How A Near-Death Experience Brought Toro Y Moi Back To His Roots
Out of all the progenitors of chillwave, Chaz Bear, who performs as Toro Y Moi, has done the most to distance himself from the often-maligned micro genre. While compatriots like Washed Out have mined the same seam of woozy synth-pop to visibly diminishing returns, Bear branched out into psychedelic indie and spaced-out jazz rock on solo and collaborative records. On his new album, Boo Boo (out now), he’s ostensibly returning to the hypnagogic sound of his early work, but Bear’s 2017 take on chillwave is a significantly more complex beast. “Windows” sees Bear adopt a Travis Scott-like Auto-Tune croon, while lead single “Girl Like You” is his most straightforward pop song yet. We caught up with Bear to discuss what's in a name, how a near-death experience changed his musical approach, and foot fetishes.
When you announced the album, you also announced your personal name change from Bundick to Bear. What prompted the shift?
It started when I got Lasik surgery, and I felt like I didn't look like Chad Bundick anymore without glasses. So I just changed my name. When I went camping, I realized that the one thing I was afraid of is bears. This is something that scares me, so I just adopted it. I guess going further back, the reason I got Lasik was because I got into a crazy car crash, and I was driving with a friend of mind and we just slipped on the highway, going pretty fast. So a lot of Boo Boo is about that type of coming of age, mixed with trying to overcome certain fears, whether it’s about love or death or career or money. All that stems from just facing death face on.
Did that near-death experience prompt you to return to the chill electronic sound that you initially popularized?
Definitely. There's a pressure from that style, so it's very intentional, I guess. I always knew I could come back to being a solo sort of electronic sound. So when I departed from that, I just decided to follow through with the band and see how far I could see that going, and then when I was ready to switch back to the first stage I did.
You singled out Travis Scott as one of the influences for this record, and tracks like “Windows” certainly aren’t far from his Birds in the Trap-era work. How connected do you feel to the hip-hop sphere?
I feel pretty connected to that world of music. It's funny that the internet sort of helped artists of different calibers and different worlds just feel free to explore and jump genres; I think the internet showed us all different types of people are not just into one lifestyle. People are now becoming more comfortable with just letting that be known.
What parts of your lifestyle attract the most attention online?
Usually when I post pictures of my feet people freak out, so that's a good one.
Did you attract any foot fetish folk?
Yeah, I've attracted some foot fetish people. It’s very interesting to see what people are into. But also I like to post pictures of weird shit I see on public transit. It's funny to see how when people view it through my lenses, it becomes a little bit more artsy, which was not even my intention at the time. I like that it does that to people's brains.
You already have a video out for "Girl Like You” along with the album visual stream. Can we expect any more video content around the project?
Because I'm not touring this record immediately, I'm pretty much going to fuck the internet up with a bunch of visual content until I make my next appearance. I'm going to just keep releasing video content for the rest of the year, maybe a couple things a month. I want to curate my viewers’ or listeners’ experience of who I am.
What prompted you not to tour the record?
I put in a good amount of touring at this point, but at the same time, a lot of this record was just based on making choices based on your own personal help, whatever you think is the most efficient thing for you. I think for me, I just want more time to create, so that's why I'm not touring. I kind of just wanted to do more production work and touring as a solo entity for the time being and not a live act. But I think at the same time people will be more excited that I'm just bunkering down and giving them more stuff. I think that's what people want.
You seem to have gone through a lot of life changes in the making of this record. What else is going on in your life outside of the Toro Y Moi project?
I'm working a lot on painting these days, and that's why I changed my name to Chaz Bear. It is my real name, but it's also going to be my official painting name. I just had a viewing in L.A. actually. I’m going to have a big show in L.A. in January, so that's going to be really fun.