Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick Doesn’t Want to Go Shopping
PHOTO BY SAMANTHA BEARDSLEY
Until recently, Toro y Moi was Chaz Bundick’s bedroom project gone fantastically viral. The first wave of attention crested in 2009 with a recommendation by no less than Kanye West’s blog. Then, last year, Carpark Records released Toro y Moi’s debut album, Causers of This, to praise from publications as diverse as NME and The Wall Street Journal. The album’s hazy synth-pop established Bundick as the figurehead of chillwave, the most talked-about indie subgenre since, well, the last one to find its way in to the pages of The New York Times.
With album number two, Bundick transforms Toro y Moi into a band. Together, the quartet expands the day-glo miniaturism of Causers of This into the electric blue skyscape of Underneath the Pine. The scale might have grown larger, but the music remains acutely personal. Bundick’s songs turn the complicated emotions of break-ups and new crushes into alluring sounds.
In anticipation of a Toro y Moi show at the Mercury Lounge tonight, we spoke with Bundick over the phone on a snow-bound day at his home in Columbia, South Carolina.
ANDREW STOUT: Sorry to hear about the snow, Chaz. What did you do yesterday?
CHAZ BUNDICK: I was doing some music.
BUNDICK: Writing. We’re rehearsing later today. It’s going really well. We just added a new member—a guitarist. He’s doing a great job. He’s actually our tour manager.
STOUT: Oh, really? I can’t wait to hear the full band. When people ask me to describe your sound, I’m usually at a loss for words. I’ll just tell them it’s really great pop music and hope they don’t think “oh, like Wilson Phillips, but great.” What do you think of that word, “pop”?
BUNDICK: I think that’s a good description. I like that genre a lot. If I had to pick my favorite it might be that because there are a lot of things that can go under pop. Like R&B can go under pop, but pop can’t go under R&B. It’s the backbone to a lot of genres and songs.
STOUT: It seems great pop music has always abused its own tools. I’m thinking everything from Sun Studios’ reverb to Beatles’ psychedelia to My Bloody Valentine. Do you ever think about that tradition, because it seems to be the one you’ve taken up?
BUNDICK: Yeah, I do. I remember the first time I listened to Loveless [My Bloody Valentine, 1991]. I thought my car speakers were messed up. I thought, what’s wrong? Why can’t I hear anything? It sounded so muffled. But I’ve always been fascinated by how much I can get done with what little I have.
STOUT: Your lyrics are very conversational. Is that something you do on purpose?
BUNDICK: In a way. I don’t think my lyrics go so well when I try to sound poetic. Some people do that really well. If I did that I’d feel like it wouldn’t be genuine. That’d be like “Songwriter Chaz” as opposed to the real me.
STOUT: [laughs] I know what you mean.
BUNDICK: I don’t talk like that. So I’m just doing what I know how to do.
STOUT: I’d like to understand how you broke out as Toro y Moi. When you started sending out mp3s to blogs and labels, did you have any vision or plan as to what would happen?
BUNDICK: I remember I was in a desperate mode because I was about to graduate school. I had a graphic design job but they let me go. So I was working at this bagel shop. And I was like, “Fuck! School’s out and I don’t have a job.” So I set to work on finishing a set of songs. I just started putting them on MySpace. I cleaned up the site—took all the MySpace crap off. I emailed some blogs. I don’t know what I was expecting but when I got on my first blog I was freaking out. And I told my friend Ernest from Washed Out to send some stuff to them. Before that, I thought these blogs were corporations, I didn’t think they were just a couple of people.
STOUT: When Toro y Moi started getting all that play, you were already in several other bands. Did it make things difficult between you and those friends?
BUNDICK: Yeah, a little. At first they were happy for me. But I could tell they were a little down, too, because we worked so hard as a band to build an audience and get press. But that was before the Internet had taken such a big role in the music industry. But the bassist is actually playing with me now and the drummer is actually Washed Out’s drummer. So we’re all in good places right now.
STOUT: Your background is in graphic design, and you do all your own artwork. Tell me how you came up with the packaging for Underneath the Pine.
BUNDICK: I wanted to stick to pastels. Causers of This was bold and dark and I wanted to go the other way. On the inside there are images of the same fruit that’s in my mouth on the cover, the pomelo. Symbolically, I wasn’t thinking anything of it. I just took the picture of the fruit in my mouth and started playing around with it. Then I noticed there was a drip coming down from the pomelo falling in the right spot.
I got the pomelo as a gift for my birthday and I took that picture the day after. And my girlfriend was just like, “What are you doing?” Because she saw me standing at my mirror taking pictures of this plant dripping from my mouth. I was just thinking it would be a cool picture. But I feel like it has some symbolic meaning if you look at it on the record—it’s personal. And, at times, perverted.
STOUT: Care to spell out this symbolism to me?
BUNDICK: Yeah. Well, the closeness of the shot and the image of the fruit in my mouth. I’m, um … er … it’s like I’m eating something. Not, like, female parts, necessarily. But something. There are a lot of things that can be taken out of it. I’d rather leave it up to viewer.
STOUT: One music critic wrote, “Chaz Bundick sounds like the kind of guy you’d trust your girlfriend to go shopping with.” I’m beginning to wonder if that’s accurate.
BUNDICK: [laughs] I mean, I have a girlfriend, and I’m a pretty trustworthy guy. So you could trust me to go shopping but, the thing is—I don’t think I’d want to go shopping.
STOUT: [laughs] So it’s not so much you’d take advantage of my girlfriend but that you’d be bored and surly.
BUNDICK: [laughs] Yeah, I’d be the underage guy sitting on the mall bench.
UNDERNEATH THE PINE WILL BE RELEASED FEBRUARY 22. TORO Y MOI PLAYS MERCURY LOUNGE TONIGHT AND WILL CONTINUE TO TOUR THROUGHOUT FEBRUARY. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR MYSPACE.