The Chaz bear is a rare breed. Or perhaps more accurately an endangered species. The 35-year-old singer, songwriter and visual artist is one of the last remaining elements of the late indie blogging era. When his breakout single, “Blessa,” came out in October 2009, Obama wasn’t grayed out yet, Netflix was sending DVDs in the mail, and people were still using music labels like “Chillwave” “. But Bear has outlived those halcyon days, and through his chameleon output as Toro y Moi, he’s evolved into one of the most polyphonic and prolific pop musicians today. In addition to his own albums, which range from electronic, ambient, and synthpop scales to theater and more similar funk, Bear has collaborated with everyone from Travis Scott, Tyler the Creator to Blood Orange and Haim.
In April, Bear released his seventh album, Toro y Moi: Mahal—The Tagalog word for “love” – is an exciting, winding journey to Manila, Mississippi and back, discovering Bear’s Filipino and African-American roots. It came fully equipped with a duped Philippine Jeepney, which Bear purchased initially as a way to physically interact with fans while the tour was still on pause, before fully incorporating it as a visual element of the album’s showcase — and even chronicled his repair of it. There’s also a short film starring Eric Andre, and some of the biggest turning points in Bear’s career. GQ sat down with Bear to discuss the new record, the YZY Gap, and why things are going great.
You do all the graphics, make all the music, and come up with all the creative concepts around your work. Where does the process begin? Mahal?
Music is always first.
At what point did you decide to buy a Philippine Jeepney bus and drive around the fans?
Well, specifically for this campaign, I wanted to think of something that could adapt to this moment, with everything being canceled shortly. The idea was to take a guerrilla, mobile approach and bring recordings, speakers and sound systems to the people. Whether it’s at a coffee shop, record, store, restaurant and just doing a pop music. And I found the Jeepney by accident, so that was an indication that this was the direction we needed to go.
Found a Jeepney on eBay?
I typed everything and, yes, the jeepney just sped up in there. In particular, this Jeepney is a 1942 Jeep Willys, and it was left in the Philippines by the US military after the Second World War. And in ’67, they converted Jeeps into buses for public transportation.
And now it’s being used to promote a mental-rock album.
I connect with it because of its story, and the fact that this American thing came to the Philippines, and was requisitioned to become this Filipino work of art. And now it’s back in the United States, where there’s another level of life to it.
https://www.gq.com/story/toro-y-moi-mahal-eric-andre-jeepney-interview Toro y Moi on Embracing His Filipino Culture With His New Album ‘Mahal’ and Working With Eric Andre