The Story Behind Toro Y Moi’s Live From Trona Concert Film

Chaz Bundick details his new film, the importance of trust, and his recent love of furniture design.

September 14, 2016
The Story Behind Toro Y Moi’s <i>Live From Trona</i> Concert Film Josh Terris

When asked about the twin importance of music and nature, Chazwick Bundick — the bespectacled architect behind Toro Y Moi — was admirably purposeful in his response. “Those are just the two essential parts of life,” he said, almost instantly. And after experiencing his new concert film and “passion project,” Live From Trona, the South Carolina singer-producer-songwriter’s sentiment rings especially true.

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In the film, squarely placed amidst the reddish-orange monoliths of the Trona desert in Southern California, Bundick seems at home: self-assured, at peace. Save for the sun to stars transition and the occasional pleasantly mesmerizing, head-tilt-inducing animation, the band is perfectly at one with its surroundings, making Live From Trona not only a breathtaking audiovisual experience, but one that evokes an appreciation for the magic of the wilderness, a setting fully brought to life through Bundick’s neon distillations.

In early September, Bundick reached The FADER by phone to chat about the one-day filming process, how his keyboardist played on despite a broken finger, the connection between music and nature, and his desire to make furniture.



What was the filming process like for Live From Trona?

It took one day. We were on stage for like, maybe an hour and a half. We got there at 6 a.m. and we set up and started playing by 3 p.m. or something. We took a break in-between playing, waited for the sun to go down, and then did the rest of it. We got out of there by like midnight. It was a long pack up because we had to pack up in the dark. It was kinda crazy, because they had to whip out smaller generators so we could have light to pack up the big generators. It was just this weird “pack up moment.”

Why did you decide to do this concert film with no audience?

The main reason we decided to go with no audience is because we were referencing Pink Floyd's Live At Pompeii, and there was no audience in that film. This choice’s purpose was to show that we're not really performing, you know? We're performing in a way for the cameras but, I'm barely smiling in it; there's no one to look at. We were just doing [the concert film] for fun, to be honest. In a way, this was just a giant passion project. Great bands — they're just tight live, you know? This film showcased that.

You’ve worked with director Harry Israelson before. Why’d you tap him for Live From Trona?

Harry is my dude. He's been there since “Say That.” I’ve always said yes to his ideas because I trust his aesthetic choice. His concepts are really simple, but very effective. On paper, he literally drew out pictures of me in the forest for “Say That,” and I was like, ‘Hmm, all I see is a guy in an orange sweater with these hand-drawn trees all around him — but you’re shooting it on 16mm, so I trust you.”

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How did you land on Trona for the filming location?

At first, we really wanted to do something in Joshua Tree, just because it’s such a powerful place. I don’t know if you’ve been, but every time I’m there something erie happens or I get to witness some crazy nature phenomena. The desert has that ability to make you really feel isolated, but at the same time you feel very connected. I feel like that’s exactly what music does for me; it just puts me in my head, but then, at the same time, I’m very at peace. When I listen to music, I’m like, “At least I have this, thank God.” The desert is a nice metaphor for how music makes me feel.

You mention you did the art direction for this project. Was it a two-sided approach to artistic direction with Harry?

Harry and I pretty much collaborated together. We kinda knew ahead of time, what exactly the vibes were going to be. We’re just great — I feel like we really connect visually without even having to explain it. We just get each other’s references. It was fairly easy. For the most part, the color scheme is already picked out for you, just because it's [taking place in] nature — like if the color of the rocks and the sky and the sand is just so overwhelmingly present, then there really isn’t much to do. Maybe just with the colors of the lights and of other people's clothing and even the color of the packaging on vinyl album — that kind of stuff was all I really had to worry about. But for Harry's part, he picked these vintage camera lenses for all the cameras and made sure [the film] had this really authentic look, that it didn’t look too forced, like it didn’t look like it was trying to be ‘70s. [Live From Trona] still has a contemporary look to it, which is cool.

At the end of the day, it was for the art of the whole thing; we made these monoliths just for visual stimulation really. We did that and then we wanted the film to have an underlying artistic value with it, with the animations on top of the footage — just the small details like that I feel like really help make it something nostalgic. I feel like the animation has that Sesame Street vibe; when they go into an animation break and talk about the number three, or something. That kind of stuff, I really enjoy. Something that’s just kind of almost pointless really; just really pretty to look at. I feel like everything doesn’t need to have a meaning. When you see something that someone took the time to make and it’s just pretty, just because, you just appreciate it.

Are those your animations in the film?

No, those are Jonathan Rosen’s, a good friend of Harry’s. I was supposed to do them, but I was just so overwhelmed. Animation is still definitely something that I want to pursue. I feel like the technology is there now, where you can do animations from your house, you know?

Were there any hiccups or intense moments during filming?

We recorded all of the songs in the same order as they appear in the film, but during the recording of the last song, “Yeah Right,” our keyboardist, Anthony, went to the bathroom in the bus — it might've just been a long day, and we’re all exhausted — but he slammed his finger in the bus door on his way out and broke his finger, right before we had to play the last song. So, we’re like, fuck. We just knocked out the last song, and then he went straight to the hospital and got stitches and a cast, or whatever. That was just like, “Wow, what a day.”

Wait, so he played that last song with a broken finger?

Yeah, and it was like, still bleeding. He wrapped it up in some paper towels. We had some tape, that’s all we had, and then he got the fuck out — it was so intense. People were stressing out too because they were losing their cellphones in the dark because it was pitch black. It was just like the 20 of us out there in the elements, and it was starting to get really cold. But at the end of the day, we were like, “We can do this.”

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I feel like everything doesn’t need to have a meaning. When you see something that someone took the time to make and it’s just pretty, just because, you just appreciate it.

A lot of your videos have scenes that are outdoors, and some of your songs really evoke that imagery or that yearning to be outside, in nature. Live From Trona is no exception. Why is being outside important to you, and why is it important for you to include that in your videos?

I think music — commercial music, at least — has a purpose, and that purpose is to give you an experience. And I feel like, particularly with psychedelic music in general, there’s this understood rule that the music is spiritual. It’s not associated with any particular deity, but it is something that is so powerful, it can put you some place else, so I think the connection with music and nature is that those are just the two essential parts of life. I feel like all we have is nature, other than that it’s just a bunch of stuff humans have made. I think it’s important to keep that message of how important nature is, not just to the world, but to you personally — even though you don’t go outside as often — to just spread that message that, this is all we have. The most beautiful thing that we’re ever going to experience on earth is nature. It’s a no-brainer to show appreciation for that stuff. I think we can learn so much from nature, as far as design, art, and music because there’s this underlying message of timelessness to nature, and I think that’s what all art and music is striving towards.

What’s the most important thing you learned from this project?

Collaboration takes a lot of trust. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to trust people when you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Trust has gotta be there before you even start. I guess that’s sort of connected to the idea of taste. I trust Vimeo’s taste, and I trust Harry’s taste; and when you can see their approach, without even have to getting into their mind first — you can be like, “I know I'd work with him before they even ask me.” Like, I trust FADER, I like you guys' choices and I like the music you report on, so I trust your output — it’s that kind of stuff. If it’s there, it’s there.

The Story Behind Toro Y Moi’s <i>Live From Trona</i> Concert Film Josh Terris

Speaking of trust, I noticed you added another person to the band in the film, playing bongo.

She’s been a friend of ours for a long time. A percussion section is like a dream. To have live percussionist next to a drummer — that’s like an amazing combo — it can go in so many directions: you can make hip-hop, disco, jazz, anything with that kind of auxiliary. That kind of stuff is always in my recording, but I’ve never gotten a chance to do it live. Hopefully she’ll be joining us on the next fall tour. I’m really excited for that.

It’s the same with adding on any members. Even when we added on Anthony on keys. I already trusted his taste in music and his style before I asked him. It’s kind of one of those things where musicians understand each other without saying anything; they just trust each other’s musical taste.

You experiment quite a bit artistically, with Toro, with Les Sins, your own personal projects. What’s next?

I was thinking of getting into furniture design and interior design. I’m more of a minimalist, if anything. I try not to have as much stuff and I really don’t like stuff out; so I think that desire for interior design came from me working in my house all day. I gotta be in a space where I can live and work and not feel like my work is in my face at all times. Lately, I’ve just been thinking a lot about furniture. I think live-work spaces are the future. Collaborations still need to happen with some face-time, but for the most part there are a lot of people that work from home, and I think that's going to be a new thing. I don’t know, it’s something I just think is worth focusing an aesthetic choice towards.

Is that already in the process of being made?

It’s all just drawn out, I just have to get it to someone, but that’s all in time. I’ve got some ideas here and there — it’s nothing grand, because when it comes to furniture, it’s got one job: to hold something up, or make something a bit more ergonomic. I feel like my favorite furniture is just the most simple-looking stuff.

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The Story Behind Toro Y Moi’s Live From Trona Concert Film