Toro Y Moi for Red Bulletin

Chazwick Bundick, the chillaxed electro-pop maestro known as Toro Y Moi, is less chillaxed than normal today. Maybe it’s because he's about to unveil his art on his home turf of San Francisco for the first time. And you always wanna make a good first impression on your home turf, even if you're one of the founding fathers of chillwave.
Recognized primarily for his music, drawing has nonetheless been a major creative outlet throughout Bundick’s life. In fact he was doodling in his first sketchbook way before he figured out how to use ProTools. He still has those first drawings, back from when Michael Jackson and Ninja Turtles ruled his world.
“I was 5 years old, so my Michael Jacksons had big round goblin faces,” he says. “Those drawings were kind of playful, and really cool.” Judging by his latest efforts, his art hasn’t changed much -- still kind of playful, and still really cool.
He’s standing in front of 13 of his canvases, all of them strictly 2D, in shades of black and red and laden with comic-book nostalgia. There’s a red tongue with a pill on it, and a stylized rendering of the number 3. The paintings line the walls of the tiny gallery space at Public Works Gallery in San Francisco’s Mission district. Bundick arrived a few minutes ago, still a little damp from the rain, after taking BART from his place in Berkeley.
A contemporary-art junkie who reads Juxtapoz and studied graphic design in college, Bundick is all nerd chic in tortoiseshell glasses and red rain jacket as he explains the concept behind his show. Because this isn’t just an art opening, as he points out -- it’s also a listening party.
Beneath each painting hangs a pair of headphones, each looping a different track from his forthcoming album, ‘Anything in Return.’ He’s trying to create an experience -- one that is public yet private, less subject to the alcohol and the jostling of a gallery show, yet more inclusive than plugging into your laptop by yourself.
“The Internet has made music too fast-paced, and therefore very forgettable,” explains Bundick. “So I wanted to do something that was interactive and physical, as opposed to just online and virtual.”
Later that night, the small gallery will fill with Toro Y Moi fans, who will don the headphones and nod their heads in quiet appreciation while checking out the paintings in front of them. “By connecting people to the art as well as the music, you’re heightening their listening experience. I think it’s better this way.”
There is no discernible correlation between the paintings and the songs -- the art was created after the music, and the music was not made with any of the visuals in mind. But Bundick cares less about the art matching the songs and more about creating an environment in which to hang out with his music. “Like this, people can preview the album without any distractions,” he says. “No skip buttons. No ability to see the .wav file on SoundCloud, which means you can’t skip ahead to the breakdown.”
There are plenty of contemporary acts using art to enhance the musical experience -- from singer Hannah Hooper occasionally painting canvases live on stage while her band, Grouplove, jams behind her, to the LED-screen backdrops employed by artists Richie Hawtin and Nine Inch Nails that involve audience smartphone participation.
Last year, Usher hired multimedia gurus Moment Factory to create “participatory content” for his show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, with the audience posting tweets on a stage screen in real time and creating on-screen avatars that danced with Usher for a song.
With thousands of new songs popping up on the Internet every day -- on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Vimeo, blogs, etc. -- it’s no surprise musical acts are searching for ways to give their music a longer shelf life, even if it is just in peoples’ heads.
So is this a one-off for Bundick or is he planning to launch a visual arts career? He laughs a little, and shrugs. In fact, while he was a student in the University of South Carolina’s graphic design program, he was in the process of sending his résumé to graphic design firms, right around the time Toro Y Moi became popular in 2010. “Honestly I thought the design would take off first, that it was more realistic than music,” says Bundick.
“Definitely, art has always been a big part of who I am.” But the music is what got the attention, with his sounds becoming part of the ridiculously named but briefly influential “chillwave” scene; his 2011 album ‘Underneath the Pine’ was named one of the top 50 albums of the year by Pitchfork, who commended his “knack for analog warmth” alongside his gifts for “lush ambiance” and “addictive rhythmic interplay.”
That’s serious praise from some of the most serious music critics in America. Which is why Bundick’s art is the exact opposite of serious. “People say I’m a -- quote unquote -- ‘deep thoughtful songwriter,’ ” he says. “But I don’t always act deep and thoughtful. I think my art shows that side of my personality.”
There is the finely nuanced, cerebral Bundick that you can hear piped through the earphones, and then an entirely different, giggling, childlike Bundick before your eyes. One of his paintings looks like a bleeding pear, for instance. “What does it mean? I don’t know,” he shrugs. “It’s a pear, and it’s bleeding?”
So perhaps the art is his way of relieving the pressure of being Chazwick Bundick, chillwave luminary, or even “the next Prince,” as someone once put it. “Listen, don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate how seriously people take my music, because that’s how I want to be accepted as a musician,” says Bundick. “But you can take life too seriously. That’s why people get thrown off when they look at my drawings and see that I’ve drawn a pear, or a pipe, or a big boob. Because believe it or not, I like boobs.”

This article originally appeared in Red Bulletin magazine, January 2013.