As Toro Y Moi, Chaz Bundick escapes the chillwave tag by making music that is abundantly poppy, reflective, and nuanced. We caught up with him at Lollapalooza to discuss growing up biracial, making a better name for chillwave, and why it’s hard to be a hermit.
In an interview I read, you mentioned growing up half-Asian and — you thought this was a very un-PC thing to say — you talked about having to decide whether or not to “go white” or to “go black.” I’m half-Asian, so I thought that was interesting.
Did you do that to, in school, like ‘what table do I sit at?’.
I defaulted to white because of how pale I am. I was wondering if you could talk about that experience growing up?
I ended up hanging out with the skater/outsider kids. Some of those kids were kids of color. I had black friends but they weren’t necessarily the kids that here into hip hop music and stuff. I’m pretty comfortable talking about that stuff, as it’s pretty obvious what I’m talking about. I’m into what, I guess, black people are into and what white people are into. It doesn’t really bother me to talk about those stereotypes or anything. It was just an awkward moment for me growing up. I would get made fun of because I didn’t act black or I didn’t act Asian or something.
It’s a pretty normal thing now, partially because the internet has made cultural things spread and web things together. Now, there are a lot of people who listen to R&B, that listen to a lot of country, rock, everything.
Speaking about the way the Internet has opened things up, do you feel boxed in by the whole chillwave thing?
No, never. When I was making Causers of This, I was influenced by a lot of things. Now I want to focus on — say, like, it was influenced by shoegaze and R&B. So for one album I would like to focus on the instruments, and then the next album I want to focus on the R&B aspects.
Can you come up with a better genre name than chillwave?
[laughs] I don’t know, how about “new pop”?
Fair enough. I wanted to know: What’s the bull in your name referring to? [NOTE: “Toro Y Moi” translates to “The bull and me.”
The bullshit, I guess? I don’t know. I think it just sort of came to me randomly. The name is really just a nonsense name I made up when I was 15 and I didn’t want “the” in my band name. It was just me, so it didn’t make sense to have ‘the’ in the band name to begin with.
You grew up in South Carolina. Do you still live there now?
I live in Berkeley, California.
What are the differences between now and when you started the band?
I live with my girlfriend and sort of have a more adult lifestyle out there because I’m away from friends and family. I started to take care of myself. That personal part is nice. What’s also is nice is that there are more facilities and resources out there when you are in a big city and the weather is nicer.
You studied graphic design in college. When did you realize you were trying to move away from that to music?
It wasn’t really just like “I just want to do music right now.” I was focusing on my degree in design and I was still doing music as a hobby. But then music just got picked up and I had to go with that, because it’s not something you can pass up. It was kind of a risk, being that I started playing solo and touring by myself was feasible at the time. I just decided “This is what I want to do.”
Do you have any more collaborations with Odd Future coming up?
No not really. I’ve been talking to those guys for a while. We are going to try to get some stuff done in the studio. Nothing is really done yet.
Is there something about you that our readers wouldn’t know?
I’m not much of a partier. I’m a hermit.
Really? Is it hard to be a hermit?
That should be the title of my autobiography: It’s Hard Being A Hermit. Uh, no. It’s pretty fun being a hermit. I’ll go see shows if my friends are playing and stuff. I don’t really go to bars, not a big fan of bars. I’m just a big fan of making music, it’s weird.
You trying to catch any bands today?
Probably just At the Drive-In.
Were you into them when they were still together?
Oh, yeah. I was hugely influenced by them. Them and Weezer and the Pixies.
Have you ever thought of doing your math rock album?
Yeah, if I ever did a real like Weezer-esque rock album, Pavement-style or something like that, I would probably do it under a different name. I love making guitar music. Unfortunately, guitar music is not as in the spotlight anymore. It’s all electronic.
I wonder why that is…
I don’t know. Probably because it’s 2012: the year of the future. Guitars are so 2010. I like a lot of guitar music from Yuck, Real Estate. There’s a lot of good guitar music, it’s just not as popular.
It’s all cyclical, right?