Toro y Moi Trades Chillwave For Pop and House
Artist and producer Chaz Bundick, better known by his bilingual stage name Toro y Moi, is usually cited as a key figure in the chillwave movement. That’s debatable, however—not because Toro y Moi’s music didn’t fit the bill, or because Bundick didn’t do a damn fine job making it, but rather due to the fact that chillwave seems to be one of those terms bestowed upon us by music critics with a smattering of similar releases on their hands (in this case gauzy, relatively mellow electronic music with a noticeable ’80s bent) and column inches to fill. Whatever imaginary box Bundick was placed in, though, he took a bold step out of it with this year’s Anything in Return, an ambitious release seemingly eager to prove Toro y Moi as not only dance-floor ready, but radio friendly.
“It’s actually the first album I’ve done totally in a full studio,” says Bundick. “And we were really trying to go for a Top 40 sound, or something like it, trying to make a big, pop-sounding album.” Plenty of musicians have found themselves in an expensive studio and decided to indulge in some slickness, but in this case it was the other way around, with Bundick knowing exactly what he wanted. “I already knew that I wanted to get into some of the pop stuff, but in order to really achieve that sonic quality, you need to bring it to a studio,” he explains. “It was something I wanted to try out. I’ve referenced obscure stuff before, but I don’t feel like doing that every time. Sometimes it’s cool to do stuff that is accessible, not trying to make anything that challenging.”
As contemporary and polished as Anything in Return feels at times, as much as it courts airplay and sales numbers (even taking #1 on the Billboard dance charts), there’s a heavy, ingratiating dose of classic house vibes running through it, a credible four-on-the-floor heartbeat that keeps it moving through its 52 minutes. “It’s very pop oriented, but I still wanted some production stuff that referenced back to early ’90s house. I guess to some people that could be obscure, but it’s not even that old of a genre,” he says, also citing some of the genre’s newer artists as inspirations. “In fact, it’s more just deep house in general. I’m a big fan of a lot of contemporary people like Joy Orbison and Motor City Drum Ensemble, even some of Caribou’s dancier stuff. Four Tet was a big influence as well.”
The music might be born in the studio, but with the album out it’s time to hit the road, as Bundick has been doing with a passion, pounding the pavement much of this year, with consistent dates lined up well into 2014. That amount of travelling is rough on anyone, but Bundick puts all the tour downtime to good use, working on design projects for Vans sneakers and Alien Workshop skateboards as well as his own merch and gallery shows. “Sometimes we’re on the road a little longer than I’m really hoping to, but that’s just part of it,” he explains, “On tour I do a lot more design stuff, since I can’t really work on music on the road. I’m not really in the right mind for it, but I can’t wait to start making more music when I get home.”
Though life on the road doesn’t offer too many creature comforts, Bundick enjoys performing for people, and the audiences’ warm receptions even though the sound of Toro y Moi live, as Bundick himself points out, is rather distinct from its prerecorded counterpart. “The live version of these songs is pretty different, it’s a five-piece sound so there’s going to be a lot more live, organic instrumentation as opposed to samples and electronics and drum machines and stuff,” says Bundick, “It’s definitely a full-blown live show, much more of a psychedelic, full-band arrangement as opposed to the R&B kind of thing, and it’s been going really well.” That level of creativity and engagement in Bundick’s stage show, and indeed much of Anything in Return’s somewhat unexpected move towards an unapologetically pop sensibility, is why buzzwords like “chillwave” don’t stay in use very long.
Toro y Moi headlines Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, Nov. 1, with opener Classixx. Doors open at 8 p.m.