Toro y Moi Is a Workaholic and Here’s the Proof

Chaz Bear demonstrates a type of hustle familiar to anyone who works from home.

Toro y Moi. Photo by Jack Bool

Balancing performance against an introverted temperament bedevils more than a few musicians. Some orchestral virtuosos find relief by vanishing into the pit, technically inclined DJs press buttons in the shadows, and then there’s Sia, who habitually sings facing backward and wears elaborate wigs to conceal her face.

For the prolific Toro y Moi, it’s more about staying on top of his affairs.

“I’m navigating my own sort of introvert-extrovert way of being a public figure,” he tells SF Weekly from his home in Oakland. “I feel like I’ve never really been that curious about the famous life or anything, but I do want to be successful.”

“I don’t mean to seem like I / Care about material things / Like a social status,” Animal Collective warbled on 2009’s “My Girls.” That was the same year that Chazwick Bundick emerged on the chillwave scene as Toro Y Moi. He emerged from that phenomenon creatively intact, and later legally changed his government name to Chaz Bear. On “Freelance,” the lead single from his forthcoming record Outer Peace, Toro y Moi sings about “rocking only sandals” and the self-doubt that can start to creep in when you work from home, in isolation — plus the song sounds ever so slightly like Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective, with a dancier groove.

The accompanying video opens looking straight down on a musician’s spare workstation, a perfect square of keyboards and a desktop before turning into a dry parody of photo sessions and the kind of dance-moves-while-wearing-a-hoodie that are such an essential part of the freelance routine on afternoons when there’s no one around but the cat.

“It’s an amazing job, but I’m doing the same thing anyone else is doing,” Bear says. “Just sitting at a computer all day. But I’m just thinking about music instead of crunching numbers. It’s like I’m trying to reveal the man behind the curtain a little bit in my own meta way.”

A workaholic who “starts late and ends late,” Bear moved back to Oakland after a spell in Portland, where he recorded 2017’s Boo Boo, which was framed by a car accident and a separation — but not divorce — from his wife. It’s not that hard to connect the dots: from changing his name to Bear to Yogi-Bear and Boo-Boo to all the “boo-boos” he endured. Confirming this bit of sleuthing, Bear adds that he’d wanted to “bring light to a lot of heavy situations.”

The Bay Area is in this South Carolina native’s bloodstream. On Boo Boo, the instrumental “Embarcadero” floated into his mind, reminiscent of the first time he ever set foot in San Francisco. “Freelance” — both song and video — reference Cazadero, the remote and very rainy hamlet a few miles above Guerneville, in the Russian River Valley. As a musician and as a visual artist, Bear is strongly influenced by place. Working hard, with the dedication and self-imposed structure of a freelance pro, he’s also keenly aware of what might be called “mystique maintenance.”

Never the type to play an automatic encore, Toro y Moi is nonetheless about to release an eighth record in a decade — and it’s hard to say that’s not a form of giving the people what they want. Even his on-again, off-again relationship with touring is all in the service of having the bandwidth to maximize a creative output. But, as he repeats on “Ordinary Pleasure,” the other cut from Outer Peace that emerged before the album itself, “Maximize all the pleasure.” For him, that means frequent hikes and plenty of “dog time.”

Toro y Moi’s social media presence is occasionally cryptic, with a lot of pictures of his shoes and feet, and full of the mundane beauty that fills so much of Instagram. (Witness the intensely saturated blue of the $5 mood ring he recently posted.) Never an aloof, disaffected art-ster, he merely knows where he has to draw the line in order to retain his productivity. Read that any way you like, as proof that Richard Florida’s “creative class” thesis still has legs or as evidence that art is a glorified hamster wheel.

“The Bay Area has that perfect mix of people who know how to get what they want and become good at it, but they don’t really care about the camera flashes and that stuff. I sort of feel like it fits me,” he says. “I’ve always tried to allow myself the option to go against the grain, because it’s not easy to do that once the thing sweeps you up and you get thrown into the whole circus of it all.”

In addition to his two shows at The Fillmore on Jan. 15-16, Bear has an art show up at Family Affair in the Lower Haight for another several days. A “conceptual retail installation” called O.P. Mart, it’s a visual extension of Outer Peace that includes a Super 8 film shot by Tyler McPherron in (where else but) Cazadero.

“Even after having multiple art shows, maybe 70 percent of my time is Toro and 30 percent I get to go draw and paint,” Bear says. “But honestly, it’s what I want to be doing. It’s hard to tell myself I want more music when I’m completely overloaded and my brain has all this space that is never used.”

That’s something for everyone who works at home to keep in mind next time they feel like they’re suffocating, maybe. Or at least Toro y Moi’s latest is a soundtrack by an artist who gets you.

Toro y Moi, Tuesday (sold out) and Wednesday, Jan. 15-16, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd. $29.50, thefillmore.com

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