Chaz Bundick’s first job, in high school, was frying the chicken at Chick fil-A. He did all the jobs at Wendys – “I could run a Wendys by myself,” he says. Cracker Barrel for two weeks. A couple diners. “Just thinking about stuff that a kid who works at a fast food thinks about.” Which is to say, not the shitty task at hand. “I was always drawing on receipt slips. You know, letting the receipt paper flow out so I could draw on it between rushes.” He says over and over again that he taught himself, or trained himself, or is playing a game with himself, and all of this effort is in service of noticing better. Because what first appears cannot be everything. That would be so boring.
Toro y Moi
There wasn’t much happening in the suburbs of Columbia, South Carolina, where he grew up. He volunteered to do the flyer design, and CD-R covers and maybe make some T-shirts, for the bands he was in in high school, partly because he liked that stuff and partly because “what else are we gonna do on a Saturday without a car?” Back then the kids called him Pharrell, he says, because he wore a trucker hat (“Trucker hats were in”), but the thing is he didn’t even listen to the Neptunes. “That’s when I stopped wearing a trucker hat, was when people kept calling me Pharrell. And then I started growing my hair out. And then they started calling me Lenny Kravitz.” He doesn’t live there anymore.
Now he lives on the other side of the country, which is where we go, to meet him at Yes Press, a screen printing studio in Oakland that’s owned by Brendan Nakahara. In formal interview conversation Chaz listens hard and responds seriously, although he bails when his answers begin to resemble self-regard. But with Brendan there’s plenty grief given, in the tempo of the Bay, historically lubricated and saturated with progressive thought and dreams of living carefree. Everybody is fully aware what could be mocked, but the sushi is really unreal. A conversation about incense flavors is punny and riff-heavy and also happened in the first place. This is a place where many people’s multitudes are written all over their face, where the come up is close at hand and addicts of every kind press in on you, the hills so luminous when they’re green, so scratchy against the fog when they’re not.
“He says over and over again that he taught himself, or trained himself, or is playing a game with himself, and all of this effort is in service of noticing better. Because what first appears cannot be everything. That would be so boring.”
Chaz’s wife is in school here, and the Bay suits him. He keeps his voice down. He’s self-possessed. I’m tempted to extrapolate from his reserve, which feels like nature rather than nurture, and to project from the whole nickname fiasco. I want to say he’s watchful and does his dirt all by his lonely. Our hypebeast tendencies have a way of lifting hyper-talented people onto a pedestal and then absent-mindedly wandering away with the only ladder. Chaz seems to have survived that. He’s low key, but he’s not solitary. I think with people he trusts he’s just in it. I think he’s regular. I think he knows himself well.
After releasing four full length albums and doing the album covers and merch necessary for that output, Chaz is in league with Brendan on a gestating design firm they’re calling Company Creative – his label is Company Records and he gives credit for that name to one of the Harrys, Harry Schlieff. There is a lot of making sure partners are noted. He wants his enterprises to sound official, but one within which real collaboration happens. “Like companionship,” he says. “More than one.”
Whether it’s design or visual art or music, he wants to make things that are approachable, then relatable, then, maybe, useful, or at the very least not so complicated that it becomes intimidating. It would be great for him if you were more creative, and made something that pushed him to think differently. This is what his favorite designers do for him. Geoff McFetridge forces him to do a double take. He says Donald Judd’s work makes him laugh – it’s so simple, the inversion of the known or the as yet unconsidered possibility. To him, design is a puzzle – there’s what it looks like, and there’s why it looks like that.
He compares his feeling when he’s making art to the feeling he has when working through a puzzle. “It makes me feel present, if anything. It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something, getting something done,” he says. “To turn your brain off for a second and take a break from craziness – ‘Got to feed the dog.’ ‘Got to get gas.’ ‘Got to get food.’”
“Our hypebeast tendencies have a way of lifting hyper-talented people onto a pedestal and then absent-mindedly wandering away with the only ladder. Chaz seems to have survived that.”
At some point in our day at Yes Press I’m holding a bunch of bananas. These are fucked up bananas. I’m trying to decide which one is gonna be the least gross. Chaz makes me stop so he can take a pic of the bananas in my hands, which are wearing a truly jacked up but still recognizably pink manicure, against my black sweater. If you’ve seen his Instagram you know the vibe; he does this all the time. He doesn’t think too much about it: “People think I’m being super deep but, no, I just like those colors.” It’s an exercise: “I’ll try to force myself to find something interesting. It goes back to that game that I sort of like to play,” he says. “I’m usually looking at whatever isn’t looked at the most, whether it’s the corner of a building or the corner of the room.” And it’s his temperament: “I’m always just staring at stuff. Thinking, though.”
After he’s paid attention – after he’s seen all that he can reasonably see – then it’s time to go to work. “It’s my internal ideas becoming external,” he says, which is never not a struggle. Getting it out is labor. But Chaz likes his job. He likes translating what he saw through what it means to him. “It’s the enjoyment of the process more than the actual end product,” he says. And he really doesn’t rate musical work over visual work. “Sometimes making the album cover is as pleasing as making the album. But they’re both kind of different – you enjoy them differently.”
“He doesn’t think too much about it: ‘People think I’m being super deep but, no, I just like those colors.’ It’s an exercise: ‘I’ll try to force myself to find something interesting.’”
I believe him, but I still want to know how he knows the end product is the end. How he knows he’s made something good. Where does taste come from? His answer is like him, grounded and knowing and slugging it out on his own behalf.
“I think taste transcends the physical world. Something that looks like poor design to one person can be exactly what someone else is dreaming of owning. I think it may boil down to knowing how much you aim to get out of the physical world. I found that I gravitate more towards the characteristics of someone who is a minimalist and I’ve taught myself to need only what is practical. I appreciate blank walls in my home not because it looks nice but because I know that I’d get bored looking at the same thing every day."
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