Toro y Moi shows his love for Filipino heritage on ‘Mahal’

Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear hangs out at his studio in Oakland. Photo: Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

After more than a decade hiding in the shadows, Chaz Bear is ready to let the world know who he is.

On his latest album as Toro y Moi — the most recognizable of his many musical alter egos — the 35-year-old South Carolina native and longtime Bay Area resident wears his identity on his record cover. The cover of “Mahal” shows Bear (ne Bundick) posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with his custom Filipino jeepney.

Colorful minibuses are a ubiquitous form of public transportation in the Philippines, where his mother emigrated to the United States when she was just 17, and Bear thought it was the perfect vehicle, literally, to reconnect with. its South Asian origin.

“I never shared my Filipino side,” Bear said, speaking to The Chronicle from his design studio in Oakland. “Where I am in my life, I’ve never given myself the opportunity to represent this before. I wanted to do it right, but I wanted to do it in a new way.

As usual, however, Bear takes an indirect route to get there.

After more than a decade of releasing wispy pop recordings, practically inventing the genre of narcotic electronic music known as chillwave with his 2010 debut ‘Causers of This’ through 2019’s ‘Outer Peace’, Bear decided to mix it.

“Mahal,” slated for release on Friday, April 29, finds him harnessing psychedelic rock influences from the 1960s and 70s, alongside touches of 90s indie rock – something he briefly dabbled in on his debut album. 2015, “What For?”

In the music video for “The Loop” single, Bear is seen driving the jeepney – and other assorted vehicles, including everything from GoCars to skateboards – through the Bay Area with his friends, hitting various landmarks and turning heads.

“Finding the jeepney was a big factor in this theme,” he said.

He developed the concept for “Mahal” more than a decade ago, he explained, slowly gathering ideas as he worked on his other projects. Bear has worked with a diverse group of collaborators during this time, including Iranian-Austrian artist Sofie Royer, Ruban Nielson of New Zealand psychedelic rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Mexican-born Alan Palomo of Neon Indian. But it wasn’t until 2020 that the coronavirus pandemic kept him off the road long enough to finish it.

There are also other themes that run through the album. His love for the Beatles shines through, especially after watching Peter Jackson’s nearly eight-hour unfiltered documentary series about the band, “Get Back.”

“This series was a live broadcast before the live broadcast,” Bear said. “They captured it all – burps, farts, hiccups. It was advanced on how entertainment and the future work. It’s their understanding of the content machine and how to deliver it in the most truthful way.

He also struggled with his role in the content machine, after years of intentional anonymity. He said the pandemic had triggered an awakening in him and made him realize that he could no longer hide behind dim lights and stage fog during his performances, but as a creator in 2022 he had to. engage with their audience.

“That’s where I was with this record. No more playing or putting on that sad boy, elusive image,” Bear said. “It’s not like I’m elusive. I was just never on top of my content game. But that’s where things are going. Either you have a high yield or you don’t. It’s important these days to have a visual for everything you release, whether it’s concert dates or a song. The still image fades slowly.

Part of the reason he bought the jeepney on eBay last year, he said, was so he could use it to hold small-scale outdoor performances for his fans during the pandemic. . Before that, he played outside of record stores and cafes, but he always yearned for that personal connection with his fans.

“There’s this conscious decision, not to reinvent but just to open another window and let people have more of my perspective on things,” he said. “I am a somewhat reserved artist. If you give all of a sudden, it’s (1) not fun but (2) it leaves less to the imagination. I try to open the windows of my mind at the appropriate time.

The result is an intimate and finely detailed album that shows off his diverse influences while asserting his personal identity.

“There is an innate way for Filipinos to assimilate and settle down,” he said. “We are kind of anonymous. We are ambiguous. It is sometimes difficult to define the Filipino culture. It is a mixture of Asian and Hispanic cultures. I just wanted to portray him because there aren’t many Filipinos in the spotlight.

Chaz Bear from Toro y Moi in 2015. He decided to mix things up on his latest album. Photo: Joshua Trujillo / 2015

Bear acknowledged that other Filipino-born artists are gaining prominence, such as half-British indie rocker Beabadoobee, experimental R&B producer Mndsn and Bay-area-based R&B singer Kiyomi, alongside artists well known like Grammy winners Olivia Rodrigo and Bruno Mars and local favorites HER and Kirk Hammett of Metallica. But with “Mahal”, which in Tagalog translates to “love” in English, he wanted to fully embrace his cultural identity.

“I felt like I was the only one who could pull it off with a ’67 jeepney,” Bear said. “It felt like a good time to share the representation, not just where the company is, but where I am in my life in the Bay Area. The Bay Area has a huge Filipino community, so that’s really who I’m talking to with this record. By focusing on the local community, we are able to fix things from within.

Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi released a short film with images of San Francisco with his latest album, “Mahal”. Photo: Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

To accompany “Mahal”, Bear also produced a short film titled “Goes by So Fast”, which stars comedian Eric André.

“Chaz, you’re my co-pilot, you always have been and you always will be,” Andre says in the trailer for the film, which shows them blazing a trail across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Directed by longtime Los Angeles video collaborator Harry Israelson, who previously oversaw Toro y Moi’s concert film “Live in Trona,” the film is as much a hodgepodge as the album. It is composed of animation sequences, live performances and documentary sequences. It premiered on April 22 at an event at Brain Dead Studios in Los Angeles.

After the Astroworld tragedy, this Bay Area musician donates his fees to the families of the victims

Toro y Moi performed at the Astroworld Festival in 2021. Photo: Jamal Ellis

Toro y Moi, a veteran of Bay Area music festivals such as Outside Lands and Treasure Island, also has a short US tour in support of “Mahal’ stands in line for this summer, including some festival appearances. His earliest local date, at this time, is Music + Weekend Camping in Big Sur on September 23 and 24. But he still feels conflicted with touring with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting so many people.

“I feel like I’m getting my legs back a bit, but I’m still not really traveling,” Bear said. “I already feel weird playing big gigs while people are still getting sick, so I’m trying to find that ethical balance in all of this.”

Last year, he performed on the second day of Travis Scott’s 2021 Astroworld Festival in Houston, where 10 people died and dozens more were injured. In the days following the tragedy, he announced his intention to donate all profits from the event to the families of the victims.

“Profiting with this event feels completely unnecessary to me and I would like to encourage other artists to consider helping out in some way,” he said in a statement at the time.

Despite his newfound openness to change, the first track on “Mahal” finds Bear in a nostalgic mood. On “The Medium,” he laments the slow death of print (including this newspaper) and its conflicting feelings about the internet age. That’s part of the reason why the cover looks like a magazine cover, with a hidden barcode in the corner.

He’s still grappling with the question of whether he’s giving too much.

“I feel like I’m speaking my truth,” Bear said. “It’s not a record made with the motivation to be a commercial success. It was designed as a work of art. If it’s successful, so much the better. As long as he holds the truth, he will rise to the top.

Toro y Moi Music + Camping Weekend: September 23-24. Sold. Fernwood Campground and Resort, 47200 Highway 1, Big Sur.

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