"I just wanted to make pop music that imitated Justin Bieber or The-Dream, but I'd like it to be more relatable than stuff that, I guess The-Dream or Kanye talk about."
This probably doesn't surprise you, but Chaz Bundick—a.k.a. Toro Y Moi—seems like a shy guy. When I give him a ring to discuss Anything in Return, his entrancing new album, his initial answers are clipped and hesitant as though he hasn't spent any amount of time thinking about the things he would probably be asked about during the expected round of pre-album hype auctioneering. He's also quick to offer me the right of talking whenever we accidentally cut each other off, as though he isn't the one being interviewed. But whatever reticence is quickly coaxed into more thoughtful reflection as we keep chatting, and it might just be that for all his increased maturity as an artist, he's still getting used to participating in a music industry that makes sound bites of self-awareness. (One throwaway comment during a previous interview became front page news on Pitchfork and all the other music blogs, and he seems both entertained and mortified by this.) When he peppers "I don't know," which may be his equivalent of the Valley Girl-esque "like," in the middle of his sentences, he sounds like he's speaking honestly.
Noisey: This is your third album now, or fourth if we're counting June 2009 [a compilation of early recordings]. Do you think you've gotten better at making your music?
Toro Y Moi: Yeah. I think the stuff I'm making now… It's a little similar with what I tried to do but I am getting better at production, at least, if not songwriting. I like to challenge myself and put myself in a new situation, so this one is kind of different and I think it was… I'm getting better at production, yeah.
You do all the playing on this record, right?
Is there a difference between this and the last few records—more live playing, or anything?
Right. Not… too different. I mean, there's drum samples and programmed drums; there's that element, and vocals cut here and there, that's about it.
How has your perception of yourself as an artist changed?
My vocal. I wanted to challenge my range on this album and really sing; maybe try to hit a range that I wasn't really used to hitting. That was one thing I wanted to work on.
Did you take lessons?
No. I just started practicing, you know. I don't know. It's kind of a weird way to sing, trying to be all over the scale. It's something Arthur Russell would do a lot, and I think that was a big influence.
Have you been a fan of his for a while?
Yeah, yeah. I found out about him a lot time ago when I was in college and he's just been a big—one of my biggest influences because he could write a disco song or a country song and it would be really good. And that's something I'd definitely like to do in my music, not really worry about genres. If I feel like making a folk song or something, I could focus on that.
One of the pieces of pre-album hype was that this was the "sincere pop" record, per an interview you did a few months ago. I searching through your Twitter and saw you'd quoted the phrase along with a bummed out emoticon. I take it that was your disavowal?
[Laughs] Because I don't know where that came from! I mean, who says sincere pop? I think I was… I might've said it, but then Pitchfork made it a pullquote and, "Oh God, here it comes. Alright, get ready for it. He's trying to be a 'serious artist' or something and everyone's going to think it's just cheesy." I… like, I just wanted to make pop music that imitated Justin Bieber or The-Dream, but the sincere part of it is that I would like the music to not be as hated and I would like it to be more endeared. Not as one-dimensional, you know. In a way I'd like it to be more relatable than stuff that, I guess The-Dream or Kanye talk about.
What's the stuff you talk about?
I guess… I don't know. I don't buy expensive stuff. I'm not crazy rich in my money. But I don't know, stuff—the album is mostly about my move out West, the move to California. It's about moving away from home for the first time and being away from extended family, which is something I definitely think people my age should definitely be interested in doing, moving away from their hometown for the first time. You just get a different perspective on things and I definitely… I don't know, I feel like no matter if you grew up in New York City or grew up in Los Angeles, you only have—I feel like your vision of the world is very limited if you've never had the experience in any other location.
Had you lived out West for any extended period of time before moving?
No. And I'm so glad I did. Before I moved out here I got the chance to go tour around the country and around the world, so my old connection to South Carolina was kind of slowly fading away. It felt a little different and more comfortable moving away. And I think I like it.
Do you like touring any more than you used to?
Probably enjoying it about the same. I'm not really one to go out and party or anything, so for me, I just go and play the show and then go back home. If there's enough time I'll try to do music stuff, but usually I just go to sleep and that's the end of it. I like to be at home, really, the most. It's nice to be around visiting all these places but I'm not really visiting them for more than a few hours. It's cool to know that I get a chance to visit these places but it would be even cooler to go back and enjoy the location.
Where does the album's title come from?
It comes from the song "High Living." It's just referencing, I don't know—it kind of reminded me of a jazz album, or something. I liked the way it sounded. But it also just means not expecting anything in return, or getting a favor. If you do something for someone you shouldn't expect anything in return. It was sort of like that constantly "getting" mentality. It doesn't matter if you're getting anything out of it, it just matters that you're doing something you think is right.
I also saw on Twitter—where I do all of my research, I guess—that you'd shouted out Robert Griffin III during the playoffs. What teams do you support?
My dad follows the Redskins, so I automatically support them. I haven't really kept up with the record, but I know they're doing pretty well. I like the Redskins, and then I like mostly college football. With college football I like University of South Carolina, the Gamecocks, and I also like Alabama. That's pretty much it.
That's got to be nice, following the only dynasty in college football.
That's—yeah, it's pretty awesome. [laughs]
Did you play when you were younger?
I played some when I was 8 until 15, but then I quit and then started playing music. I played cornerback, on defense. It pushes you to make sure the other guy doesn't catch it.
Jeremy Paul Gordon is Writing Game Chaz Bundick and is on Twitter - @jeremypgordon