"That time in my life is where a lot of my taste formed that this album is kinda ultimately the expression of."
Baio is the solo project of Chris Baio, and the Vampire Weekend bassist is already seated at the boardroom table of Mushroom HQ, Albert Park when this scribe enters the room. Looking and dressing like a dapper Oxford scholar, Baio expresses a desire to check out the Bowie exhibition at ACMI during a "little break" he has today. "I can go maybe for, like, an hour and a half. I'm gonna do that," he decides. "I mean, him and [Bryan] Ferry are my two favourites."
Sister Of Pearl, the latest single to be lifted from Baio's debut long-player is actually an overt reference to Roxy Music's Mother Of Pearl. "For me the turn of phrase came and it sounded like a song that had already been written," Baio explains. "It would seem like someone in the 1950s or something would have written a pop song called Sister Of Pearl." Then Baio tapped into "more traditional pop songwriting" and "very deliberately referenced a lot of [his] favourite Bowie and Ferry tracks" in the lyrics to complete the song.
"It gave me both a new environment and a new life to be excited about, and also a new perspective."
Although he's never met his aforementioned heroes, Baio had a Ferry sighting. "After writing and making Sister Of Pearl my lawyer sent it to [Ferry's] management, 'cause I wanted to be sure, and apparently he heard it and was cool with it. So it was nice. And there's a credit in the liner notes saying that Sister Of Pearl was inspired by Roxy Music's Mother Of Pearl, by Bryan Ferry 1973. But, before that, the kinda like key point where the record came together was last summer. I spent three weeks working on vocals with an engineer — in London at the XL studios, they have a studio in their office there — and on maybe the Wednesday of the first week we recorded the vocals for Sister Of Pearl. And then the next night, Thursday, my manager was in town for one night and had this big group dinner at a restaurant in London that's kind of like a more of a hang out-type place. I hadn't been before — I haven't since — but [when we were] walking into the restaurant, at another one of the tables was Bryan Ferry with three people having dinner! So I thought, 'That's a decent omen'."
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He moved from New York to London two years ago and Baio opines, "London is the closest, I think, to New York in terms of style of city, and obviously there is a world of differences between them, too. But, for me, working on this record, and writing lyrics, it gave me both a new environment, and a new life, to be excited about, and also a new perspective; to look back on sort of growing up and living in New York."
Back in New York, Baio was involved in "college radio" ("I would play at, like, 2am to maybe three listeners on the internet"), which he reveals was "much more for [him] than for anyone else". "They had this really awesome library in the studio and, you know, I came from suburban New York and, living in the city for the first time as an adult, it was so fun. It just exposed me to so much more music that I didn't know. Like, the breadth of stuff I listened to from when I was 19 — it's insane!... To just go and pull CDs off the wall, import them into my computer and then, like, get to listen to Can for the first time when I'm 19, you know? That time in my life is where a lot of my taste formed that this album is kinda ultimately the expression of."
The Names is a multicultural feast for the ears and something about the tone of Baio's album, which is established pronto through opener Brainwash Yyrr Face, calls to mind DJ Shadow's You Can't Go Home Again. Shadow's track invites Russian folk dancers into your imagination and, interestingly, Baio majored in "Russian regional studies" at university. "I guess [the banjo intro] could be a little bit like a balalaika or something," Baio ponders. "That's interesting, yeah, I didn't make that connection but I had a balalaika — my mum gave me one for Christmas, like, ten years ago when I was a student, but I could never get a good sound out of it. And so maybe [I'm] just doing a computerised impression of it.
"When I was working on [Brainwash Yyrr Face] I had 28 years of my life, of listening to music and loving music, and, when you actually sit down to work on something, you're working your way through and you're kind of trusting your intuition. And what you've listened to over the course of your life and what filters through, it can be, like, a very subtle process... So that's a cool thing, and I think that's definitely true that that's something that filtered through that track. I finished it a year ago and I never thought about it until you brought it up right now. So it's funny, yeah."