Give Chaz Bundick credit. Even though he almost singlehandedly brought chillwave to the mainstream forefront in 2009, the South Carolina native has worked as hard as possible since then to distance himself from such a constricting categorization. There was 2013’s Anything in Return, a tour de force of neon-lit dance tunes that drowned out the scrambled, sun-fried bedroom psychedelia of his previous two albums, Causers of This and Underneath the Pines.
Then, after telling the world in 2014 that he was burned out and exhausted on the spin cycle of indie stardom, he threw everyone a major curveball with the one-two punch of Michael — a full Euro-house embrace released under the pseudonym Les Sins — and What For?, which ditched Toro Y Moi’s kaleidoscopic electro vibe in favor of an earthy blend of power pop and indie rock. Last month, Bundick surprised us again by dropping the free mixtape Samantha, which spotlighted his beat-driven expertise and featured collaborations from hot young MCs Kool A.D. and Rome Fortune.
But, as Bundick tells Folio Weekly, such diversification is simply a way of life. “I’ve always tried to change things up just for my own interest, or to not get bored with playing guitar, programming, or sampling. I like to do what isn’t popular at the time; even before Toro really took off, I was going back and forth between electronic stuff and folkie guitar stuff. I have hundreds of recordings sitting around — everything from weird electronica to Elliott Smith-type stuff.” (Sadly, even though Underneath the Pines was a collection of early demos, Bundick says he doesn’t plan on re-recording or releasing any other archival material right now).
So cut the man some slack if he admits to needing a creative break for the time being. But surprise, surprise — he’s only doing so in order to concentrate on touring with his current five-piece iteration of Toro Y Moi and running his label, Company Records. Working on Company’s visual aesthetic — everything from website design to vinyl covers to T-shirts and prints — has also allowed Bundick to reconnect with his artistic inclinations. Toro Y Moi only got big because a few bedroom recordings that he made — after getting laid off from a graphic design job — were picked up by prominent bloggers. For years he’s expressed a desire to do music as a hobby and art as a job. “Working on the label is a nice way to take a break,” he says. “And art is still my biggest passion, whether it’s drawing or photography. Right now, I’m just trying to be behind the scenes for a second and get my thoughts together.”
During our conversation, the preternaturally quiet and reserved Bundick kept many of those thoughts quiet. As expected, he did cop to being restless in his musical interests — Taylor Swift, Tyler, The Creator, classic country, jazz duo The Mattson 2, which he’s currently recording for Company — and self-deprecating to a fault: “It’s easy to succumb to an overly inflated ego,” he says in response to a question about his perceived level of success. “You can end up as some caricature of yourself if you’re not careful. It’s really important to keep perspective about everything; I’m happy as long as I focus on making music and not ‘fame’ or lack thereof.”
Bundick did open up about his appreciation for Sunshine State crowds, citing his first tour through the state with EAR PWR in 2009. “When I started touring, I tried to play Florida a lot because I feel like they don’t get as many shows as other states,” he says. “But I totally understood that because, growing up, bands would skip South Carolina all the time. So when we do tour in Florida now — especially cities like Jacksonville and Orlando that have a totally different vibe than Miami — it’s nice, because we know people at the show are really waiting for some music.”
And how about his relocation to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he moved several years ago so his girlfriend could pursue a PhD degree in environmental engineering? Chaz Bundick lets out a barely inaudible sound that I interpret to be half-chuckle and half-sigh. “There’s no water out here, so that’s kind of a downside,” he says. “But it is nice. It’s a different vibe — a different state of mind.” Does he miss the heat and humidity of his native South Carolina, though? Or was he happy to leave the conservative, often-homogenous South (Bundick’s mother is Filipino and his father is African-American)? Another slight laugh, another quiet breath. “Things are a little more liberal out west, in a nice kind of understood way. I really enjoy it.”