Chaz Budnick, better known in music circles as Toro y Moi, just released the upbeat funk-rock hybrid album What For? in April, but it's the experimental turns he takes in his self-released mixtape Samantha that is getting all the attention from listeners and critics.
"The main reason I [released Samantha] for free is because it's fun," Budnick says, "It's meant to catch people off guard with free music. It's stuff you create on your computer. And now it's out, so it's fun for me, too."
Look no further than the video "Dada Art," which the prolific musician co-directed with Sagan Lockhart and Josh Terris. The plot-less collaboration is hard to describe, with its grainy VHS format and Harmony Korine-esque visuals depicting a nameless couple going about their business over the course of a day. The video's music combines the tracks "Boo Boo Mobile," "Ambient Rainbow," and Budnick's production with a song by chillwave artist Washed Out titled "Want." The only thing missing from this mesmerizing piece of art is a date/time stamp in the lower right-hand corner.
You almost can hear Budnick blush over the phone when discussing the video.
"My friends [Lockhart and Terris] tend to find the craziest photos," the 28-year-old musician says. "I wanted to do it with video. We shot it on VHS. I told them to pick some songs of the album that they would want to use. They knew the aesthetic I was going for. It was an understood vibe that it was going to be weird. My theory behind it was that as long as it was good music, the video could be pretty much whatever it is. There's no storyline behind it. There's just visuals for the music."
What For? also started as an experiment. Recorded in Budnick's home studio in Berkeley, California, over an eight-month period, it rides a line between an artist moving forward with his sound and retaining a feeling that unmistakably belongs to the Columbia, South Carolina, native. While Samantha can feel sparse and dark, What For? is buoyant, syncopated, and groovy with tinges of psychedelic rock.
"I don't really think about having my own sound," Budnick says. "That will always inevitably come through regardless of what genre any artist is writing for. It's always going to have a little of their own voice, but I did intentionally try to go a different route. I try not to repeat myself with my albums. There's not too much pressure coming from being labeled. It's more just trying to keep it interesting for myself, really."
If creating videos and releasing a critically acclaimed album and mixtape weren't prolific enough, Budnick also releases what he classifies as "weirder material" under the moniker Les Sins, so as to not alienate those familiar with the distinctive sound of Toro y Moi. Yet when he performs, his chief concern isn't to show off his musical tastes or send a message. Budnick wants to use every tool at his disposal to ensure that the audience is moving to the sounds he has worked hard to create.
"My main goal is to show that music is all the same," he says, "No matter the genre or race, music is just sound, frequency, and notes. Especially at our shows, there's such a diverse crowd. They get each other for an hour and a half because they're seeing this artist they can relate to. If people came come out and support that, that's great. I'm not going to preach about it, though."