When Baio takes the Rock the Green stage Saturday in support of his third solo effort, "Man of the World," it will be his first American show behind the June release on Glassnote. Chris Baio is well known as Vampire Weekend’s bassist, but this complex release shows how much he has grown as a writer since 2012’s "Sunburn" and 2015’s breakthrough "The Names."
"The album came from experiencing global political upheaval in 2016 as an American living in London," Baio explained. "The songs came together quickly – I've never made so much music in such a short period of time – but I felt like it was my way of processing what was happening. I wrote most of the material in a two week period last September and spent the end of the year fine tuning everything.
"Essentially, I was trying to portray many of the forces that made last year what it was from different perspectives, whether it be someone's view that political change is an inherently benevolent force ('Vin Mariani') or writing a love song from the perspective of a powerful media magnate who stokes up anti-elite sentiments ('Man of the World')."
The song "Sister of Pearl," off "The Names," yielded a modest hit with radio play. I asked him what it was like to have a solo song of his own out in the world.
"Last year, I was walking down the street in Boise, Idaho, and a woman was blasting the song from her car," he recollected. "At first, I thought she was trolling me, but I actually think she was just thoroughly enjoying the track and had no idea I was on the street, which was nice!"
As for the choice of single, this cut closest resembled his Vampire Weekend vibe. "I originally thought ‘Endless Rhythm’ would be the single," he said, "but a bunch of the people I work with thought ‘Sister of Pearl’ was the way to go. I trust them!"
A Columbia grad with a major in Russian and Eurasian Regional studies, his views on global and environmental issues are broad. Playing Rock the Green, an eco-friendly festival that produces net zero waste, falls into his messaging on "DANGEROUE ANAMAL" off "Man of the World."
"I think the mission of Rock the Green is incredible, and I'm truly thrilled to be able to perform at such a special event," Baio said from London, where he has been residing the last four years.
The rest of the Bain's year of touring will include a mix of festivals, solo shows and supporting acts for The Shins. He’s played his fair share of shows as part of Vampire Weekend – and seen plenty of concerts as well. One of his favorites was getting to see Depeche Mode play Austin City Limits back in 2013.
"(It) was pretty special because I'm such a huge fan of theirs, and they put on an absolutely incredible show," he recalled. "Watching Rage Against the Machine from the stage in Portugal in 2008 was also an incredibly special moment as I've adored that band since I was an angry 12-year-old.
"As a solo artist, my set at Sasquatch last year was very special to me. We played in a tent and right when we got to 'Sister of Pearl,' the setting sun reached the stage ... it was incredible! With the band, playing Fuji Rock back in 2013 was an incredible set."
Although he is playing Milwaukee – a city which boasts a full-sized Bronze Fonz statue as a tribute to its "Happy Days" connection – don’t expect a surprise visit from his cousin Scott, famous for playing Chachi on the '70s sitcom. I had to ask if he’s ever been to one of his shows and received a one-word response: "Nope."
And on that note, here are more of Baio’s one-word responses to the tracks from "Man of the World":
"Sensitive Guy"? "Bashful."
"Man of World"? "Swaggering."
"The Key Under the Mat"? "Yearning."