Toro y Moi
Interview by Mac DeMarco
Images by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“Making art sustainable takes a lot of restraint.
I had to get the balls to say ‘no’ to a lot of
things for this record, but I feel like it’s going
to make me stronger so I’m stoked.”
— Chaz Bear
Chaz Bear, known by his stage name as Toro y Moi, is an American singer, songwriter and producer whose fourth album Boo Boo is out via Carpark Records. Bear’s music is often identified as chillwave, and he has toured with the likes of Phoenix and Caribou.
McBriare Samuel Lanyon “Mac” DeMarco is a Canadian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. In the wake of his 2012 debut album, entitled 2, DeMarco became a favorite of music critics and slacker rock fans. He released his most recent album, This Old Dog (2017), in May.
Chaz Bear, or Toro y Moi as his music fans know him, signed to Carpark Records in 2009, months after graduating the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. He hasn’t looked back since, producing a total of six albums so far, including one for his “Les Sins” side project, and creating his own album artwork. Never one to conceal influences, Toro y Moi’s newest album Boo Boo (2017) has elements of Daft Punk, Frank Ocean, Travis Scott and Oneohtrix Point Never. Citing the album’s creation as “cathartic,” Bear currently resides in Oakland, where he is working on honing his craft. In a phone conversation with musician and friend Mac DeMarco, Bear discusses the meaning behind Boo Boo, Solange’s inspiring festival sets and prank calls.
Mac DeMarco: How you doing? Last time I saw you was on that balcony…
Chaz Bear: Oh yeah, in Australia, when we took that photo.
MD: Exactly. Are you in Berkeley?
CB: Yeah. I’m in Oakland, pretty much right down the street from Berkeley. You at home too?
MD: I’m at home in Los Angeles. Woke up ready to rip witcha.
CB: Sick, let’s talk about music. What’s the last thing you listened to?
Directed by award-winning documentarian Mat Whitecross, Oasis: Supersonic is a 2016 British documentary about the rise of Oasis as a cult rock band. The film largely follows the band’s leading members, Liam and Noel Gallagher, and their complicated relationship as brothers. Oasis: Supersonic opened in theaters for one day, grossing a worldwide total of $1.4 million.
Founded in Manchester in 1991, Oasis was a cult status British rock band comprised of Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan and Tony McCarroll. Following their record-breaking debut album Definitely Maybe (1994), Oasis was named one of Britain’s “big four” along with Suede, Pulp and Blur. The band disintegrated in 2009, having sold over 70 million records.
Formed in 1988 London, Blur is an English rock band consisting of Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree. The band was a central player in the Britpop movement and rivaled Oasis on the 1995 UK charts in what was dubbed “The Battle of Britpop.” After going their separate ways in 2003, Blur reunited in 2009. Their 2015 album The Magic Whip was their sixth consecutive studio album to top British charts.
Named after the contemporary music movement in the late 70s and early 80s, yacht rock is recognized for its smooth sound. Popular proponents of yacht rock include musicians Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald, Toto and Hall and Oates.
MD: I’m an Oasis fan all of a sudden. I saw their new documentary on a plane. I was a Blur kid and hated Oasis, and then I saw this documentary. I think what I’d missed out on was the rock’n’roll attitude, which there’s not a lot of nowadays. The only problem I had with it is the music—super compressed, dummy British. But I’m into it. Other than that, I just stick to the Japanese yacht rock. I was listening to your record a little while ago, and I was feeling it a little bit in there.
CB: Oh yeah, it’s such a mirage. You’ve got to keep the water in the music. There’s a lot of Japanese rock that I’ve really been into. The last thing that I’ve really, like, dug into is Tyler [the Creator’s] record. It’s really good stuff, and he’s only getting better.
MD: His crew is very inspired. I’ve been hanging out with some of those kids who play in that band The Internet—Matt Martians, Steve Lacy—sweet kids. Well, Matt’s older than I am, but Steve’s a pretty young guy. It’s inspiring. They all have a house with Syd [tha Kyd] and the other kids from The Internet, and they all jam together. It’s a lovely thing.
CB: Community is essential to really make good music. You need some feedback.
MD: You need a crew. Do you have a crew in Oakland?
CB: I do. I like to call it a company crew.
“Changing my name was one of those things
that’s a small detail
but actually changes a lot of things.”
— Chaz Bear
MD: I haven’t been part of a scene for 10 years. I didn’t even really feel like I was part of the scene in Montreal. But I mean, I see friends at festivals. It’s kind of weird because it’s not like you can walk down the street and knock on the door, but it’s like, “Oh, you’re flying in today? Cool, see you at the show.”
CB: I feel like investing in a space for stuff to happen is good. I have a studio and people just stop by now. It’s the first time I took my studio out of my house, and it’s become a little hub.
MD: I’ve done a similar thing but in my garage, so it’s still kind of at my house. But you have a separate zone?
CB: Yeah, it’s a studio space down the street from my apartment. My home is more private now. It used to be that people would always hang at my house, but it’s nice to just have a space.
MD: My girlfriend and I moved out to LA last year. I’m from middle Western Canada where it’s like, “You gotta buy a house.” For the first couple months, it’s exciting: “Oh wow! I’m buying a fridge!” Then you get sick of it, but it’s a nice place.
CB: It’s a whole new game.
MD: The problem with having my studio in the backyard is I never use my house anymore. Keira [McNally, DeMarco’s girlfriend] will come sit with me in the garage. But it used to be that I would record, and she would be on the computer or reading a book on the bed because she’s the only person I bounce stuff off.
CB: It’s nice to have the home be a project as well because other than that our lives are mostly outside of our homes.
MD: That’s another frustrating part, because I’m leaving on Wednesday for two months. I’m starting to get used to being here, and I’m being ripped away again. Usually it’s not a big deal because I’m leaving a closet with no windows. I’m always sad to leave my girlfriend, but leaving our house is like, “Damn it.” I heard you’re not touring this record, right?
CB: Yeah. I was like, “This record’s going to be a more cathartic process.” I bought a house too, up in Portland, and I decided to move back to the Bay so I rented the house out. My new lifestyle is a studio apartment with my studio down the street. I decided to do the studio life for the next year and try to reassess some stuff and figure out my approach or whatever.
MD: That point is probably coming for me pretty soon too, but I still got bills to pay so I’ve got to grind for a little bit.
CB: You can move out and just rent it!
MD: I wanted to ask you about the keebs, or keyboards. Your album’s full of keebs. What’s tickling you right now?
CB: I just cleaned up my studio. Right now, I have out a basic setup: a polyphonic analog, a monophonic analog and then a DX7. I feel like that’s all you need. Everything else can be filled in with soft synths.
MD: I’ve never really messed with soft synths, but I just downloaded the M1 [software synthesizer] so I’m like, “It’s time to make elevator music.”
CB: It doesn’t have to be a crazy setup.
MD: I know. The problem with me is I need to touch things, I need to twist things. And then I fetishize old crap. Half of the stuff in my studio doesn’t work—maybe I’ll use it on one track.
“Music is pretty personal, pretty emotional.
It’s a hyper-accentuated meditation
a lot of the time … if you can get it going,
then hell yeah.”
— Mac DeMarco
CB: LA is the place for weird repairs, though. I usually have to take my stuff to LA to get repaired.
MD: If you ever have any synth stuff, I got the guy: Bruce Forat. He used to be Roger Linn’s apprentice. Prince used to fly him out to Minneapolis to fix his LinnDrums. He taught all the Jacksons, except for Michael, how to use drum machines in the 80s. He’s got this Audi that he parks in the back of his shop, and after we chill for a couple hours, he’ll sit in it and play this insane music that he makes. He’s a drum machine freak and used to service MPCs for all the big rappers in the 90s. Bruce Forat in Studio City. God bless his soul.
CB: I have some drum machines as well. I have the TR9. It sounds like the 909. Like the house drum machine. It’s the new one. You know how everyone’s doing like miniature instruments now? Like smaller keyboard, smaller drum machines. It’s one of those things…Hello?
CB: Hello. Hi. How can I help you?
MD: Hi. I was doing a conference call with my friend Chaz? I think maybe I’m on the wrong call.
CB: Yes, this Coca-Cola’s call. Are you part of Coca-Cola?
MD: No, I’m not. I think maybe I entered the wrong number.
CB: If you don’t want Coca-Cola—
MD: Ohhhh you motherfucker. I was like, man, this is crazy. That was pretty good.
CB: You know what? I moved to T-Mobile after you told me about T-Mobile when I saw you on that balcony. It’s a good deal!
MD: It’s a sick deal! And it’s worldwide. I was talking to my landlord from the Dead Sea. It was when I lived in New York. He was like, “Hey Mac, I was checking out your mailbox…” I was like, “Wayne, I’m at the Dead Sea.” He was like, “Man, that’s beautiful!” I was like, “Fuck yeah, Wayne. You’re nuts.”
CB: Have you been prank calling anybody lately?
MD: I’m not good at it. My number’s on the internet so I get prank calls. I’ve been getting better at it because kids try me, but I’m the king. I get calls like everyday, and sometimes they just want to chat and say what’s up, which is great, but sometimes they want to punk me. But I’m unpunkable. Not on my phone, not on my phone number.
CB: I just punked you, dude. I just got you good.
MD: You got me good. That was really good.
“[Boo Boo] could definitely be a nickname
that you call your significant other, a pet name.
But it’s also what your parents say when
you get hurt, when you first hear about what
— Chaz Bear
CB: There’s a camera over there, and there’s a camera over there… What do you eat these days? Do you find yourself eating out a bunch? Do you guys cook a lot or do DoorDash?
MD: I’m a pig. Especially in Los Angeles, there’s burritos down the street. I like the spicy cuisines even though my stomach can’t deal with it. I think that LA might have a better spread than New York because I had my spots in New York, but you can’t get a decent bowl of pho. What do you eat up there? Do you know Murder Burger?
MD: It’s a walk-up burger stand in Oakland. I don’t think it’s called Murder Burger, but the first time we played there in 2008 someone was like, “Yeah, this is called Murder Burger because people get shot outside.”
CB: I don’t know it. But dude, the whole West Coast has pretty much the best Asian food in the States. Vietnamese is really big here, and Filipino, and then of course there’s good sushi and Chinese. But in California, you’ve got the burrito. You can’t go wrong.
MD: You seem chill, so here’s my leading question for the record. It’s jokey, and then we can keep going. So you changed your last name, correct?
MD: To “Bear,” correct?
MD: And then the record is called Boo Boo, right?
CB: Mmhmm, yes. You’re getting there.
MD: It’s a Yogi Bear reference.
CB: Ooooo, you got it. It’s not really a Yogi Bear reference though…Changing my name was one of those things that’s a small detail but actually changes a lot of things.
MD: Why not? My name changed too, when I was a kid.
CB: DeMarco, though, that’s a great name.
MD: I thought it sounded like an Italian host DJ or something.
CB: If you became a DJ and only spun yacht rock, you might be onto something.
MD: I always do the title track trick with my records. I always pull something out for the title. So explain to me about Boo Boo.
CB: Boo Boo was more about the many meanings. It could definitely be a nickname that you call your significant other, a pet name. But it’s also what your parents say when you get hurt, when you first hear about what pain is.
MD: Maybe a meet in the middle of those two.
CB: Yeah. Love is pain, and pain is love.
MD: Hey, you got to do it. Well, a lot of times I don’t think you have a choice. But hey, if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.
CB: Totally, man. It’s another game, so to speak. To live with someone, to be with someone, it takes a lot of practice and skill, really.
MD: That’s what you were essentially going through when you were doing this, yeah?
CB: Definitely. So I moved out to the Bay and did the Bon Iver thing and became a recluse in a random house. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I wasn’t going there with that intention. I was just like, “I gotta leave because this marriage is not really working.” It felt good to make a decision to do something and to come back with something creative.
MD: Like you said, doing the album for you was pretty cathartic. Often music is pretty personal, pretty emotional. It’s a hyper-accentuated meditation a lot of the time. When it doesn’t work out that way, it can be extremely frustrating, but if you can get it going, then hell yeah.
CB: Making art sustainable takes a lot of restraint. I had to get the balls to say “no” to a lot of things for this record, and it was hard, but I feel like it’s going to make me stronger so I’m stoked.
MD: Did you do a release or anything like that?
CB: No, not a single show yet. It’s funny because now I have more time to go see house shows, venue shows and stadium shows, and I’m like, “Fuck, I want to get back out there.” So it’s getting me juiced to get back to it, but I want to hold off to focus on my other things.
MD: Is it a personal connection to the songs? Or you don’t feel like getting them out there night after night?
“I moved out to the Bay and did the Bon Iver thing
and became a recluse in a random house …
It felt good to make a decision to do something
and to come back with something creative.”
— Chaz Bear
CB: It’s a mix of both. These are songs that I don’t necessarily feel are festival bangers or anything. If I do play a show, I want to make it pretty curated experience. I’m so inspired by what Solange is doing these days. She’s really stepping it up, and same with Kanye. Taking stadium shows to embrace the industrial side of it and make it even more technology-based is kind of cool.
MD: Frank Ocean’s show is similar to that too. I saw it at FYF.
CB: Yeah, his Tom Sachs art installation is so smart. To have a MoMA-sized artist do something for your stage is genius. I want to take a step back so I can get time to do those kinds of moves. Are there any major projects you’re inspired by?
MD: I don’t know. You see something like Solange, and I don’t know if I could pull off any of that. It’s super interesting to me though, especially in the setting of a festival where it’s supposed to be this visceral bombardment. But then something like Solange comes around, and it’s like, “No, I’m gonna make you feel like you’re in my bedroom with 80,000 people around you.” It flips the whole game on its lid which is important nowadays because it does start to become saturated. But we’re not, like, successful headliners or anything like that. We still travel with only, like, six people. So it’s kind of like, “Maybe I’ll get my sound guy to like build a whole crazy thing…” We’re still playing at five o’clock, four o’clock.
CB: Yeah, the sunset crew. As far as playing festivals go, I wish it could be a little bit more just concise as far as the look and art direction goes.
MD: I can’t imagine having to deal with all that, as well as setting up. I guess if you’re at the point of like Solange or Frank Ocean, or especially Kanye, you’re given certain allowances. I don’t know, I guess there are ways to make it work!