Chaz Bundick's got a brand new toy, and he can't stop playing with it. "They sell it a store over there—apparently it's the last one they had," he marveled during a conversation two weeks ago at the bar of Manhattan's Ace Hotel, gesturing in an unknown direction while pulling out an electric kalimba. He then spent several minutes giddily displaying how the cigar box-sized instrument works, flipping switches and plinking little notes while quietly squealing into the device's built-in microphone. He flipped one more switch to produce a tiny and pleasing loop from the electric kalimba's speaker, giving me a look of pure elation not unlike that of a baby laughing at the sound of paper being ripped.
Bundick seems like he's in a good place emotionally, which wasn't necessarily the case when he was working on the fifth Toro Y Moi studio album, Boo Boo, which is out July 7 via Carpark. Written and recorded over the course of the last year, the low-key and emotive record was made in the aftermath of a breakup at the end of 2015.
"Breakups are always hard," he said without a trace of a sigh. "It's crazy how love can act like a drug—an acid trip. You're just in this world all of a sudden, and you have that blinders that you didn't even commit to yet, and you're just like 'Whoa! I'm in it now.'" During this time, Bundick also found himself engaged in a period of introspective reflection—one in which he became ambivalent and anxious about his relative fame and how it affected the way he relates to the world around him.
"My personal life isn't really out there," he explained. "When I was with my partner at the time, I'd get recognized in public, and she wouldn't want to be a part of it. I was just like, 'Sorry we're getting bothered, but I can't help this.' Success elevated me to a level where my social life started becoming unrelatable—I didn't even feel like going out anymore. It was to the point where my partner couldn't relate to me, and to have someone that can understand those pressures is almost a necessary thing. I see how actors end up dating actors. It's just a funny thing to fall into."
So Bundick turned to the recording studio for some therapeutic creativity, resulting in an immersive and deep-blue work that counts as his most diverse album yet. The last Toro Y Moi record, 2015's What For?, was clearly indebted to the indie rock of Bundick's youth, with kaleidoscopic guitars and jaunty song structures as reminiscent of early Weezer as they were of Tame Impala's candied fantasies; conversely, there's no one overarching influence on Boo Boo, with nods to the twilight synths of 80s soft rock, vocodered R&B, the sharp electro squiggles of boogie, and the ambient music made by contemporaries such as Visible Cloaks and James Ferraro.
"I appreciate a lot of different genres, and mixing it up keeps things interesting for myself—it adds to the mystique," he marveled. "I kinda like being an enigma in the music world. Everyone isn't just one thing, you know? You're not just a hip-hop head, or a raver, or an indie kid. There's more sides of my music knowledge, and taste is always going to be there."
Noisey: While you were going through some of these emotional issues, did you see a therapist?
Chaz Bundick: I did, for a while—then I realized she couldn't relate to me because she's white. ( Laughs) I realized that maybe I need a therapist who's a person of color. A lot of people are quick to put you in a box like, "Oh, you're black you make this kind of music." But we're in a age of culture where it's okay to like all genres of music—it doesn't matter if you're black or white.
For me to be neither black nor white and see a lot of racial tension happen, it makes me think that I don't even know what culture is anymore. Sometimes, culture just feels like it's stuff you buy. It's something that's ingrained in us from day one—from television, advertising, and all the weird marketing techniques where we're told that you can buy a lifestyle. To wake up and realize that you don't have to buy a certain brand of clothing to like a certain kind of music is a good mantra. You can like high fashion and still shop at Goodwill all you want.
It does feel as if our generation approaches musical taste differently than previous generations—there's less of letting taste define who people are specifically.
It's a new wave for sure—the post-Lil B generation. If I had pick one person that really made people not care about how a certain genre of music sounds, it was Lil B. He made hip-hop look at itself in the best way possible, and that's a great model for all genres of music. I really admire his positivity, in that sense. What I've noticed is that you either like the subculture, the mainstream, or both. Rappers embracing indie rock is definitely a new thing—it's so cool though.
Do you think there's been a point of convergence over the past couple years between the subculture and the mainstream?
I do. The internet is definitely bringing it at a fast pace. Instagram, too, because the visual aesthetic is the first thing you notice with a musician—it completes the picture. When you see a rapper who dresses like Mac DeMarco, it's like, "OK! Cool! I wanna see more, show me what you got." Technology is blending a lot of cultures.
It's been two years since the last Toro Y Moi studio album, but you've released three more records in between. Is your constant stream of productivity getting tiring?
I've been wanting to cut back on touring to make more records, and that's something I started doing last year. I really admire The Beatles for quitting touring and just making records that are better and better. That's the model I want to follow.
The last time we talked, you expressed ambivalence about making music as a long-term career option—that you wanted to focus more on design in the future.
I'm still feeling the same way. I'm not married to the music career, but I love making music. The visual arts are still a passion, so I'm going to be juggling those two—one as a hobby, the other as a career.
What do you like about living in Oakland?
Coming from the South, California's always been a symbol of progressive thinking. The sun is so abundant, too—it draws you in and it's really good for emotional support too. I go on hiking trails or to the beach three times a week to take a step back from the studio and calm down. The like-minded people and the nature really makes me want to stay there.
Do you find yourself taking on more work in times of emotional turmoil?
In a way. It's definitely cathartic to zone out and get the creative process started. At the same time, it's my career and it's very overwhelming, so a lot of the time I was just listening to ambient music and thinking, "Do I want to go bigger? Do I want to stay the same? Now that I'm doing this for myself and not for someone else, where do I go from here?" But for the most part, I enjoy working. It's what humans are built to do. We think too much, so we gotta do something.
"Do I want to go bigger? Do I want to stay the same? Now that I'm doing this for myself and not for someone else, where do I go from here?"
After your breakup, how did you adjust to being alone again?
I got into body work and yoga and giving myself five minutes of silence in the morning. Once I have my cup of coffee, I'm on the computer, emailing, and making music for 12 to 14 hours. I've been really into going out and getting meals and seeing movies by myself—giving myself alone time as opposed to feeling like I'm just alone. Really, I'm surrounded by people all the time, so I've just been trying to appreciate being alone.
The stigma of being alone is something that's dissipated with our generation.
Thank you Steve Jobs. ( Laughs) It's okay to be alone. You got a phone! When you wanna feel good, just post a selfie, and then everyone will be like, "Yeah, you're so funny."
You don't really use social media all that much, though—at a time when many musicians use it constantly.
I think mystique is cool when it comes to a public figure. Also, I'm working all the time, and I'm drawn to aesthetic. That's why I'm on Instagram the most. It's the only platform I feel comfortable expressing myself through, because it's so easy to curate. For most artists, it's almost become a mood board to have on your phone so you can get inspired. It's funny that most of what we're looking at on our phones is pictures.
It took a second for me to even get comfortable with attaching my face to my music. If you look at my album covers, it's been a slow zoom-out. On Causers of This there's nothing, Underneath the Pine features my mouth, Anything in Return features my face, What For? features me sitting down, and this new album cover has my whole body on it. I didn't even notice that until recently. The next album cover's just gonna be a dick pic. (Laughs)
Larry Fitzmaurice is VICE's senior culture editor. Follow him on Twitter.