Chaz Bear is accustomed to change. Much of his career as a musician, and a great deal of his adult life, has been dedicated to continuous evolution. Bear changes addresses—Columbia, S.C., to Berkeley, Calif., to Portland and back to the Bay Area—seemingly as often as he changes his musical identity under his moniker Toro y Moi—chillwave godhead to guitar-slinging indie-rocker to heady jazz guy to funk and R&B maestro. Bear's latest form finds the artist back in the Bay Area and on the precipice of releasing Outer Peace, his finest and most joyous record to date.
Bear has made a career of subverting the expectations of others and dipping his toes into whatever genre or frame of mind captures his attention next. Speaking over the phone, Bear, who often punctuates his statements with reflective pauses, says that's a result of a childhood spent juggling identities.
"Growing up biracial, you learn to float between cultures, because it's what you have to do to survive," he says. "One day you're hanging with the Filipino family and then the black family the next day. When I got into the arts, I definitely became more aware of that. I wanted to make my thing, something that represents me."
To an outsider, the myriad musical forms Toro y Moi has taken may seem surprising, but to Bear, they've all been natural evolutions. Whether making intricate indie rock or bounding about the stage in full-on R&B frontman mode as he plans to do this tour, he's exploring sounds that were always inside of him.
"I've always been influenced by different genres," says Bear. "You hear this idea of black music and, being a person of color, it's like, 'Well, what is black music?' and that question has always informed my palette. The beats, the chords, the emphasis of different words—I feel like that's kind of innate for people of color. I wanted to explore all these genres that aren't usually touched on by people of color and to keep searching for new sounds."
It's apparent from the outset that Outer Peace is going to be a celebratory endeavor. Opening cut "Fading" wastes no time enveloping the listener in the jaunty funk that permeates the record, and when Bear sings, "You are something I feel," over his exuberant backing falsetto, he may as well be addressing his own wandering creative muse.
Throughout Outer Peace, the latest incarnation of Toro comes across as a man who's satisfied with his lot in life but who's no less hungry for what's next. The hedonistic '90s dance music of the record belies the wistful ruminations within Bear's lyrics, which often find him examining his transition from hungry youngster with something to prove into an established, veteran artist. "Does sex even sell anymore?/I feel like I've seen it all/Or maybe I'm just old/Or maybe I'm just bored," Bear sings on the irresistibly funky "Ordinary Pleasure," sounding not unlike James Murphy—who gets a shout-out in the very next track. "James Murphy is spinning at my house/I met him at Coachella/All rare shit from Flying Dutchman," Bear talk-sings in the style of Murphy on "Laws of the Universe" while referencing two of LCD Soundsystem's most immortal tracks, "Losing My Edge" and "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House."
It's telling that Bear would reference Murphy's ode to Daft Punk, whose influence looms large on Outer Peace, particularly on lead single "Freelance." Bear says the track is an example of who he was trying to reach with this record: other creatives toiling away in front of their computer screens. "That's who I wanted to connect with, all the creatives who see that screen and nothing else around them," he says. "They have that focus of getting their craft out. 'Freelance' is this perspective that we're out here working on our own time now. The internet killed 9-to-5 for us."
Since he exists in a world made much smaller by the worldwide web, Bear aims to explore it. "Traveling really forces you to become this more aware being and teach yourself to survive in a way beyond fear," he says about his moves to and from Portland. "I'd just ended a relationship and needed to sort of reset my life, and Portland was perfect for that. Having these release events there felt natural and really brought things full circle."
In many ways, Bear is turning millennial disadvantages on their head. He might be working twice as hard for half the money as his forebears, but with the help of several hustles and a staunch work ethic, he's making our new internet-augmented reality work for him.
"That's what the loophole with creativity is—you can use your creativity to not let technology take you over, you can make it work for you," Bear says. "You can take it over. That's what Outer Peace is."
SEE IT: Toro y Moi plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., wonderballroom.com, with Old Grape God, on Friday, Jan. 18. 8 pm. Sold out. 21+.