April 28, 2010: It's hard to escape Vampire Weekend these days. Their bouncy tunes, touched by influences of aka, African music, and other cultures, are in regular rotation on rock radio stations across the country.
Their faces gaze out from the pages of Rolling Stone Magazine. A few months ago, the band performed on Saturday Night Live; in September, they'll be playing three nights at Radio City Music Hall.
And right in the midst of all the fame and stardom is Bronxville native Chris Baio.
"I never would have predicted to be part of a band as successful as VW when I was in high school," Baio, 25, told MyHometownBronxville. "Playing music for a living has been my dream since I was 13 years old, but I definitely never counted on things going that way." So how did he go from the 'burbs to playing bass in one of the country's hottest rock bands?
Baio says he got his start in the Bronxville School. "Having the chance to play in band, jazz band, pep band, and musicals was definitely important to me," he remembers. Under the tutelage of former BHS music teacher Bob Smith, Baio learned to play everything from keyboard and guitar to drums and marimba. He also learned not to expect virtuosity at every instrument, "which definitely informs the way I think about music now."
And Baio did his share of playing in local bands. "I have some pretty vivid memories of playing empty clubs at places like the Continental [in New York City] when I was in high school," he notes. "I also remember playing a couple shows in high school at the Reformed Church which was great. I feel like being a teenager in the suburbs and playing rock music in churches go pretty well together."
Baio joined Vampire Weekend four years ago at the invitation of the other members, who were a year ahead of him at Columbia University. And, as he tells it, the band was almost an instant hit with fans. "From the start a lot of people were psyched about our music which definitely felt special," Baio says. "To have been able to only grow from there has definitely been surreal at times, from our first tours in a minivan to playing festivals in Europe and Asia."
And that's where he and the rest of Vampire Weekend spend most of their time these days-on tour. "We plan on being on the road for the next year or so," Baio reports, and then record their third album. In the meantime, he lives in Brooklyn with enough anonymity that when the band heard their new album Contra was the country's best-selling record, Baio says, "I spent the day ... doing laundry down the street from my apartment."
When he has time, Baio comes back to Bronxville, where his mom still lives. "I always like getting coffee at Slave to the Grind, what a place!" he remarks. "I also had some peppermint schnapps at Palmer Lounge when I went home the day before last Christmas Eve, which was super festive."
Between the oodles of fans, the constant touring, and the overnight success, Baio says the experience has been "really incredible." Which is also a pretty accurate description of Vampire Weekend.
So the next time you turn on the radio and find yourself bopping along to "Cousins" or singing along to "Giving Up the Gun," music that merges the sounds of the world with red-blooded American rock, just listen to the baseline for traces of Bronxville.
Pictured here: Left to right: Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Baio, Christopher Tomson, and Ezra Koenig, members of Vampire Weekend rock band.
Photo by Soren Solkoer Starbird