By Alex HudsonOf all the artists to emerge from the chillwave craze, Toro y Moi (aka Chaz Bundick) has arguably been the most successful at transcending the confines of the genre and carving out his own path. His previous full-length, replaced woozy electronics with crisp live instrumentation, while his Les Sins side-project has given him an outlet for his dance floor-oriented inclinations. With these stylistic turns in mind, Anything in Return functions as an all-in-one summary of Bundick's talents, giving the impression of a maturing songwriter who has found his wheelhouse. The instrumentation is largely electronic, with perky beats providing a danceable backdrop for warm synth textures, R&B-flavoured melodies and chopped-up vocal samples. If the album has a downfall, it's that there are no clear standouts, and the 52-minute runtime means that Bundick's subtle hooks get lost in the sheer quantity of material. Then again, if having too much of a good thing is the worst that can be said about Anything in Return, it is a success.
This album is more electronic than your last. What was your stylistic vision? I knew I didn't want to do something like Underneath the Pine again, meaning traditional instruments with no programming or computers. I knew that I wanted to go back and start messing with electronics and sampling — experimenting more with electronic production. I tried to incorporate the two, pretty much.
Was your approach to electronic music different than it was on Causers of This or your Les Sins side material? When I was doing this, I was experimenting at the same time, trying to figure out new sounds. I ended up making whatever and then deciding after the song was finished whether it was going to be Les Sins or Toro y Moi. If it was Toro y Moi, of course I'd try to make it a Toro y Moi song, whether [with] singing or [making it] a little bit catchier. With Toro y Moi, I like to focus on the pop aspects and with Les Sins, it's definitely more of a dance-y thing. With tracks like "Say That," "Rose Quartz" and "Touch," when I started making those, I wasn't even sure what they were going to be — if they were dance tracks or if they were going to have vocals.
How do these electronic songs translate live? That was an issue we came across when I was doing Causers of This, so when it came time to do another electronic album, I was aware of that and I was like, "Okay, I want these songs to work live." I tried to keep the band in mind, but then I tried to ensure that I was aware I was still doing an electronic album. It works pretty easily. The most important thing is the rhythm section, and we try to focus on filling in everything else.
Each of your albums has a different sound. Is this an attempt to challenge listeners or are you more concerned with challenging yourself? Both. In a way, I've wanted to challenge myself to see if I could even try to do something similar to what mainstream music does, in regards to how big sounding it is. Also, when it comes to challenging the listener, [I'm] trying to make people who mostly listen to pop music interested in other genres and vice-versa. Pop music really has a bad rep, especially in the States. A lot of that Euro-trash pop stuff sort of just numbs everybody's skull. I wanted to play around with the idea of having dance-y pop music that's not trashy.
Anything in Return has sort of a '90s dance mix sound. Yeah. It was definitely influenced by lots of different types of house, from deep house to two-step. It was kind of that vibe for sure, with songs like "Harm in Change" and "Say That." The chords they use — that's just something I've been a fan of for a while. I really wanted to mess around with those kinds of elements and revisit what I did on Causers, but make those elements a little bit better and more apparent.
The album uses a great deal of vocal samples. Are these original recordings or did you take them from other sources? I recorded most of those. I recorded a couple of singers and some of the weirder ones are just me screaming in my room.
One that really stood out, in a good way, is the sample from "Rose Quartz." I can't tell you [where that's from] because that's sample snitching [laughs].
What was your lyrical focus on Anything in Return? Mainly just talking about my move out to California with my girlfriend; we live together now. That can be a big change, but it also kind of feels good, in a way, to do that for the first time. Especially at this age ; it's a sign you're growing up, becoming an adult.
Has moving to California shaped the sound of your music? In a way; it's definitely made more comfortable with a lot more genres. Not comfortable as in I was uncomfortable [before], but I just mean more familiar. The Bay Area has so much hip-hop, so much psychedelic music and so much dance music. All of those things being there at my fingertips — I can go any of those shows whenever — is really nice.
Do you have a scene that you're connected with in the Bay Area or are you still an outsider? I'm pretty much an outsider [laughs]. I have my band out and we know a couple of other musicians out there, but it's slowly growing. We've only been there for a year; we pretty much moved out there not knowing anyone.
Are your songs autobiographical? That's kind of all I know how to do right now. I'm going to try to move around and find other stuff to write about, but writing about my life is kind of a good go-to thing. I could pull the Paul McCartney card and start writing about fake characters if I wanted or I could just become a rapper and sing about money, women and power.
What is the significance of Anything in Return as a title? The meaning kind of summed up the album, which I think most album titles should do. Whenever you're doing something, you're just doing it as a favour. It's not that you want anything in return, but you're not expecting anything in return. I'm just sort of giving myself, and what I have to offer, as a gift.