Chaz Bundick is surprisingly modest and soft-spoken, considering that with his project Toro y Moi he's making some of today's most fascinating and engaging electronic music.
Toro y Moi's specialty is primarily playing chillwave music, a shimmering, dreamy amalgam of ambient, electronic, shoegaze and pop. The term also has been applied to the work of such artists as Washed Out, Neon Indian, Com Truise and Tycho.
But although Bundick started out making Toro y Moi music on a laptop and a synthesizer, his music is the opposite of sterile. It feels organic and homegrown, immediate and intimate. His stuff has grown, over the course of three albums, to include guitar and other analog instruments, and embrace funk, disco, lounge, avant-garde and psychedelic sounds.
But the 26-year-old Bundick revealed in a recent interview that his secret love is country music.
"I feel like all music should be appreciated, and we should at least try to understand it. I love everything from country to house music," he said over the phone from his home in Berkeley, Calif. "And I really get into Patsy Cline, the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, that sort of stuff, because it is so real and honest."
Chazwick Bradley Bundick grew up in Columbia, S.C., the son of a Filipino mother and an African-American father, in a typically pop-music-oriented household. He took piano lessons as a kid.
"My parents have pretty good taste in music, and they always had it on in the house and car. That was a big influence on my taste. My mom liked Michael Jackson and Madonna, and my dad was into the Ramones and Elvis Costello. I really appreciated growing up in that type of environment."
During high school and college—he has a degree in graphic design from the University of South Carolina —Bundick played in various indie-rock bands around his hometown. Then he had some ideas for his own music.
According to the public relations machine, Toro y Moi started off with Bundick making bedroom recordings on his laptop. Although that origin has become a template for electronic-type musicians these days, it's partly true.
"It started off like that, for sure. It was mostly on a laptop and a synthesizer, just me messing around. And I was just making songs up at home. But it wasn't really always in my bedroom. I was trying stuff out. It wasn't like I made stuff up for people to hear; it was just what I was sort of thinking of."
Those experiments eventually resulted in Toro y Moi's debut album, 2010's Causers of This. That album and subsequent releases Underneath the Pine in 2011 and this year's Anything in Return were recorded entirely by Bundick.
These days, Bundick does, in fact, consider his audience.
"I sort of think about what the audience expects, within the area of still challenging myself, and I wouldn't want to alienate people. I also think about whether this song or that one is worthy of being on a specific album. You don't want to be super arty or, on the other hand, super poppy."
Even so, his sense for experimentation is strong, as is his melodic sense. On Anything in Return, Bundick creates hypnotic soundscapes that you won't hear anywhere else in electronic music, but he also indulges in modified house and drum-and-bass, calling it a "sort of a '90s dance mix sound." He also can carefully craft a Beatles-eque melody in one song, then twist into a funky Prince-style excursion on another.
Last year, Bundick left South Carolina for the San Francisco Bay Area, simply "to change it up a little. I had a few friends out here."
He chose Berkeley because San Francisco is "a little too much of a big city, but I like being near it."
Living in his new home offered some changes. "The weather is definitely a big difference. I spend a lot more time outside in the sun, and I listen to more California-style music, you know, psychedelic stuff."
Bundick said he enjoys discovering new music, whether it's California-oriented or not. Two of his recent favorites have been Lindstrøm and Metro Area.
"I'm trying to constantly look for more music that can inspire me, or to learn from, pretty much. I guess I want to have more and more influences."
Bundick still records all the Toro y Moi material himself, but his setup and instrumentation have gotten more involved since he began. "I definitely have a few more synthesizers and computers, and I play any other instrument I can get my hands on, if it fits with the music. It has definitely gotten more expensive."
He also is striving to make his music more sophisticated, although he remains modest about his progress. "I think, definitely, I have gotten the sonic quality of it better. I'm better at making recordings, and the songwriting structures are getting stronger."
And since 2010, the touring version of Toro y Moi has included additional musicians.
"We started off as three of us, and at first it was a little difficult, but we had all played in other bands together before and we all grew up together. We know how band chemistry should be.
Now, when I tour, there are five of us and we work together really well. I think we are able to realize the sound of the albums well."