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 surviving elements of the late-aughts indie-blog era. When his breakout single, “Blessa,” arrived in October of 2009, Obama had yet to go gray, Netflix was mailing DVDs, and people were still using musical labels like “Chillwave.” But Bear has outlived those halcyon days and, through his chameleonic output as Toro y Moi, he has evolved into one of the most prolific and polyphonic pop musicians working today. In addition to his own albums, which run the gamut from electronic, ambient, and synthpop to more analog house and funk, Bear has collaborated with everyone from Travis Scott and Tyler the Creator to Blood Orange and Haim.
In April, Bear released his seventh album as Toro y Moi: Mahal—the Tagalog word for “love”— is a winding, psych-rock journey to Manila, Mississippi, and back, exploring Bear’s Filipino and African-American roots. It comes fully equipped with tricked-out Filipino Jeepney, which Bear originally bought as a way to physically interact with fans while touring was still halted, before fully incorporating it as a visual element in the album’s rollout—and even documenting his process fixing it up. There’s also a short film starring Eric Andre, and some of the tightest grooves of Bear’s career. GQ sat down with Bear to discuss the new record, YZY Gap, and why everything is cool now.
You do all the graphics, make all the music, and come up with all the creative concepts around your work. Where did the process begin with Mahal?
The music is always first.
At what point do you decide you need to buy a Filipino Jeepney bus and drive around to fans?
Well, for this campaign specifically, I wanted to think of something that would be able to adapt to these times, with things being canceled on a moment’s notice. The idea was to do a mobile, guerilla-style approach and bring the record, speakers, and a sound system to people. Whether it’s at a coffee shop, record, shop, restaurant, and just do a music pop up type thing. And I just happened to find the Jeepney, so that was kind of a sign that this was the direction we needed to go in.
You found the Jeepney on eBay?
I typed in all kinds of things and, yeah, the jeepney just kind of popped up in there. This Jeepney, in particular, is a 1942 Willys Jeep, and it was left in the Philippines after WWII by the U.S. Army. And in ‘67, they converted the Jeep into a bus for public transit.
And now it’s being used to promote a psych-rock album.
I connected to it because of its story, and the fact that this American thing had gone to the Philippines, and got reappropriated to be this Filipino art piece. And now it’s back in the States where there is another level of life to it.