The music industry is a placed filled with overinflated egos, exorbitant amounts of fraudulent relationships, and in general, it isn’t as liberating, broad-minded and progressive as perceived by outsiders to be. It’s a place that can turn good people insane, transform musicians to actors, and crush the dreams of up-and-coming artists who have an authentic interest in the artform. Fortunately, Toro y Moi tries to avoid all that extra stuff. Why? Because Chazwick Bundick is one of those rare guys who have a genuine passion for music as well as the talent and levelheadedness to achieve organic success without having to spend all his time and energy worrying about that.
During the Hong Kong stop of his ‘What For?’ China tour, we met to speak with the genius behind Toro and Les Sins at Hidden Agenda to learn about him, his music and his influences. The 29-year-old Berkeley resident revealed how he’s able to consistently cook up fresh ideas, how his desire to make records stems from boredom rather than a thirst for recognition and how he tunes out all the unnecessary evils of the industry. On top of describing what he feels are the most important elements in music and how perfectionism can be harmful to an artist, Bundick shared his experience working with Travi$ Scott, his friendship with Lil B and the impact the late David Bowie had on his work.
What’s the most memorable moment of 2015?
The most memorable moment was finishing my record — that was a big deal. It’s a nice feeling to have a record come out because you spend so much time on it.
When you make music, is it a process you take time to plan in advance or does it come to you instantly?
I’m always trying to come up with new ideas and figure out what I’m going to do next. It’s kind of instantaneous because I’m already always just thinking of ideas all the time. But then also, it becomes kind of a well thought out thing, because I’ve been thinking a lot about it as well.
You been known to like to work alone. Is it difficult to collaborate with other artists?
Oh no; it’s super easy to work with other people, whether it’d be another musician, producer or singer. It’s fun! But when it comes to doing Toro y Moi stuff, I like to keep it as a solo project just because I enjoy doing it by myself.
Do you take care of the mixing and mastering too?
I take care of everything from the engineering to the mixing. Every once in a while I’ll try to get another set of ears on my music because most of the time I’m already tired of listening to it when it’s ready to come out.
Would you say you’re a perfectionist?
No, not really. That’s one of the thing that annoys me with music sometimes is when people spend too much time on it to try to make it perfect and it just loses character. That’s what I try not to do. I try to let it be what it is and let it flow out however it does.
How does your degree in graphic design play into your music?
I pay a little more attention to the aesthetic of the band, to the consistency and themes, and learning how to hone my craft. That’s kind of the main thing I took from school.
Is it a natural process or do you use guidelines and theories that school teaches you?
Well, school’s the place where they teach you the rules in order to help you, then they send you off. You know the saying, “you can break the rules once you learn the rules” – it’s that kind of thing.
A lot of musicians look for recognition. Is that something that drives you?
No, recognition is just a side product of it. I don’t really care for that. If anything, I’m making music out of boredom. It’s like, what else am I going to do? (Laughs) I want to make stuff and inspire people to push their mind to do fun stuff as well. You can play by your own rules, you know?
Melody, harmony, rhythm, tone – what’s the most important element?
I guess rhythm and groove is the most important thing. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to have drums, but when I listen to music I’m just looking for the groove – the way the music swings and the amount of space the song has.
What’s the least important?
I guess tone, if anything. I feel like a lot of people focus on tones sometimes too much but that’s the last thing I care about. Whenever I’m recording a guitar, I have preferences but I don’t really pay too much attention to tone. I know if I want chorus or phaser or distortion; I just pick one. I think my favorite tones are from the ‘70s, so I’m just referencing that and it kind of eliminates a lot of options.
Speaking of ‘70s music, David Bowie recently passed away. Were you inspired by him at all?
He’s one of the first artists from the ‘70s that I got into when I was first getting into music from the past back in high school. I was into him, Sex Pistols, Ramones and stuff like that. I didn’t even have any of his albums, I just had his greatest hits CD. I remember listening to just the first disc because it had more of the ‘70s stuff like Life on Mars. I wasn’t into the second disc until like college – it had “China Girl” and all that ‘80s stuff. He had this really cool sort of Baroque sound to his ‘70s music, I really enjoyed that.
What music are you on and off of right now?
It’s not like I don’t care about that genre anymore, it’s more like I’m just trying to keep it interesting for me. I don’t know if I’m going to make another record like What For? or Causers of This again, because maybe I will. I just don’t want to fall into a routine or template of keep making the same record over and over. Right now I listen to a lot of ‘80s stuff and a lot of ambient music. I’m listening to Gigi Mason a good bit. It’s good stuff.
Any musical contemporaries who impress you?
I like Mac DeMarco, Tame Impala, that kind of stuff.
What’s the experience like working with Travi$ Scott?
I hung out with him once, we did the track “Flying High” on Rodeo – that was just through email though. He’s cool. He’s pretty chill. He’s very busy so it’s hard to get in touch with him. He’s a genuine fan, so it’s pretty cool.
You know Lil B?
Yes, we hang out all the time. We go to Chez Panisse a lot, it’s pretty tight.
Any chance of collaboration?
I don’t know if there’s going to be one any time soon.
What’s your biggest pet peeve in the music industry?
I think something that’s really important is being down to earth. There are a lot of people who become characters once they’re recognized. It’s understandable, but the characters sort of takes over and it consumes you. I try not to do arena tours because just it’s easy for it to get to your head; you can go crazy doing this. I stay away from all the industry hubbub. I’m more of a low-key dude. I stick with my own clique.