Editor’s note: For the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we are calling “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!
As we enter a new decade, the genres we once knew are gone or gasping for air amongst particular niche crowds. They’ve become fragmented beyond recognition or dragged back up from the dustbin of time, muddled and bedazzled with a fresh face of optimism. Whichever nomenclature you prefer—be it “glo-fi” or “chillwave” or “hypnagogic”—the lush dreamy electronic-based pop created by such like-minded artists as Washed Out, Neon Indian and Memory Tapes is imbued with a sense of nostalgia—even when the artists themselves are unsure exactly what that nostalgia sounds like. As a result of pre-programming the future by telescoping the past from the farthest point on the spectrum, those half-remembrances, conjured up with drowsy synths, thrift-store beats, virtual studios and eight-bit atmospherics, are pure mirage, with the colors obscured and switched, the tempos chopped and screwed, the neon and plastics prismatic and melting, but the feeling still intact. And it’s the feeling that matters most.
As Toro Y Moi, South Carolina native Chaz Bundick wholly comprehends and respects the material with which he’s dealing. Regardless of whether or not the virally proliferated, internet-imagined world of glo-fi is a fad, the leaking of “Blessa,” his first single of echoed and warped gauze-folk, is what got the ball rolling. Though Bundick is comfortable being crammed into the same paragraphs as his contemporaries, even a cursory listen to his debut album, Causers of This, reveals that he’s a world apart. The record is not just looped Casios and Sega Master System rainbows on repeat. Deep in the grooves you can hear Bundick finger-picking out acoustic melancholy or trilling piano riffs a few feet above everything else; the layers and trails that abound are mesmerizing. Throughout Causers of This, Bundick displays his fascination with a universe of musical styles and tropes inspired by his parents and his youth and not just those which have become the latest sampling fodder. The entire record feels like an animatronic boat ride through a soothing miasma of decades past: pastoral folk from the ’70s; new romanticism and scribbled street funk of the ’80s; intelligent dance and indifferent indie rock in the ’90s; and ending with the trial and error of artists trying to bundle all those energies together in the ’00s. Trevor Horn would have a field day with this kid.
I recently had the chance to speak to Bundick as he was finishing recording the follow-up to his debut. He hinted that his second album, to be released in quick succession after Causers of This, will focus on his rockist side, as might his upcoming tour, which will feature a live band.
I’ve been reading a lot about your time playing with Earnest Greene (of Washed Out) in the group Life Partners, but haven’t heard any of the music you made together. Was the stuff you guys were doing similar to what you’re both doing now?
Chaz Bundick: It was in the same style using computers and songwriting that was sample-based. It wasn’t polished and refined, but more of a rough idea. I was happy to finally meet someone who shared an interest in the same music I did, and someone who had the same ideas about how to write songs.
Is it a record that you guys plan to release at some point?
CB: We’ve talked about it quite a few times, but things got so hectic and picked up so fast that we haven’t had time to go back to it. We’re definitely planning on making more together.
Does it bother you at all that certain websites have grasped onto this idea of “glo-fi” or “chillwave” and included you in that invented genre? Have there been benefits from that?
CB: A lot of people hear your music once people start to talk about it in these terms. It’s really fine with me. I don’t really see a downside to it. Of course, I’m not one who can say that’s wrong. As long as people like what they’re hearing, I’m fine. Then again, I’m not one to please everyone. So now I’m fortunate that people like what I like doing. As far as Earnest and me, we were sharing ideas a long time ago. We have a bond where we’re feeding off each other. We’re tight like that.
There is definitely a similar aesthetic to yourself, Washed Out, Neon Indian, and Memory Tapes. What do you think that you do with your music that differentiates yourself from those others?
CB: I’ve tried my hardest to jump out of the whole lo-fi aesthetic. I love the way all of that sounds, but given the fact that my album is the last to come out, after those three that you mentioned, I wanted it to stand out and make it as polished as possible. I didn’t record it at home and have no experience in recording. I tried my best not to make it lo-fi. That’s one thing. And I like R&B and mainstream music, so I tried to include as many different influences from R&B to modern day producers like Timbaland.
A lot of people talk about nostalgia when they hear Causers of This, but being 23 you logistically didn’t grow up as a child of ’80s, with Heaven 17 and OMD records. So I’m curious to know, if it is nostalgia for you, what do feel you are channeling the most?
CB: There’s a little bit of irony in it, but I love those styles and production qualities. It starts off as one thing and kind of morphs into its own thing, though I’m completely devoted to that sound. “Causers of This,” the song, started off as something that sounded like ’90s French house, but became its own thing. I took that idea and then pushed it. That’s not my favorite type of music, but I love what that time period had going for it.
Do you feel like there’s something lost in the immediacy of finding music on the internet and then putting it together with computers? What are the positives of doing it this way?
CB: The times are changing, and that’s probably the best way to find the best rare stuff. The stuff on the internet is the best because it’s all been sorted through and uploaded. It would be great to go back to a time where you go digging through old records, but there isn’t any less integrity in a song made with computers instead. It’s just the way things are going these days.
I’ve heard a lot of other songs not on Causers of This in various places on the web. One song I love in particular is “New Loved Ones,” which is basically you with an acoustic guitar. I know you have a second album coming in 2010. Is this going to be more guitar-based, more live and raw?
CB: That song’s actually on the next album, and that album will definitely have more of that feel. There are a lot of things going through my head. For this next album, I’ve already changed my mind one or two times about how I want it to sound. I want it to have more of a ’70s vibe, with shorter songs and a more cohesive feel.
Do you think that it’s important for people to realize that you aren’t just pushing buttons and matching samples all the time, and that a lot of your music is based around composing on guitar and piano?
CB: It’s not the most important thing to me, but it’s great for people to know that I’m more concerned with being seen as a good songwriter and not just as someone who makes beats. I’m really new to electronic music; I just started using computers about four or five years ago. That’s one reason I’m releasing two albums as my debut. I want to introduce myself to people, showing them everything I like to do. I don’t want to release my second record a year down the road and have people be confused because I made a rock record. I want to show right away that I like making all types of music. So I think it’s good to come out like this and set my ground.