Will Toledo is getting over a cold. Rock 'n' roll has perhaps caught up to the guy. As Car Seat Headrest, Toledo has self-released nearly a dozen albums recorded entirely by himself in his bedroom. Speaking on a recent Wednesday morning, as he prepares to go out on the road with a newly assembled band, touring in support of his first release for a real label, Toledo sounds confident, if a little congested.
"It's not what my ideal version would be," he says about all the press he's had to do recently, "but what's important is that the people who might want to listen to this music or hear about what I have to say have a chance to when I do this."
It's an increasingly familiar story, in an age when getting signed, making a record and forming a band are all chronologically jumbled steps to a very unlikely path toward a fruitful career. After Toledo filled his Bandcamp page with hours of eloquent, homespun symphonic fuzz, Matador Records—the influential label whose artists had long informed Toledo's taste—took notice. Teens of Style, released on Matador in October, is a compilation of reworked older songs, handpicked to showcase different aspects of his repertoire.
"I sort of had it in mind before Matador showed up to do a compilation of older stuff," Toledo says. "There were songs that sounded better in the context of their original album, but these I thought could have a new life and sound good in different contexts."
The updated songs have all the charm of an introvert's quirky proficiency with translating the strange and esoteric into indolent pop music. Every chorus on the album takes up residence in your brain for the next hour, one at a time, until it's replaced by its successor. Fans of early Thermals or Strokes will recognize the compressed distortion of a young voice wailing into a cacophony of echo, but the melodies bring to mind infectious '60s pop.
With so many songs having been written several years ago and only now finding a wider audience, Toledo already has Teens of Style's follow-up—a sister album of sorts—in the can. Teens of Denial is another collection of older material, written while he was still a one-man band and college student living in Williamsburg, Va. It was recorded after his relocation to Seattle late last year, with legendary Seattle producer Steve Fisk, and the influence is palpable.
"Teens of Denial has a Seattle feel," Toledo says. "The content was Williamsburg, but the production is very Seattle-centric."
Denial is set for release in the spring. In the meantime, Toledo is focused on taking his private, indoor project to the masses. In addition to recontextualizing older tracks, he is now reinterpreting his catalog with his band for the live show. It's entirely uncharted territory for him. But aside from the bout of influenza, Toledo isn't sweating it.
"After spending so long as an online solo act, I felt like I was missing out on the live performance aspect of it," he says. "Part of my goal in moving to Seattle was to form that live band and start playing live more. That was also one of the things I was thinking about when writing Teens of Denial, so they're all kind of geared towards live performance. Now, I'm mostly just grateful to have the opportunity to be touring this year."
SEE IT: Car Seat Headrest plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Pwr Bttm and Naked Giants, on Saturday, Jan. 23. 9 pm. $12 advance, $14 day of show. 21+.