By Eric Isom
In the midst of another tour and fresh off the release of a gorgeous music video for “Half Dome,” Chaz Bundick—better known as Toro y Moi—has turned a hobby into a formidable career. After starting as an at-home producer making sounds from his bedroom, Chaz’s musical history spans five studio albums and a die-hard fan base.
The continued success of Toro y Moi is thanks in part to Chaz’s insatiable musical curiosity. His latest album, What For?, was a compilation of weird, wonderful indie rock—a departure from his early work in synth-pop and the electronic dance gold found on Anything in Return (2013) and Underneath the Pine (2011).
Since then, Toro expanded his tastes with a surprise mixtape. Samantha dropped this past summer and revealed yet another interest: hip-hop. The tape featured verses from Rome Fortune and Kool A.D., and Toro had an excellent guest appearance on Travi$ Scott’s Rodeo. We caught up with the multi-talented producer during his tour to talk about the internet, his childhood soundtrack, and how he’s always finding new ways to make great music.
You once said that you wanted Toro y Moi to become a full band—have you achieved this goal? Is Toro y Moi a band to you?
Yeah, I feel like the live show is a full band, but the records are still just me writing and recording most of the stuff. I’ll have some other musicians come on to record some tracks, like a guitar track or something. I still think it’s the same concept as before, being that it’s just one person doing songwriting and decision-making. But yeah, with touring it’s a full band.
Do you feel a renewed interest in music right now? In 2013 you said you were bored with a lot of what was coming out.
I’ve always been interested in music, it’s just—I’m not bored with electronic or anything, but as a songwriter and producer I was just not interested in doing that style. I already did it with previous albums. That’s not to say that I’m not going to go back, I’m just still curious about other genre palettes. Just trying to find more combinations of sound. It’s constantly evolving.
I hope to be as popular in the hip-hop world as I am in the indie rock world.
On that note—I’ve recently found I can talk about you with my friends who have mainly listened to hip-hop, because now they know you from your work with artists like Rome Fortune, Travi$ Scott, and Tyler, the Creator. Should we be expecting to hear a lot more of you in hip-hop?
I hope to be as popular in the hip-hop world as I am in the indie rock world, or any other music that I like to make. I just try to make good music as much as possible, no matter the genre. If it’s good it’ll spread on its own. I never really appreciated when people try to push their music on you. I like it when it’s just good and it’s there if you want it. That’s how I’m approaching the hip-hop world.
Have your shows been different since you’ve been collaborating with rappers?
Ever since I’ve started touring, there’s always been a pretty even combination of music makers and music listeners at our shows. It’s always been people that are really into the electronic stuff who haven’t experienced live rock bands before, or vice-versa—fans who are heavy into live rock bands and haven’t really experienced live electronic stuff before.
It’s kind of the same demographic today, music makers and music producers, but now there’s a wider range of producers and it’s nice to see things growing horizontally simultaneously with the commercial growth.
That’s the nice thing about the internet, you can dig into any genre. Without even making a purchase, you can come across any artist from any genre.
Yeah, I think that the internet is helping to bring music cultures together. I feel like I am a part of that internet generation, mainly because that’s how I get most of my music. As much as I love record stores, I just travel so much; I’m constantly looking for music so I go to the internet to find it.
But you did start off doing music in your bedroom, which is how the majority of the young artists these days are creating. A lot of them have had a lot of difficulty breaking out of the internet world after their initial success. Do you have any advice for them?
[Laughs] That’s hard to say. Something I’ve always done is just make music for me first. What would I like to hear? What kind of drums do I like? What kinds of genres do I like? Second of all, see what’s already being done, and then go against the grain. Whatever is popular I try to go anti, somehow. Like if things were more atmospheric than I would go opposite, or if things were dry, I would go more atmospheric.
See what’s already being done, and then go against the grain.
It’s kinda hard to really say what to do. Just keep changing, make music for yourself, something that you enjoy, not what you think other people enjoy.
Is that your plan going forward after What For? and the Samantha mixtape?
Yeah. That’s all I try to do.
A lot of people associate great music with heartbreak, and your album Anything In Return is a testament to that. Do you think being married has changed your music?
Life isn’t always going to be 100% your way, so I feel like no matter what is going on in your life, there’s always gonna be some downsides. I know that I personally connect to music about heartbreak or stuff that is more emotional because I have experienced those emotions too, and other music listeners probably would connect to the same things that I have: heartbreak, emotions, etc.
Generally that’s what my songs are about—I write more about the less fortunate times because that’s on my mind constantly. I’m not one to write music about having a good day, that just comes off as disingenuous and unrealistic. It sounds like Maroon 5 or something—like, are you really that happy?
I don’t know, that’s just not my attitude. I’m not that type of person. Who knows, maybe one day. I’ve always appreciated music that’s got a bit more realness to it, specifically sadness or some sort of longing for something. I feel like that’s the reason that Drake has gotten to be where he is. He’s talking about stuff people can actually relate to, like trying to support your family, or trying to be taken seriously. There’s a reason he’s doing better than most rappers right now. I feel like people connect with his lyrics.
That reminds me—back in May, you tweeted “Views.” Then, in the wee hours of the following morning, Drake also tweeted “Views.” Are you on Views From the 6?
[Laughs] No, I wish I was but no I’m not. I haven’t met Drake, but I have snuck into his soundcheck a few years ago. He was soundchecking at this hotel we were staying at in Miami. It was in a convention center, and I was walking by and thinking, “Whoa, that sounds like a concert!” so I walked over and the security guard just lets me walk right in. I guess he thought I was a part of Drake’s crew or something. That’s about as close as I’m gonna get.
What did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to a lot of pop music. A lot of The Beatles. Michael Jackson. Madonna. My dad was more into the rock stuff, he even got me into Weezer. My mom was into the Madonna and Michael Jackson.
How do you feel about pop today?
I feel like Top 40 is always following the trends of the indie world. That’s sort of how that world of music works, so it’s never a surprise to me that they’re just now catching on to something that the blogs have been familiar with for a year or two already. My opinion of pop music is pretty neutral, it’s never going to be ahead of its time. I don’t think pop music is ever gonna blow my mind. It’s a different experience. I guess my opinion of it is just that it’s pop music, it’s good at what it does, even if what it does is not good. It’s made to sell.