Back Issue__ Toro Y Moi
Artist and producer Toro Y Moi transforms before our very eyes
Photos: Courtney Vokey
It’s easy to get a little flustered around Chaz Bundick, aka Toro Y Moi. He’s soft-spoken and sincere with the charm of a kitten waking up from a nap. On stage, it’s another story. The lights go up and he puts on a high energy show with a full band in front of an audience ready to dance. Behind his keyboard, as Toro Y Moi, it’s hard to believe that this is the same guy.
“That’s the weirdest part,” he said. “You make all this stuff on your own and then you’re playing it to sometimes thousands of people.” From Honolulu to Luxembourg, Chaz has played over 150 shows since the release of his debut album, Causers of This, in January of 2010. In that time he’s also released a second album, an EP, a handful of remixes and a couple more albums under the side projects Les Sins and Sides of Chaz. His music has largely been categorized as “chillwave” but make no mistake, a lot of hard work goes into these ultra-relaxed beats.
The rise of chillwave, as a defined genre, goes back to the summer of 2010 when music bloggers began to notice a trend among new artists like Washed Out, Neon Indian, Memory Tapes and Toro Y Moi. The sound was 80s-inspired lo-fi synthpop with simple, repetitive melodies. In his breakout single “Blessa,” Chaz sings: “Come home in the summer/Live a life that you miss/It’s alright, I’ll fill you in.” In the background, the music warbles like an old record being played underwater. For hot and hazy summer days, tracks from these new chillwave artists made up the perfect soundtrack.
Summer ended but Toro Y Moi didn’t. In February of 2011, he released Underneath the Pine and the enviable reviews rolled in. It was everything we loved about chillwave but with an unexpected dose of funk. Tracks like “Still Sound” and “New Beat” are groovy and who can even remember the last time there was a sincere occasion for the word “groovy”?
“I feel like nowadays a lot of artists have a schtick,” he explained. “You have to find your own thing if you like straight up good music, nothing bland, something fresh.” When Chaz talks about his music, the word “fresh” comes up a lot. His favorite to play live is whatever is most recent. He’s definitely not the kind of artist that rests on his initial success. He acknowledges all the positive critical reception is nice but in the end, he doesn’t make the music for the reviews.
His latest EP, Freaking Out, “is different from a lot of things I’ve done—super poppy, higher mix.” If it doesn’t fit the chillwave genre, Chaz could care less. “I don’t know what people are going to call it. That doesn’t hold me back at all.”
People called it good. Really good. It’s almost as if Toro Y Moi can do no wrong. The formula seems to be fairly straight forward. In his words, “It’s good to keep working, keep pushing.” In the concrete sense, he pushes himself to keep producing material, touring and giving interviews. In the more abstract sense, he breaks the creative threshold of ordinary and looks for the extraordinary.
“I don’t listen to hip hop to make hip hop beats,” he said. “It’s not like that.” Instead, Chaz cites obscure and under the radar films as inspiration. The way a film soundtrack shapes the scene and affects the audience’s emotions interests him. When he expresses his interest in scoring a movie one day, the music video for “How I Know” instantly comes to mind. Actually, Toro Y Moi has an impressive selection of music videos, from “Still Sound,” which was shot on Super 8 film in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina to “Low Shoulder,” which stars 60s It-Girl Daphne Sherman.
Chaz Bundick goes by Toro Y Moi because he thought that using his name made him sound like a singer-songwriter and “singing and songwriting is not just what I’m doing—I do more than that.”