Somewhere between starting his own record label and design agency – Company Records and Company Creative – Chaz Bundick found the time to record his fifth album What For? Considered and softly spoken, the twenty-nine-year-old artist – better known by his stage name as Toro y Moi – flipped priorities recently between his visual and aural lives. “Music is sort of my job now,” he says, “so I treat design as a hobby.”
Just a few short years ago, music was the hobby as Bundick busied himself studying graphic design. But as far as side-projects go, this one paid off. Coming up as a bedroom producer in the late 2000s, Bundick helped push chillwave into the mainstream with his laid-back debut Causers of This. But when the short-lived genre felt over-saturated, Bundick consciously diversified, stepping into fresh musical territory with each new release. He’s collaborated with the likes of Caribou and Odd Future, and with What For? is straying onto more solid indie rock ground. “It’s fun to challenge people. No one wants to put a record on, and know exactly what to expect,” he says. “That’s why I really enjoy changing it up.” And yet, his electronic roots remain intact; even as he put together this new record, he tinkered with other tunes on the side. “As far as still creating electronic-type stuff? I just held on to it… It’s just sitting on my computer. Who knows? I might release it one day.”
Bundick’s eclectic leanings had humble beginnings. Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, he gave up piano lessons at twelve. His mom sang in a wedding band, and he had watched his father stumble along in front of the keys for years, so he figured it would be easier to just teach himself. “My dad learned to play the piano at maybe thirty-something,” he says. “It was kind of cool to see how he progressed, and where he’s at now. Hearing the songs he would play in the house, I think that really did influence me. Bob Dylan songbooks, Elvis Costello and the Beatles. He was more toward that side of classic rock, as opposed to the Eagles or the cheesier stuff.”
He played in bands in high school, started recording songs at fifteen, and dreamed of making music his career – especially when he was stuck behind the counter of Chick-fil-A. “After I worked there for a few months, I remember getting really depressed at high school and crying at the end of my workday,” he laughs. “I would go from school to work. I wasn’t really working for anything. But just the fact that I had become officially part of the working force, that you have to follow these rules and serve, that kind of depressed me a bit… It sparked a lot of thinking. I was like, ‘What am I going to do after high school? I don’t want to work at Chick-fil-A.’ It kind of beat me down. I started writing songs about the way I felt around that age.”
With music still a hobby throughout college, Bundick spent another eight years working in restaurants, cafés and bagel shops before finding a placement at a local design agency. “It was pretty boring,” he says. “I was just making political flyers for different politicians. I wouldn’t even call it graphic design. It was sort of crappy intern work that involved Photoshop.” When his internship finished at the end of the political season, he graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in graphic design. “After that I went back to the bagel shop,” he says.
Today the gap between burger flipper and artist seems vast. He has big plans for Company Creative – from launching a magazine to furniture design – and is about to embark on a world tour. But the drive Bundick brings to his dizzying array of projects traces back to that early run of shitty jobs. “I feel like a lot of people, when they become successful, they become comfortable,” he says. “That leads to laziness. You really have to be aware of that and try to stay hungry somehow.” Ambition is relative though, and in this case it has humble roots. “I’m not the biggest thing in the world and that’s not really the goal,” he says. “The goal is to really write as many albums as possible that are solid… I’m not trying to become the biggest thing in the world. I just want to be proficient.”
With his knack for turning hobbies into careers, Bundick is in a privileged position to talk about the hidden potential of doing what you love. “It’s good to be busy and keep busy, finding different creative projects,” he says. “I feel like people should find some other outlet, regardless of their occupation. If it’s not something like art or design, maybe it’s something more physical, like rock climbing or running. I strongly believe in hobbies.”