Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio - BassPlayer.com

Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio

VAMPIRE WEEKEND’S MASHUP OF ’80s retro, contemporary indie rock, and African popular music has earned the New York-based band critical and popular acclaim, and for good reason: it totally works.
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Vampire Weekend's mashup of ’80s retro, contemporary indie rock, and African popular music has earned the New York-based band critical and popular acclaim, and for good reason: it totally works. On Contra, the band’s sophomore release, bassist Chris Baio’s buoyant lines bounce brilliantly beneath chime-y guitars and lush synth pads. After headlining Washington’s Sasquatch! Music Festival, the band will tour Europe in the summer months, and return to the States in September for a three-day heading slot at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Of all the tracks on Contra, “Holiday” jumps out as having one of the most interesting bass parts. How did you develop that line?

We were rehearsing it one day and decided to play it a lot faster, which led to my coming up with melodic runs that follow the chord changes. For the bridge, I played higher up on the neck and tried to play notes that were harmonically interesting.

In terms of rhythm and tone, African popular music seems to be an important influence for the band.

One element I really love about African pop music is the elastic quality of the bass playing. As a group, we listen to a wide range of music, and we’re really interested in making connections between different music traditions.

If you were to name a single bass player who had a profound impact on you when you were learning to play, who would it be?

Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order.

 What kind of tone do you aim to get?

I like having a tone that’s somewhat dead sounding, as long as you can still hear the definition of the notes I’m playing. The main bass I play to get that sound is an old Kustom K200D. I saw it one day at Main Drag Music in [New York City’s] Williamsburg, and thought it look looked and sounded really great. It has a short scale, which makes it a great instrument for more melodic bass playing.

HEAR HIM ON

Vampire Weekend, Contra [XL Recordings, 2010]

GEAR

Basses Kustom K200D, Rickenbacker 4003, Epiphone Jack Casady Bass
Rig Ampeg SVT Classic head and cab
Strings DR Strings
Effects Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, Boss RC-50 Loop Station

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I don’t want to be overly aggressive, but I like to have a clean tone so you can hear every note, like defined individually, but I like to dirty it up so it’s in the mix where it’s almost like a guitar but it has a lot of bottom to it. I like balls, and the definition. Those are my key things.

Vampire Weekend Contra [XL]

The idea of a bunch of upper-middle-class kids from New York City playing grooves rooted in African popular music styles like Congolese soukous and kwassa kwassa might sound anywhere from suspicious to abhorrent, but Vampire Weekend’s earnest indierock take on those genres absolutely works. Down low, Chris Baio plays it cool for much of the band’s sophomore record, but where he does eschew minimalism for chops—like on “Holiday,” a rollercoaster ride of a tune—it’s sublime. “Cousins” is another workout, with bewildering 16thnote flurries that will leave you wondering how the heck he does it. It’s definitely a disc worth checking out.

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