Exactly! You never do. But you need a lot of ankle support. So, you can’t really box in a low-pair cut of shoes. My shoes are kind of like extreme hi-tops, I guess. I would never chill in them, but they’re neat-looking.
TAYLOR: Boxing… how long have you been doing this?
BAIO: Uh, maybe two and a half months now. I haven’t really sparred yet.
TAYLOR: Was this before or after you watched Warrior?
BAIO: I don’t know if [boxing] was directly influenced by that, but I like Warrior. That was a really good movie. I watched it in December with my little sister, and I think there’s something nice and really funny about watching that movie with your sibling. At the end—my younger sister—she was rooting for the younger brother, the Tom Hardy character. And I was rooting for the older brother, the Joel Edgerton character. We each lined up with our respective sibling in that movie! Which, I thought was kind of funny.
TAYLOR: Do you ever talk to Scott Baio [of Happy Days and Charles in Charge fame], your cousin?
BAIO: I’ve never met him, actually. I emailed him a couple of years ago. That was the extent of it. It’s funny, because pretty much my whole life, or at least as long as I can remember, when people ask my full name, they ask if I’m related to him, because that’s the first impression that my name makes on anyone.
TAYLOR: For the record, I just want you to know that earlier this morning, when I was making notes for this interview, I actually had no idea who Scott Baio was. When I saw your name, all I could think of was, “Wow, he should definitely write a memoir someday titled Baiography.”
BAIO: Yeah! [laughs] There you go. I love a good pun.
TAYLOR: Speaking of puns, jokes, humor in general… I want to say that I was really surprised when I found out your tweets about buying a hockey jersey for your cat turned out to be real.
BAIO: Well, I was a huge hockey fan growing up. When the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, I was nine years old. That was a big deal for me. And then they were not a very good team, for a very long time. But now, they are super good again. It’s bringing back all these memories of my being nine years old. I’ve been watching [hockey] every day.
Also, my girlfriend, who works a day job, she’s not into sports at all. So the last thing in the world she wants to see when she gets back from a long day of work is me sitting on the couch watching the game. So my plan is to buy a Rangers jersey for the cat, so if I can sort of sway the cat into being a Rangers fan, I can sway [my girlfriend] into being a Rangers fan too.
TAYLOR: That’s hilarious.
BAIO: That’s my strategy.
TAYLOR: I think the best thing about hockey—which just keeps getting better after each drink, by the way, is how it’s such a visceral sport.
BAIO: I love it. I read this book called The Game by [hockey goaltender] Ken Dryden. As far as I know, it’s one of the few athlete biographies that have no co-writer or ghostwriter. It’s a great book, if you’re into hockey and the history of the game, I would definitely recommend that.
TAYLOR: I’ve been meaning to ask you, how did you get in touch with Joe [Goddard] from Hot Chip?
BAIO: Alex [Waldron] was doing some work for XL Records in 2009 when I was on tour [with Vampire Weekend], and I met him. We went out to dinner, and he gave me a copy of Joe’s solo record, Harvest Festival, which I really enjoyed. [Alex and I] stayed in touch, and when he said he’d like to do a release with me, I was completely thrilled.
And that’s a hard thing, because starting out in production, everything you do sounds bad. But eventually I got to a point where I had these tracks that I was confident enough to start sharing with people.
TAYLOR: What about Joe? You haven’t mentioned him yet.
BAIO: I’ve actually… even though I’ve been in the same place as Joe many, many times, I’ve not met him. I mean, I’ve met all his bandmates. I look forward to meeting him. I really admire him.
TAYLOR: That really makes Joe sound like the shadowy guy from Charlie’s Angels. You know, the one you never see, who runs everything?
BAIO: [laughs] I’ve never thought of Joe that way, but I like that.
TAYLOR: Say Joe walks into the room right now. What would you say?
BAIO: I would say, “Joe, it’s really nice to meet you, I want to say thank you for putting out my EP, and here, I’ll make you some coffee.” [laughs] That’s how I would start. And then I would take him to my backyard.
TAYLOR: What’s in your backyard?
BAIO: Just some tables and some grass and some trees. We hung up some white Christmas lights, so at night we turn the lights on. It’s a very cozy place to hang out.
TAYLOR: Well, I think we just reached the point in the conversation where I’m probably required by law, as a music journalist, to ask you about the new Vampire Weekend record. Any cryptic or completely false tidbits of information?
BAIO: There’s completely nothing. I mean, when you’re working on a record, I find it’s better not to share details during that process. Because, until it’s done, it can change.
CHRIS BAIO IS CURRENTLY ON TOUR IN EUROPE. SUNBURN EP IS OUT NOW COURTESY OF GRECO-ROMAN RECORDS. FOR MORE INFO ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HIS WEBSITE.