A 13-album catalog, sold-out tours, and lyrical themes of existential despair are not what come to mind when thinking about a 24-year-old musician. Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, however, has all of these and more under his belt.
For Toledo, music was always a presence. From his father teaching him how to play piano, to briefly assembled bands throughout high school, he was always looking for an outlet.
“I grew up always writing songs in my head,” he says.
But it wasn’t until the end of high school, when Toledo discovered Bandcamp and its potential to launch him into stardom, that he committed to making the songs in his head a reality. Thus, the Virginia native truly got his start in the parking lots all over his hometown of Leesburg, in which he’d record songs in the back of his car to ensure privacy. The car seat headrests were his only audience, giving way to the name of his solo act.
“It was a place for me to work out various songs that I hadn’t really worked out with anyone else. It was sort of my private space for me to explore various things,” he says.
Those explorations became an entire catalog of 11 self-released Bandcamp albums with 12 hours of music showing Toledo’s transition from high school graduate who did not want to continue his education (“You Have to Go to College”) to directionless 20-something. A prime example, “The Ballad of Costa Concordia,” named for the disastrous cruise ship crash in 2012, laments his perceived incompetence. But Car Seat Headrest handles this angst with often hilarious self-deprecation without dipping too far into self-loathing.
“The music has documented the process of growing up,” he says. Again, he’s only 24.
Toledo, who played all the instruments himself on his early projects, had always performed live with a backup band, but after graduating from College of William and Mary in Virginia, he finally found a lineup he was willing to commit to for the foreseeable future.
“I prefer working with a band,” he says. “By that point, I just graduated college and I wanted to take my music to the next level and start doing it for a living. And at that point, I’d have to start getting a band together.”
Indie powerhouse Matador Records signed Car Seat Headrest last year, and released the compilation album Teens of Style a month later, pulling from Toledo’s extensive back catalog of fuzzy reverb and classic pop sensibility. Toledo’s band then re-recorded the tracks.
“In a way, it’s better because [the music] feels real in a way the imagined version didn’t. I think there’s better quality the closer to reality I bring it,” he says.
A little over half a year later, Car Seat Headrest released Teens of Denial, produced by Steve Fisk (Soundgarden, Nirvana), which Toledo describes as more personal and unique.
“It is a sort of culmination of what I’ve always been trying to do with my music — to take older music and do something like an homage, but original and new at the same time. I think with a lot of my earlier work, it was striving for a sort of ’60s sound, and this album is hopefully less pastiche but still works with those elements and brings new life
As for moving away from Bandcamp?
“There’s a lot more to consider now than when I started
Car Seat Headrest is scheduled to perform Thursday, November 10, at Crescent Ballroom.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.