Chaz Bundick has a knack for monikers. Beyond the doozy of a government name his parents blessed him with, he picked two random words from two different languages to christen his nu-disco R&B outfit Toro y Moi, then spent three albums and countless bootlegs swirling the worlds of funk, pop, and indie rock to fans' delight. All the while, he snuck in pulsing dance production as Les Sins, a side-project originally conceived to flex his beatnerdiness outside the mainstream's watchful eye. Next week, he'll release Michael, his first (and maybe last?) full length album as Les Sins. In honor of Beat Week blasting off, FADER caught up with Bundick to source samples, dissect Beyoncé and FKA Twigs, and scoff at pop's obsession with the trap.
After your last album Anything in Return, Toro y Moi was more recognizable than ever. How'd you decide to release something under a different name? It was just another way to make weirder music without having to feel I'm alienating Toro y Moi. So it's kind of nice to do whatever kind of song I want to do without having to worry about it being accessible.
You've released dance music as Toro y Moi, like the Freaking Out EP. Do you still see Michael as being totally separate from that body of work? Yes, definitely. Les Sins is strictly production based, anything beat-oriented or production-oriented is what Les Sins is for. I treat it as my playground and do whatever I want to do when it comes to making dance music, or even hip-hop beats.
What was it like sitting in that seat and starting the album at first? It just happened after I did Anything in Return. There were some tracks on there that I started that were just to dancey for Toro and I just totally wanted to set aside for Les Sins. And the next thing I knew I had like five songs that were pretty dancey that I wanted to use for Les Sins, so I thought I might as well do an album. I have a small studio at my house [in Berkley]. It was like a year or so kind of process. I was mostly by myself. I don't like working with groups of people around or usually anyone around. I like to go to work and knock it out.
Around the time of Anything in Return, you'd told me you had tried to make pop songs. Since Michael is more about dance, are you completely past that? Um…I don't know, I'm listening to all sorts of stuff at the same time, but musically when I got around to making Michael I was past that and ready to see what would be next. Midway though making Michael I was tired of the whole R&B thing. I did that, I had explored everywhere I wanted to go with it, and Anything in Return was the apex of that whole phase of my music. There is some really good stuff going on right now in R&B, but it's not too interesting to me anymore.
For you to create, you mean? Yeah. I mean I've done everything. I just kind of got bored with those types of chord progressions and those types of melodies. I kind of wanted to mess with something else. It's nice to mess with different genres and put people on to new genres or something they haven't gotten the chance to explore themselves. I feel like that's kind of my goal with music, to sort of get people interested in as much and as many different genres as I can.
What music or artists inspired you as you were working on this record? I revisited Daft Punk's earlier stuff, all the way to Death Grips and Zombie, even Caribou, Four Tet, and stuff like Floating Points. I just love electronic music. I didn't want to make just house music, or just R&B, or hip-hop type production. So that's why the album has its own movement to it, and goes all over the place. People's attention nowadays is getting a little bit shorter, as is mine.
"I knew I wanted some Kanye-esque vocal hooks on there, but I didn't want it to be cleared, so I just made them myself."
Two singles you've released, "Bother" and "Why," are really different in sound. "Why" sounds very much like a Toro y Moi song, but still fits. Yeah, I felt like "Why" was my "Bound 2." I was talking to my friends like, "Where am I going to put this on my album?" It's the only one that's uplifting and poppy, and it's the only one that's a song, structure wise. Everyone was like "it's such a good song you have to put it on there," so I put it on.
So many of your fans are drawn to your voice and songwriting. Was it a challenge to mute that and step down from the microphone to completely focus on production? It was hard to do that, but it was also relieving to know that that step wasn't necessary. I already knew I wasn't going to have to do vocals. But then on the other hand, I really wanted to. I like vocals, it gives it a quality, a pop quality to it. What's funny is my voice is on all of the record, it's just manipulated and chopped up.
How so? That's my voice on "Bother" saying "Don't bother me, I'm working." I just try to use my voice differently. I don't know, just experimenting. I made the drums and all the parts first, and the vocals were like the last thing that I put on there, just because I knew that I wanted to have some vocal snippets. But then again, I didn't want to have to get anything cleared, so I thought I might as well do it myself. Same thing for this track called "Past." I knew I wanted some Kanye-esque vocal hooks on there, but I didn't want it to be cleared, so I just made one myself.
How often does the process of clearing samples, on an independent label with a small budget, and doing a lot of stuff yourself, affect your creative process? I've never had to clear a sample before. I mean, either I use like a small part of it, or it's just a replay or something. But I did clear the Nas vocal sample on "Talk About," the intro. I never thought about it until it was time to get it cleared. I just assumed that, if I ever use something that's recognizable and I have to get it cleared, I'd give it up for free, and I have tons of stuff like that. No way could I get this stuff cleared unless it was some big hip-hop artist who wants to clear the sample.
So you guys sent "Talk About" to Nas—did you guys hear back from him about the record? Yeah he heard it and I guess he was good. I don't know his actual reaction to it, but he approved it, so that was cool.
Anything In Return came with a strong marketing push, including listening parties, a pop-up artwork, and collaborations with Vans. Michael's release seems much quieter. I just want to put the record out and see if people discover it on their own and it spreads by itself. It's just a project that I had to get of my chest. I knew I wanted to do a full length, and I don't know if I'm going to do another Les Sins [album], because it's obvious that Toro was my main thing.
It's cool to have another outlet. That's got to be a relief for an artist. It is definitely. I don't see why there's a reason Beyoncé wouldn't release [an album] under a different name. I think it would be awesome if they did. I don't know why they don't. The resources are there. It would be so rad if, like, whoever released something on Bandcamp that was just like a small demo. Do you know how cool that would be? I don't know why no one is doing that.
I guess artists and huge teams of people spend so much time investing huge sums of money in one name, and one brand, and one image, they don't give themselves enough room to be complex in that way. Or be a composite. Artists, once they get so big, they are constantly surrounded by people. They almost can't function by themselves. And they can't just release something and feel good about releasing it, as opposed to having it be approved by a bunch of people. Why? With all this technology, you can just have a studio in your house, you can just record and you can just release it at your house. Why aren't big artists just doing it themselves? And why are they still going through like Apple and other big corporations to do it? Who knows.
You've produced for Kool A.D; there was also a joint with Tyler, the Creator floating around. Now that you've stepped into that producer role with this project, have there been more opportunities to make beats for other artists? I've gotten more interested in producing bands. There's this one guy I've been working with, Keith Mead. I'm releasing his record on my label next spring. The whole hip-hop/R&B work, I've taken that as far as I can take it. It's interesting to watch the rest of the music world do its R&B thing, and so I'm tired of it. I want to move on to a new genre and experiment and see how I can make other music. As far as collaborations and producing people, I've gravitated more to musicians, not necessarily rappers and singers.
When you say it's been interesting to see everyone do the R&B thing, what do you mean exactly? I mean, everything from the whole trap beat phenomenon, how everyone has done that. That's interesting to me. Why is this becoming a pop sensation all of a sudden? Why is Juicy J with Katy Perry? That doesn't make sense. Hip-hop, rap and R&B now are sort of almost becoming… nothing is refreshing to me now. Everyone is using the same chords. It's like you can have this really commercial, polished sound, or you can be really smart and way beyond everybody, in this FKA Twigs kind of vibe. She's just really smart, and almost being too smart with it, where it alienates people…
I think people like that though. I don't know, yeah… It's good, but I can't grasp onto it. I see why people like it.
There were moments on Michael that reminded me of Twigs a bit. Songs like "Past," or a few of the other darker, almost industrial sounding tracks. It's a fringe sound that's strangely relevant on a mainstream pop level right now. Yeah, that's what I'm saying. With this record, it's kind of my departure from that whole world. With Toro, that's just me emulating pop music, and with Michael that was me trying to be as progressive and futuristic as I could be with it.