Chaz Bundick is keenly aware that Portland doesn't always take kindly to transplants.
"Yeah, sure, there's a rivalry," says the Toro y Moi frontman, who moved to Oregon from California last year. "But it seems kind of ridiculous." He's been angrily yelled at more than once because of his former state of residence, but he's managed to laugh it off. "You know, that's just how societies grow," he says.
People like Bundick—ones with arty bands, a functional friendship with Tyler the Creator and a wife who, based on Google's autofill results, gets searched for almost as much as he does—could get by just fine acting like defensive assholes. But that's not Bundick's style. Since moving to Portland and single-handedly infecting us with the clear-plastic-glasses-frames virus, he says he's mostly "been laying low-key." Oh yeah, and making a live album. And a mixtape. And another album, too.
Bundick has a chameleonic personality. He dresses playfully, in colors and patterns and jewelry, but he maintains a mellow enough disposition to blend into his surroundings. Also, his music changes hue effortlessly. Toro y Moi rode the inaugural chillwave over to indie pop, through hip-hop beats and now a bit of jazz, but there's always been something intangibly "Toro y Moi" about it all. I underestimated the scope of Bundick's musical influences, until I asked if he's caught any Portland acts he liked and he immediately brought up local twangy country band Denver. "Seeing them live was something pretty impressive," he says. "I love country music."
Bundick doesn't veer into self-congratulation, despite his remarkable genre versatility and play-by-ear fluency in about five instruments. Instead, he's quick to compliment those he works with—most notably jazz duo the Mattson 2, which plays on Toro y Moi's new concert album, Live From Trona, and is collaborating with Bundick on an upcoming studio release called Star Stuff. "I don't even know where to start with them," Bundick says. "First of all, they're twins, so they have crazy powers. On top of that, they're virtuoso prodigy jazz kids."
He says the Mattson 2 was an obvious fit for Live From Trona because the project is hardwired to emphasize musicianship above everything. The album and accompanying concert video deliver. Hours of recording under the Mojave Desert's stunning Trona Pinnacles at sunset—with no audience—revealed a Toro y Moi with new priorities. The band may have gained traction mostly because of Bundick's crazy electronic production chops, but "I don't think people really understand that I like to go all the way to the other side of the spectrum, too," he says. Live From Trona presents spacious '70s rock versions of familiar songs, with Bundick giving them a whole second life.
He says the filming took place on "a very cosmic day, almost a dream—we were the only ones out there. I knew I wanted it to be in the desert because it's the setting that really isolates you. Every time I'm in the desert, I realize a lot of things about who I am." The strangest part, he says, was that "if you had to go to the bathroom, it was a 15-minute trek, or you had to wait for the bathroom car."
This is at the heart of Bundick's artistic gift, as well as what makes him feel like a real person. All that cosmic talk is never divorced from lighthearted takes on good old reality. With two feet firmly on the ground, Bundick is a master juggler, in life as in music.
"My music is just this bouncing spectrum," he says. "I just haven't made any country music. One day, that would be nice."
SEE IT: Toro y Moi and the Mattson 2 play Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., on Wednesday, Nov. 9. 8:30 pm. $20 advance, $22 day of show. All ages.