Chaz Bundick probably thinks I’m an idiot. Chaz Bundick probably thinks I’m an idiot because, over the course of our 12-minute conversation, I accidentally attributed Toro Y Moi’s phenomenal live album Live from Trona to Joshua Tree National Park. Trona, California, in fact, is not in Joshua Tree. Relatively speaking, Trona is nowhere near Joshua Tree. But somehow, I got this whole part of our conversation wrong, and due to a shaky connection and piss-poor speakerphone quality, he literally had to correct me on this point three separate times.
Trona, on the contrary, is a small town north of Los Angeles that’s home to Searles Lake, a dried up basin where the terrific film portion of Toro Y Moi’s Trona experience was shot. And per Chaz’s recollection, it was the perfect location for such a unique project.
PMA: Live from Trona is tremendous. Toro Y Moi is the kind of band that resonates on a studio recording, but when you do it live, there’s so much more personality to it. Tell me about this concept. What inspired you?
TyM: The idea roots back to four or five years ago when I first started doing live-band performances. I knew that if I was going to go with a live-band image, I was going to go hard with it. I felt like the timing was right when we got the idea to make this film. We were all right there on the same page. But this has been a long time coming, and it’s crazy that it’s finally happening.
PMA: What inspired you to shoot in the Mojave Desert?
TyM: We knew we wanted our [filming] location to be in the US, and we knew that we wanted it to be in the desert. Trona fit that criteria. It’s about three hours north of LA. I think there are maybe like 2,000 people there, and it’s a small tourist town that’s slowly fading. There’s not really any tourism coming in. The National Park right there is just beautiful, and we used it for all the filming.
PMA: How did you formulate the set list? If I were you, I’d have a hard time narrowing down the tracks to perform.
TyM: We definitely wanted to pick stuff that were fan favorites, and we also wanted to pick songs that would translate well in a live setting. On top of that, we wanted to select songs that weren’t as reliant on the electronics and samples so we could give it that full rock ‘n roll approach. I felt like it was necessary—if you’re going to go this far to make a live record, you might as well make it live live.
PMA: Before I even listened to the album, I did a quick glance at the set list and was surprised not to see “Rose Quartz” on there! But it makes sense why you wouldn’t include such an electronically dependent song.
TyM: We were pretty torn on that one! But yeah, it was fun to pick the songs. I knew that electronic songs are way more of an in-person experience, but when it’s coming through a screen, it’s a little harder to embrace.
PMA: Your relationship you’ve gained with the Mattson 2 is awesome! From a musical perspective, and even personally, it’s a phenomenal partnership. How did it materialize?
TyM: Just through mutual friends, you know? They came over one day to borrow a drum stool, and the second they left, I looked them up and I was hooked. I was like, “What is this twin brother jazz duo?” And as it turns out, we have the same taste in music pretty much. We decided to make a record together, and we knew exactly what to go for. So after we recorded the film, I suggested that they do a cameo in it, because it was such a beautiful setup, and having a cameo from those guys is such a nice visual.
PMA: You’ve had kind of a busy summer, needless to say. Between DJ sets and film screenings, what else have you been up to?
TyM: Mainly just taking some time off. Taking care of my dog. Going on hikes. I’ve been painting a lot, and on top of that, I’m still making and recording music. I’m always working on Toro, whether from a visual or a musical side of things, I’m always churning. This stuff is definitely starting to accumulate, so now the curation process is taking place.
PMA: How do you balance doing live, rock n’ roll-esque music versus the more DJ-centric stuff?
TyM: I think it comes down to the curation of the whole thing. I think I really understand my fan base, and I’ve always wanted to make music that’s challenging, but it also has to be accessible if you want to grow. I try to keep that in mind and keep it balanced. I don’t want to get too much into one specific thing. Practicing balance, pretty much.
By the way, listen to Live from Trona. As live albums go, it's one of the best.
Photo by Josh Terris