Baio (the musical moniker of Chris Baio, who also plays bass in Vampire Weekend) says his new album ‘Man Of The World’ is his “attempt to process” the year of 2016 - which saw both the passing of David Bowie, and the U.S. Presidential Election of Donald Trump, two both equally anxiety-ridden happenings in Baio’s mind.
The album is both personal and political, from a song written from the point of view of Trump, to ‘Shame In My Name’, a song that addresses privilege and multiple political viewpoints - all atop the distinctively jaunty production that Baio offers in his solo work.
We recently spoke to Chris Baio about the new album, where he gave his thoughts on how to make change in the world, as well as giving us updates on Vampire Weekend, his cat Nona, and more…
...I can never know what it is like to be someone else. It’s something that I try to be cognizant of as I go through my life everyday...
COUP DE MAIN: In your artist statement about ‘Man Of The World’ you said you felt “a deep anxiety about the direction the world was heading in. That feeling never fully went away.” Do you still have that feeling now?
CHRIS BAIO: Yeah, I do. I can’t pretend that there is not a kind of… almost perpetual low level of anxiety while Donald Trump has the nuclear codes. There is something still terrifying about that fact that until he is not the President I think that will be a part of my daily life, which is I guess a bit of a scary answer but an honest one.
CDM: What advice would you give people wanting to take action about what is currently happening in the world?
BAIO: I think, trying to stay vigilant and follow with what is happening then figure out ways that you can make a difference or things that you can do. It really just kind of depends on what you care about and what organisations and things like that. One thing that I’ve been following a lot has been what has been happening with the immigration and customs enforcements. There has been a real rise in detaining on non-violent undocumented immigrants in America. This is a direct result of the election and I guess, I think back to the election night, I was pretty catatonic, and the reason why was because I knew it would make a difference to people's lives. For me personally, I started giving money to a group called The Immigrant Defense Project, they do counselling on how to counter these raids that are happening in America and also they help with the legal side of things for undocumented people that are detained. That is just one example from me, but the advice I would give is follow what is happening and the things that are making you the most upset, find the best way to counter them, whether it is going to protests or giving money or helping to spread information.
CDM: Where do you see an end-goal of what’s currently going on in the world, and more specifically in the U.S.?
BAIO: Yeah I think that it kind of never ends. I guess the hope would be for him to be as ineffective in achieving his hateful policies if possible and sort of mitigating the damage that he does while he is in office. Hopefully in the long-term, a more progressive vision of the future getting achieved. These are kind of generational conflicts and struggles and absolutions, so I think in the short-term it’s about minimising the damage that this administration does.
CDM: Was the writing process cathartic for you, as it worked as a way for you to deal through your emotions about what was happening?
BAIO: 100% cathartic is the exact word because I really spent a lot of last Fall sitting at home in London watching what was happening and being quite anxious and scared for the world. Sitting down and starting to write, at least for me, it didn’t give me peace of mind necessarily, but it did help me to channel the things I was feeling and make something out of it and be productive out of it. I think cathartic is a great word to describe it.
CDM: After listening to your new album, I kept thinking about one of the most important lyrics in ‘Shame In My Name’, where you say, “I know Iʼm deeply privileged / To be losing just my mind.” Do you think acknowledging one's own privilege is one of the most important parts of being a part of any change in the world?
BAIO: That’s a really good question. I can only speak for myself, but I know that I benefit from an extreme amount of privilege and also that I can never know what it is like to be someone else. It’s something that I try to be cognizant of as I go through my life everyday, and that is why I put that lyric in there because I knew in the aftermath of the election that it was entirely possible that my life would not change whatsoever, but other people’s lives certainly would as a result of it - kind of referencing that things are going to get bad. What I felt terrible about was not for myself, but it was for the world, and for certain vulnerable populations that were going to suffer as a result, that’s why I put that lyric in there. How anyone else deals with their privilege or deals with their perspective is entirely up to them, but that is how I try to go about living my life.
CDM: In the album statement, you talk about the meanings of each song, quite candidly. On this album, do you want each song to be clear in its meaning for the listener?
BAIO: Yeah I think it really depends. I’ve never been the type to correct someone when they write something about something I made and their interpretation is completely different from what I was trying to put out there. I think that everyone has their own personal relationship with a track or an album. It has been kind of funny to see reactions to songs. I think words like ‘tropical’ or ‘upbeat’ kind of end up being attached to anything I put out which is fine by me, but with a song like ‘Out Of Tune’, it's a fairly dark track lyrically, talking a lot about the Trump campaign of last year. It’s a song from the perspective of Trump if he were an evil performance artist instead of a dangerous buffoon. Part of the reason why I wrote that song like that is because a lot of people when the campaign was first starting were saying, “Oh is he just Andy Kaufman wearing a mask… Is this just performance art?” Because it seems so fucking crazy. It’s a dark song lyrically, there is a lyric at the end about “show me all your papers,” turning America into a show your papers country, like a totalitarian thing, and it’s not. It’s dark and when the song came out on Friday, almost everyone was like, “Oh here’s a new upbeat song from Baio!" Now I definitely was not intending for it to be upbeat, the beat bangs and I guess if someone writes that as an upbeat song that’s totally cool. I think that whatever anyone takes from a track I make is valid, but there is always going to be that gulf between what your intentions are and what someone else takes away from your music, so I’m not particularly bothered one way or the other. I just hope people enjoy the record more than anything else I guess.
CDM: In ‘I’m Not Curious’, you say, “You seem to be suggesting that I’ve got it figured out / Well I don’t.” Do you think anyone ever has life figured out? It seems to be something that is always just out of reach.
BAIO: I don’t think you ever have it fully figured out. That lyric came from a very specific place of just having just some friends e-mail me immediately after the election saying, “Oh.. you travel around, you go all over the place, what should I do?” It was kind of like, what’s my perspective of someone who lives abroad or has been to so many places. I was complete putty after the election and just really despondent, the fact that friends or family were turning to me for guidance when I felt like I had no idea what the fuck was going on was a bit… it was a weird situation to be in. It was a bit surprising, I guess that someone would turn to me when I felt like a complete mess.
CDM: Do you feel responsible, as a musician, to explore political ideas through your music?
BAIO: If I were writing music right now I would have a tough time making a full album that doesn’t touch at least partially on what has been going on. That was true on my first record, there was a lyric about drone strikes on my first record, and I think a lot about my connections to the U.S. government as an American citizen living abroad, that is kind of a perspective I write from. Now there is complete merit to writing a song as pure escapism while all this dark stuff has been going on in the world and I don’t judge anyone for making a record that doesn’t touch on any of the stuff that is happening. I think that even going out and seeing live music has become an inherently political act in the last few years. I think that whatever works for each artist is great, but for me personally I can’t imagine this moment writing a complete album that is sort of devoid of any references to what is going on.
CDM: In 2015, you gave us a book recommendation for our monthly book club - it was ‘How Music Got Free’ by Steven Witt. Do you have any new books you could recommend us? It’s like we get a new recommendation every album-cycle from you.
BAIO: Oh wow, this is fun now! I love this! Let me think for a few seconds… The book I’m reading right now I like quite a bit actually, it’s called ‘The Idiot’ by Elif Batuman. It’s kind of the perspective of someone in her first year at university, at Harvard and in the mid 90s, and it’s really really funny. Reading it is has made me feel young, it is really taking me back to when I started out at university, so I am currently loving it and I definitely would recommend it. I am honoured to contribute once again to book club.
CDM: Do you have any plans to tour Australia/New Zealand on this new album?
BAIO: You know, I would love to, I don’t know yet what the plans are. I’m doing a couple of little shows… Depends on schedule, I didn’t really get a lot of time playing Melbourne and Sydney last time, those are where I played my first two ever solo shows and I guess we talked about that last time… I feel like I’ve talked to you guys about that before.
CDM: Every time we’re just like, ‘Please come to New Zealand!’
BAIO: Well if someone will have me, it would be an honour and privilege. If anyone asked, I would say 'yes' in a heartbeat!
CDM: And if you come to New Zealand, we’ll give you some nerd-rope. We get it for free from Nestlé now.
BAIO: Oh my god, that would be incredible. I had a great time when I was there now seven years ago, which is crazy.
CDM: Obligatory question sorry - are there any updates on new Vampire Weekend music?
BAIO: The update is that it is coming but it’s not imminent, and everyone should be excited, I know I am.
CDM: And just lastly, how’s your cat Nona doing?
BAIO: She is good! We give her some wet food in the morning as a snack and my wife calls it her jelly meat so she can kind of be a bit of a terror in the morning if we are in bed and she wants her jelly meat, but she’s good, she’s chill, everything’s good!
Baio’s album ‘Man Of The World’ is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘PHILOSOPHY!’ music video below…