Coffee with Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend

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Chris Baio is a man of many talents. Not only is he the bassist of the critically acclaimed Vampire Weekend, but he is also a skillful DJ, fervent candle-lover, and incomparable dancer.

Anyone who talks with Baio immediately experiences his amicable charm, his familiarity. He’s as genuine as they getit’s been over a year since I saw him in concert in Atlanta and he still managed to remember me off the top of his head. He even recalled giving me a recommendation of a quesadilla place near my house in Florida and followed up to see how I liked it, his voice flickering with authenticity.

Baio is currently on tour with The Shins to promote his sophomore electropop album, Man of the World. He took the time to chat with WMSR Redhawk Radio about the impact of college radio, music as a coping mechanism, and why he loves shows like Nathan for You.

I heard you were a part of college radio at Columbia University. Is it true that you were the music director?

I was, yes. I started out with a Wednesday morning show from 2-4 a.m. and by the end of college, I was the college rock music director. It was always fun to open up different promos and listen to different types of music and have office hours and things like that. I always really enjoyed it.

What did your position entail? Were you just in charge of the rotation or did you write?

We didn’t really do any writing. I was mainly in charge of rotation and we had this thing called “Rent a DJ,” which was a part of the program to raise funds for the station. Basically, different student groups or companies would contact us to hire college radio stations to DJ their event. So I would schlep all the gear across campus, set up this big sound system, and play parties. Sometimes we would just DJ the freshman year dance or the Caribbean student council lunch but it was pretty fun. From time to time, we would only play rap hits but other times I was able to play weirdo obscure stuff. But that was really how I got super into DJing.

That really warms my heart. I’m actually the music director of Miami University’s radio station.

Oh, hell yeah!

It’s really comforting to hear how you were once in my shoes and now you’re really successful. It makes me feel like I’m on the right track.

Oh, for sure. That’s really great to hear.

I saw you perform with Vampire Weekend back in 2014 in Raleigh and I attended your solo show last summer in Atlanta. While both shows were great and the music never failed to be wonderful, your dancing has always been a highlight for me. How did you learn to dance like that?

[Laughs] It’s entirely 100 percent self-taught. My mom always studied dance when I was a little kid so she would do ballet and modern dance in the city. She was in The Nutcracker as the character of the Rat King and also played the mother with all the kids under her dress. She did all of this when I was around five or six years old so I grew up watching her. But when I was a little kid, I would also play Michael Jackson on loop and just dance around my living room. That’s what we did in our house. I’ve always liked dancing but I’ve never thought of myself as particularly good at it.

So it’s just very natural?

Very much so. There are periods of time where I think it might be fun to take a hip-hop dance class but I’ve never actually done it.

I think you should!

I might actually do it one day.

Do you feel like you have more mobility and freedom with dancing when you’re performing without a bass?

I think it depends on the time in my life. I find dancing to be really awkward while I’m DJing. I feel like all of my dance moves come from the legs so when I’m DJing, I can’t really do anything with my legs and I never know what to do with my arms. I like dancing while holding a bass because my hands are occupied. I like it when I sing too.

I feel like dancing and playing bass go really well together. The bass is almost like a vessel of groove.

I really agree. When you think about the groove, it ultimately comes down to the relationship between the drums and the bassline. And of course, this drives movement.

 

Although today marks the one-year anniversary since Trump was elected, I think music provides solace in times of political turmoil. Are there any specific songs or albums that have helped you get through the past year?

My most recent record, Man of the World was very much inspired by the election.

Also Brexit too, right?

Yeah, yeah. I was really affected by that too since I’m living in London now. I’ve tried to contribute by giving money to different organizations since the election. But I spend a huge part of my day reading about the crazy and terrible things that are happening. I spend so much time thinking and worrying about it, so I’ve taken sort of an escapist approach to my music listening.

I’ve been trying to find things that make me feel better and help me forget the fact that a crazy person has the nuclear codes right now. Newer records from Four Tet and Daphni have really helped me. I also like the last two Susanne Sundfør albums—I’ve been listening to them a lot this year. But yeah, my music habits have definitely been more escapist than anything else.

I get that. I hate to bring up your cousin Scott Baio but I need to ask: how do you cope with having a super conservative relative? I was wondering because both of my parents are Trump supporters—

Oh really?

Yeah, so I’m always trying to find that fine line of challenging their views without ruining relationships. I don’t know how close you are with Scott, but do you have a similar issue?

I’ve never actually met him so it’s like this very weird, abstract thing. He’s someone whose politics are the opposite of mine and I’ve never met, but he has the same last name as me. One of the first things people usually ask me if I’m related to him.

Wait, are you related?

I am, yeah. We’ve just never met. But I do have other Trump supporters in my extended family and I have a very hard time because I get so emotional about it. Granted, I live in a different country and don’t see them as much. But since the election, I haven’t brought myself to talk about it too much with them.

It’s gotten to the point where my grandparents are so old, it borders the line of elder abuse if I started yelling at them about their politics. But still, it’s very hard and I do wish I had talked to them a bit more in the lead-up to the election and tried to change their minds. But also you see things like Fox News clearly poisoning the minds of the elderly and I think hours of conversation can’t undo all the television watching they’ve done.

I agree with that. Didn’t Scott make an appearance on Fox?

I think he’s there all the time.

That must be so weird for you. It makes me think of when Ezra said, “The only Baio we recognize is Chris” on Twitter.

[Laughs] I really appreciated how he had my back during my time of need.

 

Speaking of Twitter, you’ve made a few tweets recently about candles. You said, “Candles are almost as good as music” and while I agree with that—

Oh, thank you. I thought it was a really controversial position to stake out. It’s a big statement.

It’s pretty lofty. What are some of the reasons why you like candles so much?

I think they smell really good and I love how they can set a vibe in a room. Even though they’re not this huge presence, you can really feel them. I like the way that they inhabit a room. Those tweets came from the exact same place of me reading about politics and getting stressed out, but then I lit a candle and I felt so much better all of a sudden.