Discovery: Car Seat Headrest

By
Photography Kate Owen

Published October 30, 2015

WILL TOLEDO (CAR SEAT HEADREST) IN NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2015. PHOTOS: KATE OWEN. STYLING: ANDREA CUOMO. GROOMING: NATASHA SMEE FOR EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS MANAGEMENT USING LAURA MERCIER.

Will Toledo played and recorded music while he was growing up in suburban Virginia, but he was too afraid for anyone—family included—to hear. Rather than singing in a shower or muffling his voice with a pillow, however, the now 22-year-old drove to a nearby supercenter parking lot, parked the car, and opened his laptop. It was through this method of music making that Toledo established his moniker Car Seat Headrest. Since 2010, the multi-instrumentalist has independently issued 11 albums, but today marks the release of what is technically a compilation via Matador Records. Titled Teens of Style, the LP features 10 previously released, now re-recorded songs and one new composition.

“At the time that I was originally recording the songs, I don’t think I considered them to be the final versions,” Toledo tells us over the phone from Seattle, where he now lives. “They were just self-recorded and I wanted to do them properly at some point.”

While he garnered a loyal fan base through his Bandcamp releases, Teens of Style gives his low-fi indie rock tracks a stronger presence and recently brought him, with his new bandmates Andrew Katz and Ethan Ives, to New York for the CMJ Music Marathon (during which he played two shows every day). Toledo quickly became one of the most buzzed about artists who played, and although Teens of Style arrives today, listeners already eagerly anticipate the release of Teens of Denial, due out early next year. More than new content, though, fans also await his promise to reissue certain independently released albums in their entireties.

NAME: Will Toledo

AGE: 22

BASED: Seattle

HOMETWON: Leesburg, Virginia

INSTRUMENTS PLAYED: Drums, bass, piano, trombone

TEENS OF STYLE:  These songs are taken from albums that I’m maybe not going to revisit in whole; there are one or two albums that will have some kind of reissue. [The oldest] is “Psst, Teenagers, Take Off Your Clothes,” which is from 2010. The rest of are from 2011 on.

THE SECOND IS THE ORIGINAL: The title Teens of Denial came first and that came from the caption of the photo we’re going to use for that album cover. It was a vintage photo being sold on Ebay and the caption was something about teens of denial. I liked that so I decide to use it. Obviously, Teens of Style came as a play on it. There’s a song on Teens of Denial that uses that phrase, so when I decided to do a preliminary albums of older songs, that’s what I decided to use for the title.

THE PROCESS: Back then [in 2010] I’d just go into the recording program I was using without any plan in mind. I’d just record until I got a song done. That’s why “Teenagers Take Off Your Clothes” is so short. There’s a lot of stuff like that from that time period—kind of just a blip of a song—because I was writing and recording all in one go. My process is a lot more drawn out now. I have little demos, I record of parts of songs, and I have lyric pages that slowly build up. It’s almost the complete opposite in that I never write a song in one go now. I want to take more time and make every part count, so that means waiting to see how it takes shape rather than trying to force it before it’s ready. Now it takes about a year for an album to come together. It comes together in the recording process; there’s nothing that’s finalized until the last moment.

GROWING UP AND BREAKING DOWN: My dad taught me and both my sisters to play piano and it was a routine thing. He always fostered and encouraged us to play music, even though none of us really liked the piano. It was miserable for me because I didn’t know how to read music, so it was very difficult to pick up new pieces. I never mentioned that I didn’t know how, so he didn’t know until much later. Once I broke out in tears after a particularly hard song, it came out [that I couldn’t read music]. He was taken aback because I had gone that long without knowing how. After that I went back and taught myself. It didn’t take too long because I had approximated an idea. It was a lot easier to play piano after that and went on for maybe another year, but then I lost interest for the time being and moved on to guitar.

BEING ALONE: For a while, I didn’t [play many lives shows] because I wasn’t very confident about it. I knew that I never really wanted to do solo performances, maybe not ever. With the material I had for Car Seat Headrest at the time, I knew that I wanted a band backing me. I think that was 50 percent of the issue of not playing many live shows in college—it was hard to keep a lineup with everyone going in and out.

I was mainly concerned with the recording of the albums, which is why there’s such a focus on that in the Car Seat Headrest canon. It wasn’t great live and obviously the band never was either, because we were college students and there were a million other things on top of the concert stuff. We couldn’t tour because we were in school. It took me until the end of college to start seeing some good performances from other bands and coming to understand what a live show is about, what you can do that you can’t do on an album, and to appreciate it as a different art form. Once I got into that mindset, it became a lot easier. Then when I found my bandmates in Seattle it was really quick. Having the backing band boosted my own confidence and years of accidental practice with playing live suddenly leapt forward a level.

THANK YOU, CRAIGSLIST: Andrew I met after a few months here; I finally went on Craigslist. I was trying to avoid it because usually you don’t meet too many good people and it’s a long process, but he was actually one of the first people I contacted. We hit it off instantly. Sort of by coincidence, Ethan was playing at the first show we had. It was a small local show, not even in Seattle; it was in a neighborhood outside of the city. He had a good voice and a lot control with the guitar and I liked the covers that he did, so we started talking afterwards, playing guitar together, and eventually he ended up joining the band.

ONE REPRESENTATIVE SONG: “Bad Role Models, Old Idols Exhumed,” which is the only new composition on the album, was written as a capstone for the whole thing. I did write it more in the old style—writing it very quickly and just getting it off my chest in a few days and that was intentional, going back to that model—but at the same time, lyrically, it’s a lot more developed. That’s just the idea of me looking at my past and everyone else looking at my past; it’s the mixture of pride and shame that comes with that, and ultimately, the idea that things are so different now, it almost doesn’t matter how I feel about it because it’s said and done.

TEENS OF STYLE IS OUT TODAY, OCTOBER 30 VIA MATADOR. FOR MORE ON CAR SEAT HEADREST, VISIT HIS BANDCAMP.