Toro Y Moi
Chaz Bundick of Toro Y Moi: King of the Hipsters?
He’s Really Too Busy to Care
Is there any insult more hackneyed right now than calling someone a hipster? Pretty much everyone denies they fit the tag, and half the time it’s a black-as-night pot throwing out the disparaging remarks. I mean, who fucking cares, right?
Some people do. Internet trolls, for sure. Sensitive or defensive people on the receiving end, maybe. Not the guy behind Toro Y Moi, though. If we’re acknowledging the existence of that too-cool sector, then Chaz Bundick is easily one of its primary figureheads – and unabashedly so. But, surprisingly, when we spoke just ahead of his current tour, he was so damn casual about his hipness that I nearly forgot it. I wasn’t bothered; it all read so natural I didn’t cringe once. And we even talked about the 35mm film that’s apparently a standard request on a Toro Y Moi concert rider.
“It’s funny because we have three or four photographers in the band, so we always just fight over the film,” Bundick says. “But the only thing we’d probably ever do is probably just make photo books out of them. It’s kind of the only thing. I mean, every once in a while we’ll see a photo that could maybe be applied in a different design application, but it’s usually just for fun photos…We’re all obsessed with analog and film; there’s like a special quality that stuff holds. It’s just nice to support those types of industries.”
Okay, maybe I mentally snickered a couple times. Maybe I pictured him wearing a heavily wrapped scarf despite the presumably hot LA weather. That he moved there from Columbia, S.C., a few years ago is fitting; where else, besides Brooklyn, of course, should a high-level hipster operation be headquartered?
Seriously, though – Bundick is an incredible musician. He’s prolific, having churned out a full-length nearly every year since 2007’s Woodlands demo, yet manages to never repeat himself. Toro Y Moi is a perpetually evolving project; it caused the coining of the chillwave genre, then stretched beyond it to include a broader range of styles. His sophomore album, Underneath the Pine, mixed in disco nuances, mellow jazz and touches of off-kilter piano pop, among other ingredients. His fourth and latest LP, What For?, released last April, is his first guitar-centric effort. It’s not heavy by any stretch; instead, guitar is delivered in ecstatic, futuristic bursts over easygoing chords, oftentimes blended with elongated synth.
Maybe that’s not a drastic departure from the Toro Y Moi blueprint, but it doesn’t quite fit within it, either. It was unexpected. Bundick’s personal interests may be a little predictable, but his work as musician is certainly not. He’s continually trying new things, then moves on to another new thing quickly. In fact, he’s already unveiled another collection, this one a free download, titled Samantha. The 20-track release features collaborations with his old pal Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, plus new buds like Rome Fortune, Kool A.D. and Nosaj Thing.
“I just did that mixtape thing; that was a passion project,” he says. “I’ve been recording bands too, on the low, trying to get stuff ready for Company Records, and that kind of stuff.”
So far, there are three artists on his label: Experimental electronic pop artist Vinyl Williams, a subtly psychedelic-leaning singer-songwriter, Keath Mead, and Bundick’s side-project, Les Sins, which feels like a history lesson in drum-and-bass, techno, funk and house all at the same time. There’s no arguing that Bundick doesn’t keep busy.
“When I’m home, I’m just, like, working all the time. I’m kind of trying to work a little less so I can have my sanity still; I tend to just work too much and not really give myself any time to relax,” he says. “I’m just obsessed with what I do.”
Part of why Bundick transitions into the next project so quickly, one might guess, is because he’s very much aware of the overwhelming abundance of other music. He doesn’t seem bothered by that, necessarily, but believes it affects how his own work is received.
“It’s kind of hard to tell right now. It’s usually maybe after a year or so after the record’s been out when I can get an idea of how the record’s been doing. Now, there’s so much music coming out at such a fast rate, it’s hard to get an idea – it’s hard to get around to listening to a record,” he says. “It’s not usually until a year later when you can see, like, ‘Okay, that record did kind of well.’ Not just because of numbers or statistics or anything, but just because there’s so much to listen to nowadays, and it takes a while for people to get to listen to it.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s overly concerned with what anyone thinks, though. After all, he is a self-admitted Kanye West supporter. He confirms this when I mention the use of one of West’s notorious rants – “I am Warhol, I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh. Walt Disney, Nike, Google.” – in his bio on Twitter.
“Yeah, I’m pro-Kanye. I do think he’s outlandish at times, but I definitely do believe that you can do whatever you want, and you can achieve whatever types of goals there are if you apply yourself. I don’t think he has any tact, necessarily, but that quote is kind of so ridiculous I believe it,” he laughs.
Maybe he supports West ironically? It’s always befuddling when anyone sides with the guy, but doing so does well to prove Bundick isn’t narcissistic about his work.
“I’m always just going to be into my newest stuff…Once I make a record, I really don’t go back and listen to it,” he clarifies. “I kind of just let it go, because I’ve had it for a long time myself. I’ll be listening to these songs for two years before other people hear them, so I’m pretty used to them and I’m just ready to get them out there so other people can enjoy them. Like that stuff on the mixtape – I’ve had that stuff for years now.”
Or does siding with West mean he shares some qualities? Does West also leave his previous works behind in favor of the next project? Or does he champion them indefinitely?
Bundick, at least, is no egomaniac. Toro Y Moi is known as a solo project, and Bundick formed a live band around it about four years ago – and he actually enjoys collaborating.
“It’s not really hard for me to work with other people or anything,” he says. “It’s more just trying to manage it all, and trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page mentally, sonically. I’m just trying to make sure we’re a cohesive band…That’s more of the challenging part, trying to make it be a band as opposed to just a solo project, more than anything.”
He will be tied up with shows nearly every night through the end of October, but once Bundick’s back in his home studio, virtually anything could become his next endeavor. Company Records will undoubtedly get its fair share of attention, but he’s also delved in design: Last April, he crafted a label and corresponding mix as part of an artist series for some stylish wine brand. One potential project Bundick is actively avoiding, however, is another Toro Y Moi album – for now, at least.
“I just hit the restart button, so to speak, so I don’t really have any ideas right now. I want to focus more on my design work and working on the record label. And focusing on finding some bands that I can produce and working on, just collaborating right now,” he says. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I feel like if I don’t start doing it now, I’ll start focusing on the next Toro album and I won’t get a chance to produce some bands. It’s my next focus, to do those types of things, sort of like side-project type things.”
Bundick has also voiced interest in scoring a film. Nobody’s approached him yet, he says, but it’s not hard to imagine that eventually – especially considering he’s talked about it publicly – someone will.
“I’m up for it. Any kind of movie, just because it could be a challenge, whether it’s a rom-com or a horror-thriller. I don’t really have any set ideas, I’d rather just be open to any idea,” he says.
A rom-com, though?
“Totally, yeah. I mean, like, it’s gotta have the right aesthetic and taste, but I wouldn’t score Along Came Polly or something,” he clarifies. “But I would score something similar to a Wes Anderson type rom-com. As long as it has the right aesthetic, I feel like I would be down to score whatever it is.”
There it is again. Is Bundick the king of the hipsters? Does he even fucking care? Probably not.
Photo by Andrew Paynter.