Exclusive: Toro Y Moi Change their Sound but Keep the Love

I first heard Toro Y Moi, spearheaded by Chaz Bundick, in 2010 with the release of the debut album Causers of This. Like most people, I was captivated by the fresh electronic beats, silky voice, and nostalgically Summer-esque lyrics. With two albums following that, Underneath The Pine and Anything Return, Toro Y Moi established themselves as a band that knew what it was doing, and they were doing it damn well.

Proof of this is the release of their fourth album, What For?, which marks a departure from their electronic sound and ventures into more instrumental territory, while still retaining the essence of Toro Y Moi: fresh sounds, moving lyrics, and elegant levels of production. Having just played Coachella, the band now embarks on another international tour. Milk Made’s Ana Velasco talked to Chaz about their new music, the importance of love, and the poetics of lyrics.

The new album is different from your three past albums. It seems to leave the electronic portion for a more instrument heavy sound. It sounds very old-school California rock and roll. So what was the intention with the album?

I’m always trying to see where I can go with music and the sonics, and I guess this is something that I had been trying to do for a while, trying to do a live recorded album with other musicians involved and with guitars. So I kind of just wanted to find a good segue way to go into that instead of going immediately in a different direction. I wanted to do a subtle change.

Would you say your albums are continuations of each other or is every project kind of its own independent idea?

I’d say for the most part my albums are separate and their own thing. But it’s hard because all the albums are influenced by the same kind of music that I listen to, whether it be from the past or it’s contemporary. It’s fun to see how they all end up.

Your lyrics are one of the things that make all the albums really put together and really work with each other. They’re very personal and very honest. How much of your music is based from personal experience and how much is fictionalized?

I’d say about 90% of it is me. There are a couple of songs here and there that it’s fun to write about an imaginative scenario, but I feel like, what else am I gonna write about? I’m not a poet and I’m not a writer, you know, I don’t know the key things to being a decent writer. I’ve always just wrote about stuff that’s happening in my life, and the magical part is that there’s someone out there who is probably gonna relate to it and that’s the best part, really – that somebody appreciates what you’re doing.

I think definitely that’s been a huge part of the appeal with Toro – the relatability of these break up songs and very emotional songs, so I think that really comes across. What’s your favorite part about making an album? Is it writing the lyrics, or recording, or touring?

Hmm, I guess the writing for sure. That’s definitely my favorite part, is making the music. And the next would be performing it. I guess, though, that the hardest part is probably the lyrics, maybe because I dwell on them for too long. Maybe they become what they are, but I try to avoid the occasional cliché.

It’s easy to be unaware of something that’s cheesy, so I try to push myself to notice little phrases and stuff that sound redundant and try not to do it. It’s so hard because most of my songs are about the same, which is love, so it’s like, how many times can you sing about that? But that’s my favorite subject.

Yeah, we’ve been talking about love since humans first existed. We don’t get tired of talking about love.

It’s kind of the underlying element of everything that humans have created.

Is it harder, then, to write lyrics than it is to write music?

Yeah, for me, for the most part, writing lyrics is a touchy subject just because I know people are gonna listen to the lyrics. You know, people might not listen to a certain synth part or a drum thing, but people will most likely be like, ‘what did he just say?’ I try not to pay too much attention because I try not to dwell on things too long but I do like to sort of make sure that it’s substantial.

You have all of these other side projects, like Les Sins, where you explore different aspects of music while still retaining the aspect of you. How is it different to create music for the side projects than it is for Toro?

It’s definitely different. With Toro I’m focusing on songwriting and with Les Sins and other side projects it’s pure experimental, trying to find the right, I guess, landing spot for whatever genre I’m going for. With Les Sins I know I wanna make dance music, but what kind of dance music or what kind of production? So it’s open ended when it comes to the side projects. It’s the old purpose of starting a side project.

You’re on the brink of another international tour. What are your 3 favorite places you’ve gotten to play so far?

London was really awesome. We just played there a couple of weeks ago, and it’s really good, it’s a really upbeat crowd. It’s so cool to see a crowd like that overseas just because it reminds me of home. Which brings me to another city, which is El Paso. And South Carolina is definitely one of the top shows. They have the home team advantage, but it’s kind of different because there’s kids there who are at the shows who are younger than me, and you know exactly where they are because I was standing in that audience ten years ago, waiting for a band to come to South Carolina. It’s nice, it’s inspiring.

And speaking of South Carolina, are you still influenced by it or are you more influenced by California?

Wherever I’m living is always sort of going to have a slight influence on my sound whether it be what I’m listening to or how I record something. I kind of feel like a lot of my musical influences is definitely due to me searching the internet or sifting through record shops. I guess you could say some cities have better record shops or better internet connection. It’s both yes and no.

What were some of your favorite bands or favorite musicians that you would listen to while growing up?

In high school I was listening to a lot of Pixies and Weezer and At The Drive-In. Just getting into that indie world was exciting. I remember the first time finding out about Saddle Creek when I was a sophomore in high school and sort of nerding out on that entire label. That kind of went on to sort of go deeper into the indie world and finding more obscure record labels and I ended up finding all these labels that are strictly dedicated to reissues and that’s fun too. My musical taste is kind of just all over the place.

What were you listening to making this album? Was there a particular song on repeat?

I found myself listening to lots of Tim Maia. I had some of his stuff for a while but my drummer Andy gave me a vinyl for Christmas in 2013 and I really listened to it all the time. It had a good message and it had some amazing tones on it. I like to focus on the underdogs of the music world, you know like the Arthur Russells or the Tim Maias or the Todd Rundgrens, more because their music is better.

The music that’s underground is better because it’s a little bit less accessible, and I sort of enjoy the challenge, and that’s something that I try to do with my music too, is challenge the listener. I feel like that’s an important part of creating music. Some musicians sometimes forget to challenge the listener. That’s why I like to do such drastic changes, is because it’s fun to sort of leave people not know what’s gonna go next and just sort of still roll a few.

The video for ‘Empty Nesters’ is so fun and ideal. What is your favorite part about making music videos?

Is it wrong if I say watching them? (laughs) Making them is a bit stressful but it is fun to watch the finished project.

Final question: what is your go-to karaoke song?

If I were to do karaoke tonight I would do Say It Ain’t So by Weezer. It’s a great drunk karaoke song.

Photos by Andrew Paynter

Buy ‘What For? here

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