An intimate and polished journey, ‘Mahal’, Toro y Moi’s seventh studio album, is his most audacious project yet. On it, the California-based artist skips nimbly across genres and sound, weaving ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic rock with squishy electronics; ‘90s post-rock and grunge underpinned by a unique left-field aesthetic that only he is capable of creating. Throughout the 13-track release, Toro y Moi – the musical moniker of Chaz Bear – flexes his capabilities, while further cementing his status as a bonafide auteur.
Since the release of debut record ‘Causers of This’ in 2010, he’s proved to be one of the decade’s most influential musicians. So much so, that in 2017 the city of Berkeley, California deemed June 27 to be ‘Chaz Bundick Day’ in celebration of the artist. Throughout his career Bear has created music that is colourful and layered, chasing themes of unrequited love and modern life, while constantly shifting the idea of what his sound can be; collaborating with the likes of Tyler, the Creator, Travis Scott, Blood Orange and The Avalanches along the way.
Yet it’s ‘Mahal’, dropping 29 April on Secretly Group’s Dead Oceans label, which might be his best and most eclectic project to date. Ahead of the record’s release, Toro Y Moi spoke to NME from his home in California to discuss creating the album, signing to Dead Ocean’s and why his tour schedule for ‘Mahal’ will look a bit different. Here’s what we learned.
‘Mahal’ has been in the works for five years
The idea to make ‘Mahal’ first came to Toro y Moi half a decade ago. Alongside working on other projects, he was slowly crafting the record together, gathering like-minded collaborators like Iranian-Austrian artist Sofie Royer, Ruban Neilson of New Zealand psych rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo .
However it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic struck that he was able to find time to fully work on it. “I have been chipping away at this thing, wanting to make another psych rock record that’s not as clean and a little bit more gritty,” he says, adding: “quarantine made me want to finish it.”
On ‘Mahal’ he critiques the digital age
Interwoven throughout ‘Mahal’ is a subtle commentary of the digital age and the decline of “printed matter.” “It’s a fading thing,” he says, “having paper and periodicals, books, magazines and postcards. I wanted to touch on that and show that there is something enjoyable and sweet about that.” This theme is evident on ‘Postman’ – where Toro Y Moi sings about receiving snail mail – where he asks: ”Mr. Postman / Did I get mail? / Did I get a letter? / Did I get a postcard?” .
He feels at home on new label Dead Oceans
Toro y Moi has released the bulk of his musical output through indie label Carpark Records; but for ‘Mahal’ he wanted a change. “It got to the point where I felt like I was outgrowing Carpark and looking for another home,” he explains.
It was Secretly Group’s Dead Oceans label, home to the likes of Mitski, Khruangbin and Phoebe Bridgers, that ended up being the right fit. “I’ve been a fan of Secretly for my entire career,” he says. “When it came to record shopping, I’ve never really done that before, but I felt good about the whole move and deal. I feel like with all the artists there, I really resonate with them honestly. It really feels like home.”
He wrote the lyrics for ‘Mahal’ last
Each artist has their own musical method, and that was certainly the case for Toro y Moi’s seventh record. Rather than penning the lyrics and then setting them to music, he did it the other way around, straying away from his usual musical methodology. In fact, he had the album fully produced before perfecting the lyrics.
It was something he grappled with as the pandemic set in and he found that most artists were going to focus on the one subject. “You can assume that every artist is probably going to write about Covid; but I didn’t want ‘Mahal’ to remind you of dark times. I had a lot of time to really come up with a plan and think of something fun and smart for this rollout.”
Tour schedules will look a bit different
After spending a decade on the road, seeing family and friends infrequently while his “plants died”, Toro y Moi wants to come out of the pandemic with an intentional method to his touring schedule. He wants to ease the pressure off himself and do what’s realistic while maintaining the connections with his listeners. “I’m taking my time and not jumping into things too fast,” he says.
“I’m trying to be a little bit more intentional. I don’t see myself going on the road for four plus weeks or anything like that. That’s just not in my head at the moment. I’m focused on trying to get my home and work remaining on track. Being on the road, you start to lose touch with your people, your family. I don’t like coming home to bills and dead plants.”
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