This charming face belongs to BAIO, the young New Yorker on the phone whose stunning debut Sunburn EP is dropping via international taste-makers Greco-Roman this week.
We know Chris for his exuberant bass guitar work in indie juggernaut Vampire Weekend, but this summer his underground career as a DJ is hitting the big time.
HARD: Can you tell us about the first time you DJed for hire?
BAIO: The first time… OK the very, very first time was when I was in college. It was my sophomore year. I was very involved with the college radio station at that time and they had a relationship with the venue the Knitting Factory there in NYC. As hosts for the radio station you were allowed to play music in between bands, in between sets. This must have been February of 2006 when I first offered to do it.
So um… no mixing. I played a song called “Bombast” by The Fall and a few other songs. Nobody was paying attention. Everyone is going to get drinks or go to the bathroom and no one is looking at me.
But I was still profoundly nervous.
I was super awkward, but I liked it! Even though no one was aware of it, I was setting the mood for the room and I really enjoyed that part of it. I thought it was a really, really neat thing to do. I got more into DJing at events over the course of college and started doing it more often.
I didn’t really learn how to mix until about two and a half years ago when I got very serious about the craft of it.
HARD: How about your favorite gig as a DJ?
BAIO: My favorite gig so far… hm. I have to say it was in a place called Club Mansion in Korea. The energy in that room was really wild in a way I had never experienced as a DJ.
I was so jetlagged. We had flown New York to Seoul the day before. We played a set at the Jisan Valley Rock Festival with the band, then I was feeling terrible that day.
But I got picked up for the gig and when I started mixing, it just felt really incredible. I think I finished with “Coma Cat” by Tensnake, a record I really love.
Being so far away from home and playing a track that I love for strangers and having them go apeshit was so amazing. It just can’t be beat, as far as a feeling goes.
HARD: Matias Aguayo features on “Tanto” from your debut Sunburn EP; how did that come about? Is there anything from his discography that you hope fans will dig out?
BAIO: I first became aware of Matias when I was in college. I was very into Kompakt, a record label out of Cologne, Germany.
He was in a group called Closer Musik, and Kompakt does these compilations called Total. One of the Kompakt Totals had this song called “Maria.” There’s no vocals on it, but it’s an incredible piece of music. It was just on Gold Panda’s DJ Kicks record from last year. It’s a piece of music I’ve been really, really into for a long time. That was how I first became aware of him.
I know he put out one solo record, but his second is called Ay Ay Ay. It was in 2009. That is just such a cool record. It’s all pretty much a capella but the structure is the same as a lot of house music.
I actually have very vivid memories of this: I played the track called “Ritmo Juarez” at the record release party of our band’s second album, Contra. The party was at Spin, a ping pong club in New York, and I was DJing. Anyway, I think that’s such a cool, cool record. That whole record is so much fun to listen to.
I originally sent “Tanto” to Alex from Greco-Roman (he runs the label with two other people: Joe from Hot Chip and a guy named Dom) and there was a sample of this old Italian record in that song. Alex said he liked the track but he found the vocal a little annoying. And for me that’s neat that I can have a relationship with someone where I can send them something I’m working on and they can tell me honestly what they like or don’t like about the track.
So I didn’t have a problem with doing something different with it, and he thought “OK, maybe we can have some people sing it.” He sent me a list of names, and Matias was on that list.
I thought “Fuck it, let’s ask him. He’ll probably say ‘no.’ He’s doing his own thing, his own incredible thing. I’m in no way known or proven as far as dance music.”
But much to my surprise he agreed to do it. He sent over all these tracks of vocals, maybe six weeks ago now, and it was really thrilling to go through them all and cut them all up and try and do different things with it.
HARD: Wow, that’s a pretty quick turnaround. It’s only been a few weeks since you got his parts to work into this EP that’s coming out when? Tomorrow?
BAIO: Yeah, exactly. I originally made the track last year over the course of three or four rainy days last year in my apartment. It was neat to revisit it and work through it with fresh eyes and ears. His voice is such a dope instrument, I enjoyed playing around with it. I’m really happy with the fact that he was willing to work with me. I still haven’t met him.
HARD: It really is great. I love that track. I love the whole EP.
BAIO: Oh, thanks so much.
HARD: Yeah, your manager [Michele at Monotone Inc] sent over a preview to Destructo, and he would just keep playing it in the office. I’d come in in the morning, and he cranks the speakers. He’d be on the phone because the phones just never stop over here. But this was always playing and maybe three days in a row, I’d say “Fuck, what track is that?” and he’d be like “That’s the Baio record.”
BAIO: Oh that’s fun.
HARD: Speaking of “Sunburn Modern”, there’s also something in there that sounds like vocals. Is that a sample, or is your voice sneaking into the record?
BAIO: No, that’s not my voice. That’s a sample I pulled off a record and pitched up to make it sound more chipmunk-like.
HARD: Do you want to tell people what they might expect from your HARD Summer mixtape?
BAIO: Expect… that word makes it hard. I would describe it as an hour long…
Oh man, I don’t want to sound stupid here! I’ve never been asked to describe a mix I’ve made. So I’m trying to sound as not-like-an-idiot as possible.
HARD: You can call me out. If the question is bogus you can pass.
BAIO: No, no. I love the challenge, I’ve just never had to describe a mix I made to people who haven’t heard it. I would say it’s an hour-long excursion that would work in the middle of the day or late at night, perfect for sitting down and relaxing or for your own little private dance party.
HARD: Moving back to Greco-Roman, can we make the assumption that they were already on your radar in that circle of friends? Had you played a Greco-Roman party?
BAIO: I have not played a Greco-Roman party, no. The reason why I met them is that I was emailing with Alex [Full Nelson]. He would do consulting for XL Recordings for Germany and Europe and I met him on tour in London in maybe October of 2009. And I really liked him.
He gave me a copy of Joe Goddard’s solo record, Harvest Festival, which I really enjoyed the one or two tracks I had heard from it. So he gave me that and I really dug the whole thing.
We stayed in touch and he became someone I started sending tracks to when I got to a point in my production where I was confident enough in my tracks to send them to people.
HARD: I’m going to back up because I think you caught me being presumptuous. I figured there’s a huge number of people that are fans of both Hot Chip and Vampire Weekend, and so you guys would have played the festivals and been at the same places at the same time.
BAIO: Oh yeah, that’s true we’ve played with them many times. And actually our first record came out right around the same time Made in the Dark came out and I actually met Alexis in Amoeba Records in L.A. right when our first album came out.
I actually didn’t meet Joe — and we played a show in either Phoenix or Tucson in 2010 together. I met Al and Owen then. And I think literally Joe is the only member of Hot Chip I have not met in person which I think is hilarious. I think he’s such an incredible musician and I really do love everything he does.
That track “Gabriel” he made for Greco-Roman last year. Did you know it went to #1 in South Africa last year?
HARD: No, I had no idea. That’s amazing.
BAIO: We played a festival in Portugal together in July of 2010 and I know Joe was on our flight back to London the next day. I feel like I was hung over and I thought there was a very real possibility he might be pretty hung over so I didn’t go up to him then. But I totally admire him, and am so psyched to be putting out music with this collective that he’s involved in.
HARD: Well, the release really warrants the Greco-Roman tag. I feel like if you had turned this in out of the blue (unless you gave it, like, a really stupid name like I Can’t Park At The Mall) they couldn’t possibly refuse it. I think it’s such a perfect fit for their taste and their sound.
Here’s where I’m going to get a little stupid. Have you ever searched Youtube for “Baio djing?”
BAIO: Maybe… um.
I think there’s a thing with me talking to a club called Propaganda in the Bristol. I feel like that’s there. Yeah, why do you ask?
HARD: I saw that and there was a mention there of you having played “Sandstorm” in there.
BAIO: I have not done that in over eighteen months! There is something really hilarious and obviously very powerful about that song. I actually went and visited my grandmother in the hospital. She’s doing fine, but she was in the hospital and I visited and they have like a physical rehab gym. And there were always people just working out and pumping iron to “Sandstorm.” This was two weeks ago now and that song is like fifteen years old! That’s crazy to me.
I have memories of eating pizza in the town where I grew up after soccer practice while that song was blasting. It’s pretty funny, that song.
I don’t plan on dropping “Sandstorm” at HARD, unless I find myself in a dire situation. That’s the nuclear option.
HARD: Speaking of HARD, did you attend a HARD event? Do you have a recollection of a HARD event?
BAIO: Yes, absolutely! In 2009 on Halloween I was there with [Vampire Weekend]. We had played a show in Koreatown and then we came to HARD Haunted Mansion afterwards and I saw Justice play a set.
It was really neat for me, because I had played some festivals where there was a DJ tent or whatever, but this was my first time really seeing a whole festival devoted to DJ sets and electronic music. The energy was just incredible! Thanks for letting us come.
HARD: Thank you. We’re super excited to have you back and have you basically debuting your DJ set for Los Angeles on a grand scale as a solo artist. How does it feel to be a solo artist? Has it sunk in yet?
BAIO: I honestly… no, it hasn’t yet. I mean, like, the vinyl won’t be in my hands for another two months. So right now I’m still at home just doing interviews and people are starting to talk to me about the record, but it all feels abstract right now.
HARD: OK, one last question. Anyone who’s seen you perform on stage with Vampire Weekend probably knows that you’re a very kinetic performer. You have a lot of…um, motion in your performance…
BAIO: [laughing] Yes.
HARD: Does that also translate to your DJing?
BAIO: Right now I would say my DJ presence is a little more mellow than my band presence. I realized when it comes to dancing I’m a lot better dancing with my legs than I am with my upper body, so playing bass while dancing is really great for me because I don’t have to worry about what to do with my hands. I can just dance around with crazy legs.
So in DJing it’s kind of the opposite, right? Because there’s a booth covering my legs. So I sway. I groove. I clap. But it’s not … maybe I’ll get to a point where I can do crazy shit, but right now I’m zoned in on mixing so it’s more mellow.
HARD: And when you DJ what’s your method, technically?
BAIO: I use CD-Js, yeah.
I’ve been in other places where I’ve been in a club and someone was setting up their laptop and an entire beer spilled on it and I never want to be in that position.
And as it is right now I have sorta bad posture and a receding hairline which makes me look more like a grad student than a musician I think. So adding a laptop into the mix would only reinforce that.
HARD: What do you find most cofortable to wear when you DJ? Does it matter?
BAIO: Well, I haven’t done much hot weather DJing; it’s always been in a club. Usually I wear my standard stuff — button down shirt, jeans, maybe shorts in the summer.
Also I’m a very sweaty person. We were on the road once and we had this roadie we worked with, a real road dog who’d been on the job for twenty eight years. He told me I was the second sweatiest person he’d ever met – I wear that as a badge of pride.
BAIO performs at the HARD Summer Music Festival, taking over downtown L.A. on August 3rd & 4th, 2012.
Luckily, you can buy your copy of Sunburn on May 21st and download the exclusive HARD Summer Mix from BAIO today.
Preview the EP: http://soundcloud.com/greco-