Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio is back with his third solo album, ‘Dead Hand Control’. A more hopeful look at the world following years of political upheaval, the record was completed between touring Vampire Weekend’s ‘Father Of The Bride’ and this year’s lockdown. After months of sitting on the release thanks to the pandemic, Baio is excited for the world to finally hear what he’s been working on.
“Some artists love that period of time between when you finish a record and when you put it out,” Baio tells NME. “I read an interview with Johnny Marr where he said he loved the fact that it’s this secret, this thing that he made: a secret between him and the rest of the world. I am very much not like that! I like finishing something and putting it out!”
We caught up with Baio on the phone to talk about his two new singles ( ‘Endless Me, Endlessly’ and ‘What Do You Say When I’m Not There?’), working in Damon Albarn’s studio and what Vampire Weekend are planning next.
NME: Hi Chris, whereabouts are you in the US today and how are things where you are post-election?
Chris: “I’m in Los Angeles. I moved here in early 2018, largely for Vampire Weekend stuff, getting ready to come back and put out ‘Father of the Bride’ last year so I’ve been here since then. I lived in London for five years, including when the [Brexit] results came in there. I’ve definitely been thinking about that time in my life and being on the other side of things now and being happy with the results in America: it feels good.”
You recorded part of your new album over in London…
“Most of it was recorded in LA, but I did do a lot of sessions at Studio 13 in London – which is Damon Albarn’s studio. After I played Radio 1’s Big Weekend last year, I came down to London and met John Foyle, the engineer and sometimes co-producer I work with. He took me to this big room with all this really nice equipment and I realised ‘Oh, shit, I’m getting to spend two days in Damon Albarn’s personal studio and work on music there!’ Damon was on tour with The Good, the Bad & the Queen at that point, so I just spent two days recording a lot of the vocals plus a lot of synths and piano.”
Assuming you’re a Blur fan?
“I’m a huge Blur fan! I loved them from when I was 12-years-old and they’re a band that I still love now that I’m 36-years-old. Damon’s written more songs I love than almost any other songwriter on the planet. For me to get to go into his space and work on this record, I found that incredibly inspiring…they were the most important couple of days working on this record. When I think back, those are the favourite days I’ve ever spent recording music in my life.
“Vampire Weekend opened up for Blur on one of their reunion shows in Hyde Park in 2009 and that was one of those moments where you have to slap yourself because it’s pretty incredible when you think about being a teenager loving their music and getting to do something like that.”
How did making this record compare with your last solo album ‘Man of the World’?
“I guess my one regret on the last record is that I made it very, very quickly. I made the entire thing in a month when I was feeling very raw. I think any artist will adjust or react to their previous work and their subsequent work, and I wanted to make something that was very considered and very deliberate this time.”
It was also a very world-weary look at the political situation of recent times. Does this one have a similar vibe?
“The goal of this record was to make something more hopeful, even if I was still processing and thinking about all the things from the last record. I have found in the last half-decade-or-so that when the urge to create seizes me, I become completely obsessive about it because it is a momentary escape from all the scary things that are happening in the world.
“There are countless injustices, countless things to give you anxiety, countless awful things that are constantly happening in the world. It’s borderline unfathomable but in a weird and twisted way, making songs about it is a better way of coping with it than just thinking about it.”
Where does the title come from?
“I read about this concept called ‘Dead Hand Control’ shortly after the last record came out and I was very captivated by it. It’s where someone in their will attempts to control people after they die and I found this idea very powerful. I was also aware of a rumoured Soviet missile system from the Cold War called Dead Hand, which if it detected some kind of nuclear strike in the Soviet Union it would automatically nuke America…worrying about nuclear destruction was not something that was top of mind before the previous presidential election. In 2016-2017, I was thinking about it all the time. I wanted to write a bunch of songs that touched on these topics.”
A lot of the songs on the record are really hopeful despite the subject matter…
“There’s a mental self-preservation that can inspire these creative periods for me. Playing guitar into your computer is a simple and pure act that can take your mind off of the horrors around you…Thinking about control and this record, I can’t control global politics – I’m one person – but I was thinking I can control how I am to the people in my life, to the people in my community, to the people around me, and so that’s why I want this record to ultimately be romantic and hopeful.”
As with Vampire Weekend’s last couple of albums, you’re releasing two singles to begin with….
“I’d never done this with a solo album. The last two Vampire Weekend records started out with two song drops. Putting out two songs just gives so much more context to what an entire record will be like than just dropping a single one on its own in isolation. Hopefully people disagree over which one they like better and all that kind of fun stuff.”
The album closer is a song you worked on with your bandmate Ezra Koenig. What can you tell us about that?
“It was something we started it in February of 2012. I always really loved it. When I made my first two records, I didn’t really want to put ballads on them. This song isn’t like a straight-up ballad, but it’s definitely the most ballad-y thing that I’ve made. I always thought it was such a romantic-sounding song, because a lot of this record is about finding romance out of darkness, it just felt like the perfect closer.”
Are you considering any socially distanced or virtual shows soon?
“I’m not going to plan any [live shows] until it’s truly safe for people to get into a room together. We’re talking about virtual possibilities: I’ve got to figure out a way that’s interesting or a new perspective. I will say I’m a huge Nick Cave fan and I was absolutely blown away by his Alexandra Palace webcast.
“In terms of Vampire Weekend, I feel so lucky our record came out last year and we got to tour. I really feel for any artist who spent a long time making a record, put it out this year and wasn’t able to tour. We were supposed to tour at the end of this year and the tour last year felt so good: there is a little sense of, I don’t know, unfinished business. I’m really looking forward to whatever the next chapter of the band is.”
Baio releases ‘Dead Hand Control’ on January 29, 2020