Toro y Moi debuted impressively with Causers of This, a first album that proved to be one of 2010's best LPs. The work of South Carolina kid Chaz Bundick, the record rippled with washed-out electronic sonics. His just-as-good follow-up, Underneath the Pine, added a few analogue, live-instrument wrinkles to the Toro sound.
Interview: 25 January 2011
You're still living in Columbia, post-breakout. Are you just a Southerner?
"My music might sound like I'm an outsider, but I'm definitely a Southerner. I love football, I love food, I like being outside. I've been here my whole life. I'm pretty much through and through."
Is that something you really came to realize when traveling the world?
"My whole band is from here, too, and when we're in Europe we'll break out our crazy Southern accents and act like out-of-place tourists. But sometimes we actually just will be out-of-place tourists. One time, we were waiting on the venue to open, and we were out back. And I just picked up a rock and threw it, and we ended up playing a game, like, 'I bet you can't hit the dumpster with this rock!' We all got really into it, before we realized we were just being so Southern. We started laughing at ourselves."
Do you feel misperceived by the world?
"Sometimes. I don't want people to think I'm really into a certain genre of music. That I'm really fashionable. I'm down to Earth; I'm pretty normal, I'm certainly not a wild musician. But sometimes people ask me who my favorite designers are. That's not my area of expertise. I guess I've done some modeling gigs; spur-of-the-moment, last-minute things. A couple of ads. I'm not really used to being at a photo shoot, or around other models. Who were, essentially, at work. I was wide-eyed. 'So this is what it's like to be a model!'"
You dreamed of being a model growing up?
"No, of course not. Making music was always my dream. But, I grew up being told that you needed a real job, you needed back-up plans. That's when art and design came to the forefront of my academic focus. I've been actually thinking that, at some point, I should take a break from music; I don't want it to become my job. Jobs are never fun, for me. I don't want to end up creating an album because I am obligated to. I want to do it at my own pace. If I was forced to do it, it would come out insincere. And probably crap."
So, did you flake on the concept of putting out two albums in one year?
"Well, technically, they've come out in the space of 12 months. I tried to make it in the one year, but there was just too much touring. I missed the deadline by about two weeks."
Did the identity of the LP change along the way?
"Yeah. It started off very folkie, kind of soft. I stopped that five songs in and started over. I felt like there wasn't anything connecting it to the previous album. So, I wanted to re-write it, and incorporate elements of funk and soul and R&B."
Where did the various EPs and singles from the last year come into it?
"The music industry is moving so fast, it's a business move to keep putting things things out, to keep your name out there. But I do have a lot of stuff I'd like to give a proper home to. That 'Leave Everywhere' single was a recording I had from 2006. The Les Sins stuff was one of the dancier productions I was doing a couple of summers ago. I've got a lot of catalog to go back into. I'm looking at releasing maybe two albums from the past."
The segues between tracks were a defining sound on the first LP. Why abandon them on Underneath the Pine?
"I thought it was more appropriate to take a more traditional approach, and make a more straight presentation. I did so many transitions on Causers because it felt like the songs were so different that they needed something to bond them together. So, I used cross-fading and bleeding to make a cohesive album. This time, the old ’60s/’70s theme going on seemed strong enough on its own; all the songs didn't need to be touching, and crossing over."
Where did that theme come from?
"A lot of the influences on this album were things I was just sampling on Causers. Italo disco, jazz, and R&B stuff from the '70s, primarily. I feel like a lot of the people that enjoyed Causers will understand where I'm coming from with this album."
What was the live-band influence on this recording?
"None. I made the whole thing by myself, at my house. I felt like I was not ready to move onto that point, yet. To me, it's still a new project —even though I've been doing it since I was 15— because I'm just getting exposure. I'm not ready to move to a real studio, or with a full band. To incorporate others. There are lyrics and ideas I still want to figure out within myself, and to dish out those ideas onto other people would be too much for me to handle at the moment."
What was it like taking once-personal music out of the bedroom, to your band, then to the world?
"It feels great as a human-being. It feels flattering that it's being accepted and appreciated. But, as a band, it's kind of hard. It was a very fast transition from being a bedroom project to playing festival in Europe. A lot of the songs weren't made with that in mind. The thing I was doing were really close-minded; I was only thinking about listening to it, just me personally, with headphones. I certainly wasn't looking down the road, thinking of having a live band. That was just something I was going to worry about later."
And did it end up being a worry?
"It was a pretty rough transition figuring out how everything was going to work. I feel like with Underneath the Pine it will definitely be a better transition than with Causers."
Is this LP still as confessional as the first?
"Yeah, lyrically I've always stuck with things that effect me, my friends, members of my family. That's probably my favorite/easiest thing to write about. At some point I want to push myself to move on to other subjects, but I've never been much of a poetic writer. I used to try and write like that when I was in other bands, when I was in high-school, and it just ended up sounding insincere and cheesy. Then I tried writing what I was feeling at the moment, without trying to stick to some rhyme scheme or deliver things with an amazing melody, and that was clearly what was needed."