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Marathons And Math

Dec 29, 2015 Issue #55 - November/December 2015 - EL VY Photography by Dan Wilton Bookmark and Share

Chris Baio‘s smoothly grooving rhythms, seductively soothing vocals, and effortlessly catchy hooks make the synth-inclined indie rockerand Vampire Weekend bassistseem like he was born to be onstage. But, in fact, he was born in a marathon.

Baio sings about that bizarre scenario on “I was Born in a Marathon,” from The Names, his debut solo album (which he has released solely under his last name). The song opens with a beat that reverberates like feet on concrete, along with a baseline that throbs like a racing pulse, and looped “oohs” and “aahs” from Baio akin to heavy, coached breathing.

“My mother went into labor with me on the day of the New York City marathon,” says Baio, who lived in New York for all of his life, until he relocated to London in 2013 after his wife was given a job opportunity there. “She had to go from the West Side of Manhattan, where we lived, to the East Side of Manhattan, where the hospital was, and try to get around this huge marathon that was backing up the streets. It ended up being a stressful journey, but I got to the hospital and was born there…. I like how the song’s title‘I was Born in a Marathon’kind of rhymes but kind of doesn’t. And I like how the whole thing’s a metaphor for strength, what my mother went through that day.”

And while long distance runners had a major impact on his birth, Baio admits that he was by no means a born athlete. While one song from The Names has been selected to be part of the FIFA: 2016 video game’s soundtrackthe LP’s rollicking lead single, “Sister of Pearl”Baio has had very few other soccer victories.

“I played soccer from the time I was maybe seven to 18. And by play, I mean sat on the bench, because I was terrible,” he says with a laugh, adding that his talents lay instead with music and math. He was so proficient in the latter that he minored in that discipline at Columbia University, the Ivy League campus where he met his future Vampire Weekend bandmates, with whom he recorded the band’s self-titled debut to widespread acclaim.

But that sudden indie-rock stardom didn’t bring about an end to Baio’s nerdiness. As evidence, one need look no further than the artwork that he selected for The Names: two nondescript rectangles in front of a blue backdrop. But Baio says he picked that cover because his inner art geek loved its ambiguity. The image is actually a snapshot of two trains at a station in Hamburg, Germany, taken by one of his favorite artists, Matthias Heiderich.

“He’s based in Hamburg, and his work is great because you often can’t tell if it’s a photo or a painting or a graphic design. I think images like that can be striking and uncanny,” Baio says of Heiderich’s photography, several prints of which hang in the musician’s home studio, and served as a muse while he recorded The Names. “It’s inspiring…to think what would be musical equivalent to his images…. Many people wouldn’t say a song like ‘Sister of Pearl’ sounded like house or techno, but the process was the same as those genres. I made it in my basement, with all kinds of software, along with my bass guitar…. That element [of ambiguity] helps me blur the line between organic and digital sounds, which is absolutely, one hundred percent, what I want to be doing with my music.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December Issue, which is still on newsstands. This is its debut online.]


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