A decade into his career making music as Toro y Moi, Chaz Bear knows artistic evolution is the key to longevity.
During the album cycle for his latest full-length album, MAHAL, which he released this past April, he's shared music videos for singles "Déjà Vu," "The Loop," "Postman" and "Magazine," culminating in the release of Goes By So Fast, a Harry Israelson-directed short film starring Bear and Eric André.
More than any Toro y Moi album that has preceded it, MAHAL lives in a multimedia context, pushing the limits of what Bear has done in the past and expanding outwards in any medium he feels serves the music.
Now, Bear has shared the album’s fifth video, "Millennium," directed by Christo and Glenn Michael of creative collective Kid. Studio, which sees him and his band — in full space-age garb and alien prosthetics — play a New Year’s Eve show in a hospital filled with distinct characters as the calendar turns to the year 2000.
As he gears up to play the album in full for the first time at two sold-out shows at Big Sur’s Fernwood Resort this weekend, Bear sat down with PAPER to talk about the "Millennium" video, translating his music into visual content and making his work sustainable as an indie artist.
Talk us through the genesis of the video’s concept. Kid. Studio has directed other videos of yours, so how did this specific collaboration come about?
Kid. Studio did the "Postman" video, and then, not too long after, they got a pretty fun offer to do a video with a little bit more funding. So they proposed this whole, insane treatment with alien makeup and I was very, very down. Honestly, I haven't done anything with prosthetics or CGI to that extent, so it felt like a nice little experiment to just jump into.
Is that ability to go big or experimental something you look for in collaborators?
Not all the time, but it depends on the situation and the timing. It's more like I asked myself, "What is it that I haven't done yet? And what is it that I want to do?" It's more that I haven't done any of that kind of stuff before. I haven't really done a shiny music video. A lot of my music videos are pretty DIY. Again, it’s just that the imagery is so different for me. Honestly, it's kind of a fantasy vibe.
Looking at all of the MAHAL videos back-to-back is interesting, just because they live in their own different worlds, like you said. It feels like a microcosm of your output, almost because we’ve watched the kind of evolution from one album to the next, and how different each of those worlds are. Then, we see these different visual facets, even within the one album from song to song.
Yeah, I feel like this record is a little more traditional, in the sense that the instrumentation and production of the whole thing is a bit more straightforward. It's not like all these electronic sounds you've never heard before, sort of changing your perception or anything, but it's more just kind of '70s, kind of '90s — straightforward instruments. I feel like that allowed me to get a little bit more experimental with the visuals, given that those sounds are so typical.
In terms of expanding the Toro y Moi Cinematic Universe, if you want to call it that, that kind of branched out into Goes By So Fast starring you and Eric André, which features the music, but is also this whole separate animal as well. Was that another endeavor you just felt the album lent itself to?
The cinematic element never really was part of my plan. I think that's just the visual team I work with. They tend to constantly outdo themselves and everyone's always pushing for bigger ideas. But I feel like my overall approach for this was to just let Toro be Toro and not try to suppress it in any sort of, like, masochistic way.
Do you feel like Toro works as a vehicle for this idea that you can branch out creatively in whatever way you want, no matter the medium?
Sometimes. I think the meat of this entire campaign probably revolves mostly around the film with Eric André. ["Millennium"] is the first video to not feature the Jeepney [the modified Jeep featured on MAHAL’s cover] at all. It's more just a standalone storyline. Even the song itself is different from the rest of the album being that most of it is kind of psych and rock. So this one is like the only funky track other than "Postman." But this video’s about New Year's. So it's not like a New Year's record or anything, but I felt like this track needed to come out sooner than later.
Tying it back into the video, and the record as a whole, there’s definitely a sense that you’re pulling from the past, but it also feels like a really natural evolution for you musically. There’s a looser spontaneity that feels new to the music that pulls from these older influences.
Yeah, everything feels good. I feel like I'm at the point in my career where I, for the most part, have shown you or shown listeners what I can do. I can do rock or electronic, R&B. So I kind of feel like I'm, at this point, elevating the quality and elevating the connectivity — just pushing the content further really. After 2020, I really felt like a lot of people are really just consuming music with visuals, and to have a video for pretty much almost every song is a first for me.
Was working those throughlines in the visuals and the music, like the Jeepney, also an organic decision?
I do feel like there is a vision to bring it to the masses in an accessible way, being the kind of act that Toro is, which is this left of center, sort of indie act. I've always struggled with trying to find a way to elevate or get more views or get more eyes on the project as an independent artist not on a major label. So there's all these different ways now with the internet and technology to go around having to have such a big platform, or being backed by such a big, big label, for example. So I think yeah, that's mostly what I'm doing marketing-wise for this campaign. It's just trying to figure out: how can I make this sustainable being on an indie, essentially. Just pretty much spending more money. [Laughs]
Right. There’s that tricky thing where you don’t know whether it’ll get to the masses if you don’t have that machine backing you, but it feels like, just looking through the listening party stuff that you did for MAHAL and the Easter eggs that you put into the work, there's a communal experience that you create for people who listen to your music that continues the whole way through if you go back to the beginning.
Exactly, that's the whole thing. I think what a lot of people connect with is the story of the growth of the whole project, or the artists or the person behind the artists. People want to see a success story, and they want to see you invest in yourself and invest in art. So like, I'm not buying chains or fancy clothes, but I'll buy a Jeepney. For fans to see that that's where their money is going — towards the art — is what I feel like it's important to prove at this level, being a decade in.
Photography: Chris Maggio
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