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Escape Velocity

Glo-Fidelity All Stars: Toro Y Moi Interviewed
Ross Pounds , February 23rd, 2010 09:09

23-year-old Chaz Bundick (aka Toro Y Moi) is a man of few words but much reverb, Ross Pounds discovers

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Electroclash. Freak-folk. Grindie. In a decade defined by flash-in-the-pan sub-genres, each with its own leading light sparking brightly before burning out or making a quick getaway, the genuine highpoints were few and far between. The ecstatic disco-funk-punk of The Rapture’s early singles maybe. Boy In Da Corner? Yeah, okay. But Shitdisco? CocoRosie? Psychedelic Horseshit? For every masterpiece, there were a hundred pieces of self-important hipster debris lying prostrate in the gutter, fluttering away in the wind as the hype died down, hiding embarrassed in the corner until the next unlikely trend reared its head. And then there was glo-fi. Arriving apropos of nothing, without the fanfare and A&R frenzy of its more garish, limelight-loving brothers and sisters, it slinked gently onto the scene with a gentle pat on the back from Pitchfork, pushing it blinking out of the blogosphere and into the wider consciousness.

Which is where we find ourselves now. In the bleak midwinter, snow still falling, trees still barren and empty, twigs still snapping crisply under Wellington-clad feet. For the uniniated, it isn’t the season most readily applicable to glo-fi (obligatory summer comparison coming up). Listening to the likes of Washed Out, Neon Indian, or Ducktails is something akin to having re-recorded the newer Animal Collective or Panda Bear albums onto a thrift store tape machine that lay melting slowly in the sun, with layers of fuzz, distortion and tape hiss sitting passively on top, all in the mind of your five-year-old self. A broad summation admittedly, but as with any sub-genre, there are layers under the layers, each associated artist camping on different ground.

And that’s where Toro Y Moi comes in. If ever there were to be a figurehead for this most unassuming of genres, it would probably be Chaz Bundick. 23-years-old. Straight out of Columbia, South Carolina. Like a cross between the aforementioned Animal Collective and a less hazy Ariel Pink, Bundick’s creations are beguiling, beautiful things, and slightly fragile, like running your fingers across the decaying film of some lost home movie or rummaging around in the memories of an indistinct, half-known childhood. But what does he make of the figurehead talk, and the dangers the glo-fi tag being a permanent one: “To be a labelled a 'leading light' is flattering. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan [of the tag] but I think it’s good to label things; it makes it easier to relate to. I want to keep changing but there's a possibility of that labelling always sticking to me no matter what.”

“I’m glad to see Columbia getting attention. I think it’s well deserved,” he notes, hometown boy through and through. Thanks to the likes of fellow residents Ernest Green (aka Washed Out) and Tyler Wallace (better known under his stage name of Phillip Oskar Augustine) there’s been much blog chatter about a burgeoning scene of sorts but, as ever, those big city lights are calling. “I've lived here for 23 years. I think I'm ready for a change of scenery. I love Columbia but I'd like to experience new things,” he laughs. So where are you going to make your nest? “The Dream locations are college towns and, the oh-so-unexpected, New York City.” This restlessness isn’t a surprise given the multitude of places Bundick’s magpie-like songs gleefully draw from.

Although the press bumf describes Bundick as a “multi-cultural juggernaut”, a word I never thought I’d see associated with a genre as subtle and understated as this one, traces of desert blues, modern R&B, tropical pop, hip-hop and sun-kissed psychedelia can all be found running through the album. It’s as much J Dilla as it is Sonic Youth. As much Daft Punk as Air France. What were you listening to when you started on Causers Of This? “I really liked the flow of Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours, it was seamless and beautiful.” And what kind of headspace were you in? “I was mostly in a 'pop music' state of mind.” Fair enough. Bundick is a man of few words, deliberately enigmatic. A dreamer for sure. But it fits. The man and the music in seamless harmony.

For something that so readily evokes childhood memories, surely he looked back to his own not-so-distant youth? “I had my teen punk band,” he says, laughing at the memory of that obligatory high school rite-of-passage. His parents, his mother Philippino and his father African American, moved from New York to South Carolina after Bundick was born, taking back all the cultural touchstones the city’s rising underground scene had to offer at the time. What does he remember playing around the house as grew up? “It wasn't anything too weird. It was things like popular music from that time; Madonna, Public Enemy, Michael Jackson, the Ramones, the Specials, Elvis Costello, a lot of new wave.” Are they happy for you? “[They’re] really happy for me, music is really important in their lives too. I know they have similar tastes.” And what about the nods to classic film scores that permeate the album? The synths on tracks like ‘Thanks Vision’, I say, remind me of what listening to an old Dario Argento soundtrack on a battered and warped old VHS might sound like. “Definitely, but [there’s] more influences from composers like Ennio Morricone, Francis Lai, and David Axelrod… I go for a timeless feel,” he notes, something that strikes a chord. Like the photos all over his blog, like his album art, like his videos and his music itself, there’s something oddly in and of itself about Bundick’s creations, something hard to place. It’s a fantastic trick, some old-fashioned sleight of hand, at once harking back to more innocent times and pushing towards the future.

Causers… drops on February 22 but is only the first of two scheduled releases Bundick has this year. What are you listening to right now I ask, digging for directions: “The Band” is his response. So maybe that glo-fi tag won’t stay for long after all. Glo-fi goes Americana. Glo-cana perhaps. You heard it here first. Keep things fresh, move things forward, towards forever. It’s like what Lester Bangs said: “Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.” Let’s hope Bundick heads that way. So which direction are you heading? Where does Toro Y Moi go from here? “I know what it is, but I can't tell you. It's a secret,” he smiles. Ever the enigma.

More on glo-fi and Toro Y Moi by Kev Kharas here and more music by his nibs at MySpace.com/toroymoi.