Words Brit Parks
My interview notes read like a diagram of questions. A covering scrawl of words spoken. It’s a fragmentary code. I often outcode myself and cannot decipher a conversation in order. I know then, it meant something. I know I was lost in my question of what one would ask about a record. Why did you record at that famous studio. The answer to that must have a thousand gleaming examples of secrets kept in that chamber. The myth of who was there in love with the spit on a microphone. You want to dig at that mystical place in your inquiry.
Entirely scattered, I first read the notation, ‘Never, Never, Never’, it takes a few seconds to realize that’s a track name. And what if that’s all there was of the evidence of an hour long conversation with Chris Baio. That would be enough. Chris made his name with Vampire Weekend, they had three grammy nominations in 2020 and took Alternative Music Album. I have a depth of respect for that accomplishment however today we are meant to talk shop about his new solo record that comes out today. With a title like Dead Hand Control, you imagine you are going to be pulled into that layered meaning, or you already hear an echo in your head of what it may sound like. I listened to the tracks off the press kit and had a gut feeling they must be in a different order on the actual record. I inquire, Chris gets a higher tilt to his voice and spills out, ‘I very much write a whole record with that idea in mind. I love seventies albums where that was important. When I DJ, I love the transitions when they are fluid.’ He forgives my reply, ‘Yes, when I DJ, I love playing My Bloody Valentine next to some quiet French song.’ But it’s the same thing.
It’s an understanding that a record you make on your own is only you. That contrast is exaggerated when he reveals he wrote and recorded the record amidst Vampire Weekend touring. He lived in London at the time and escaped to Damon Albarn’s studio to construct this personal project. Instead of a heavy lean on the legacy of Blur, he gushes on how they are one of his favorite bands and that he was terribly lucky Damon was out of town and he could use his ‘toys’. He quotes an exact synthesizer to a part of a Gorillaz song and you can feel the devotion. He talks with conviction about how important learning how to truly produce an album was for him. That feels important, it reminds me of the junk-out need I have to learn to mix my own oil paints. I know it may look like the white I buy, but it’s not. It has layers of learning, care, and yes, individual parts that make up a composition. His album has a consistent lull that washes into a kind of call to arms. He dispels, ‘I would record and then leave and have time to think about what it was. I had a distance that I could come back and work from’. It strikes me that he is recounting vulnerability in the process of making, pushing to that point is evident in his work.
My last scratchy note says, ‘comfort in a gracious offering of a thing being out,’ I have to piece that back together. Near the end, I realized we hadn’t directly referenced the state of world affairs. I ask about his plans for his new album, he gracefully says, ‘I will be thrilled that it has come out. I am fine if that’s all there is.’ Quickly followed by, ‘But I can’t wait to be in a venue sweating and playing music again.’ I flashback to New York City when I saw Vampire Weekend play at my favorite place to see music, The Bowery Ballroom. It has a labyrinth quality with the downstairs, dramatic long stairs, and the vaulted venue space. You can easily get yourself lost if you need an exile moment to maybe cry a bit with a cheap gin and tonic at a song. That seems fitting as Chris has clearly endeavored his own form of musical exile to make work that is a singular version of his world. You will want to play the first track three times and by the end O.M.W., the nine minute ballad he wrote with his bandmate, will make you want to disappear with your drink and feel the height and low of it all.
- Dead Hand Control
- Endless Me, Endlessly
- What Do You Say When I’m Not There?
- Dead Hand
- Take It From Me
- Caisse Noire
- Never Never Never
Photography Pooneh Ghana
Dead Hand Control out January 29, Available at HERE