“I just poured Gatorade all over my plants.”
Chaz Bundick chuckled, chatting on the phone from his Berkeley, Calif., home on a late Friday afternoon.
“I didn’t even know it was Gatorade…I guess my girlfriend made Gatorade in one of these canisters.”
Although he tried jumping back on, his train of thought had already come and left the station. Moments ago, Chaz had been discussing his new album, “Anything in Return,” and the jumble of drawings that are included in the liner notes. “They’re similar to pop art,” he said, but would be better described as “very simple artwork and simple line work.”
Performing under the guise of Toro Y Moi, Chaz has made a name for himself as one of the “founding fathers” of chillwave music, which is characterized by its hypnotic synths, captivating samples and DIY aesthetic. His genre peers include the likes of Neon Indian, Memory Tapes and Washed Out (otherwise known as Ernest Greene, a close friend of Chaz since their college days).
He got his start playing in a few indie rock groups while studying graphic design at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. While he found the burgeoning local music scene to be a welcoming, eclectic environment, it was not a breeding ground for the sorts of hip-hop and house vibes he was digging at the time.
“As far as a community, it’s a small ethnic crew of bands and everyone knows everybody,” Chaz said. “As far as musical genres or genres that I’m into, though, it was more of me finding stuff on my own.”
Toro Y Moi began as a bedroom project for Chaz – experimenting on his laptop and putting tracks up on MySpace; exploding onto the viral music scene in 2009 following a mention on Kanye West’s blog. He went on to make two studio albums – “Causers of This” in 2010 and “Underneath the Pine” in 2011 – a potpourri of EPs and a slew of remixed tunes by the likes of Tegan and Sara, Cut Copy and Tyler, The Creator.
While on tour, Chaz began crafting songs for “Anything in Return,” which took him roughly two months to pen all 13 tracks. Unlike previous efforts, he describes the album as “very poppy” and a test of his vocal capabilities – a new direction partially influenced by his unabashed love of pop acts such as Justin Bieber and The-Dream.
“I guess I’ve just become more comfortable and confident about certain things,” Chaz said. “I actually started to sing on this album and really started to challenge my vocal range, which was different. Aside from that, you know, I’m influenced by a lot of genres so it really just came down to me being brave enough to try new things.”
Standouts include “So Many Details” and “Say That,” the first two singles from the album with suitably trippy music-video accompaniments. Tracks such as “How’s It Wrong,” “Cake” and “Grown Up Calls” bear the clearest pop influences, stemming from Chaz’s simple desire to make music that his girlfriend could dance to, as he recently told Pitchfork.
Toro Y Moi plays Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix, where he last performed not even a year ago in March 2012. His longtime friend (and former Washed Out keyboarding guitarist) Phil Jones will be opening the show, introducing the Valley to his band Dog Bite and their gloomy brand of alternative rock.
Despite his success, Chaz remains soft-spoken and humble – particularly choice with words and not one to blabber on unnecessarily. Although he enjoyed the latest records from Tame Impala and Flying Lotus, he’s afraid those answers are “too obvious” when it comes to his favorite albums of 2012. The same reservations arise when it comes to the topic of dream collaborations.
“I don’t know, I don’t really have any off the top of my head,” Chaz said, pausing for an instant. “I guess I’d like to work with Kanye or something.”
You hear that, Mr. West?