When you've started as many musical trends as Toro y Moi, change is essential. The art you fell in love with can become a chore, or a lingering ghost. That's why the artist formerly known as Chaz Bundick is a pioneer of pioneering, a 30-year-old who has already explored more sonic territory than any of his contemporaries.
His latest, Boo Boo, is out today. It's an album that hearkens back to the chillwave sound that made his indie-electronic albums like Underneath The Pine and Anything in Return such seminal works, but dives deeper into the pillowy, smoke-machine world of 808s than ever before.
In a personal statement released before the album, Bundick—who changed his name to Chaz Bear before the album's release—stressed the importance of space on this new album, and cited Frank Ocean, Daft Punk, and Travis Scott as influences. There are long, open grooves of drum and ambient synth, and songs that are devoid of Bear's voice altogether. "I got sick of hearing my own voice," Bear says. "I feel like I’ve said everything that I need to say."
It's also something of a breakup album. Chaz retired to Portland when one relationship ended, and the trauma plays out in the album's lyrics. You can hear Travis Scott's impact on the moody, bittersweet "Windows," but Toro went beyond pop music in revisiting the classic 808 sound.
With Japanese pop and early '80s synth-pop as a guiding light, Boo Boo is a sparse, ruminative album that plumbs emotional depths that fans of Toro y Moi might not have expected after the (excellent) lighthearted folk of What For? and his jazzy collaboration with the Mattson 2. Boo Boo is an album born of darkness—a near-fatal car crash jolted Chaz's priorities as an artist during recording. Still, there's something empowering about the final product. And to hear Chaz Bear tell it, Boo Boo is just the beginning.
Boo Boo was recorded in Portland. What made you land there?
Toro y Moi: I went up there just to sort of just clear my head out after the breakup, then I just stayed there for like a year—rented this house and turned it into this music studio. Sort of just to have my own getaway. It wasn’t secluded or anything, it was in a neighborhood. But I kind of just stayed up there, accessed some things.
I have noticed that all my records have been written in a different location. Most of them are like in East Bay but they're all in different studios and apartments. And so it just made sense to just do another record in a different location.
In that first statement earlier you mentioned the idea of space being so imperative to these songs and I think that’s something that's been a part of your music and your work for a long time, but it's way more pronounced here, especially on songs like "Mirage," "Pavement," and "Embarcadero."
I think one thing that really kick started the whole concept of trying to have more space and ambience is just—I got tired of hearing my own voice, honestly. I was like, "Well I don’t know if this song needs vocals." I feel like I’ve said everything that I need to say.
I THINK ONE THING THAT REALLY KICK STARTED THE WHOLE CONCEPT OF TRYING TO HAVE MORE SPACE AND AMBIENCE IS JUST—I GOT TIRED OF HEARING MY OWN VOICE, HONESTLY.
And I didn't want it to be this giant sad boy album. I’d rather just leave it without vocals and leave the listener to have their own interpretation as opposed to me trying to just push a certain emotion on to it. So for the most part I saw the record as a more optimistic, being okay with how things are vibe. I feel like the record leaves you thinking, "It’s going to be okay."
You had a quote in a Pitchfork interview last year that caught me when I was listening to Boo Boo, where you talked about the "underlying essence" of something, where a chair or a song could just look or sound like it's from a certain time or place. Where you think Boo Boo sounds like it's from?
Most of what I listen to is definitely from the '80s. I listen to a lot of Japanese pop and a lot of music from the '80s too, just because of the explosion of the synthesizer, the ambient type of music that came out then was super progressive.
And it still baffles me now to think about how people were just experimenting with pads, right when that stuff started coming out. It was such a new sound and it's always going sound new, or it's always going to be in its own world I think. That vibe. The sound that you first hear in “Girl Like You” that was a preset that was just one of the sounds. I just played with it throughout the entire album, because it's so beautiful.
A lot of people might call this a return to your earlier work, but there's a different tack you're taking here.
I feel like a lot of the chillwave fans are going to definitely see this as a chillwave album, but honestly it was hard to make a record like this after all the chillwave craze. I was sort of anticipating everyone being on, "Oh he’s going back to his roots," but at the same time I asked myself, "How do I approach this style of music without repeating myself or getting bored with it or making something expected."
You can fall into that rabbit hole on YouTube so easily with things like '80s Japanese funk. There's tons of stuff out there. Just tons, and it's so different too because it started with black R&B-type funk, then it goes to its own interpretation. It just resonates with me because, being half black, half Asian I'm like, this is what's up. This is my calling.
I wanted to ask you about the name change, you're Chaz Bear now right?
Growing up, I always felt my name was funny. But it isn't until you start making a name for yourself and you're stuck. I guess I'm Chaz Bundick forever. That was interesting.
Then I got in this car crash last year, and it was the most terrifying thing that I’ve ever experienced. I was flipped upside down on the highway going 65 miles per hour, and my friend and I rolled off the highway. We landed on our wheels, and we both came out 100% fine. We both had like seatbelt burns and that’s it.
It was horrible, it was really scary. I let go of a lot of things when I saw us flying towards that hill. That was my "fuck it" moment, you know? I'm going to die, I can’t be scared of anything. After the accident I couldn’t find my glasses, so I was like, I'm going to go get Lasik.
I let go of a lot of things when I saw us flying towards that hill. That was my "fuck it" moment, you know? I'm going to die
No regrets? Lasik is awesome?
Oh, I love it. Going back to being Chaz Bundick the guy with the glasses...I got nailed to this image and I felt stuck. The Lasik changed my outlook on how I saw myself and sparked the name change. I didn’t feel like Chaz Bundick.
Lasik Chaz is definitely bringing a different energy to the music videos.
I'm approaching my music career trying to be smart. I do like pop music and I appreciate it, but at the same time pop music has certain criteria. Showing my face—I’m a little more comfortable with that these days. It was obvious early on, especially with the Causers Of This cover being nothing of my face, and then throughout the whole discography it slowly just pulls out and you can see my face more and more. This album is now my entire body.
I wanted to talk about Carpark Records. What’s it been like having an independent partner for so long in this music industry climate?
I talk to Carpark management everyday—they are a small company, based in D.C. I knew going into this that I wanted to have options. To work with an indie label that leaves a lot of options—if you're successful enough, they can just trust you to do whatever you want. So that’s kind of why I’ve always stayed with them. They trust me to do whatever I want.
I don't think going major is necessary. You don’t have to do that to make money or even have a career.
I don't think going major is necessary. You don’t have to do that to make money or even have a career. Even when I got into the music industry, it was somewhat independent. My music got big from me uploading it to a SoundCloud or something—I actually think it was MySpace.
What are you looking forward to the rest of the year?
Yeah, pretty much since I finished the album I’ve been doing visuals nonstop. I have a visual for every song. I’ve just been putting in a lot of my time and energy into just doing videos. There are plenty of videos to come, and there is even going to be a film. It’s really exciting.