Will Toledo On Car Seat Headrest’s New Album, Recovering From Long COVID, The State Of Bandcamp, And What’s Next For One Of Indie Rock’s Greatest Bands
When vaccines became available and the world began opening up again, many music fans wisely chose to play it safe by wearing masks to the live shows they had dearly missed. But Will Toledo, bandleader of Car Seat Headrest, took it one step further.
In May of 2020, Car Seat Headrest released Making A Door Less Open, which found the band moving away, at times, from their anthemic indie rock into hip-hop, electronic music, and other experimental explorations. It was the sort of knotty left-turn that most Serious Artist types make at some point in order to break free from preconceptions of who they are and what they do, opening up more creative avenues down the line, even if critics and fans scratch their heads in the short term. For the album rollout, Toledo introduced the persona Trait, which saw him donning a gas-mask with animated LED eyes and a hi-viz jacket and pants, making him look like a space-age construction worker.
Toledo had elaborate plans for the album’s promotion and tours, but that all got put on pause by the pandemic; when I interviewed him for this website, he had just learned that Car Seat Headrest’s tour had been canceled, and was understandably bummed. (Though weren’t we all pretty bummed by May 2020?) Toledo also said that while he was proud of the album he nicknamed MADLO, it was a difficult one to make, and that he kept revising it over and over to the point where the vinyl, digital, and CD version all have different tracklists and versions of the song “Deadlines.”
When we entered the new abnormal, Car Seat Headrest set out on the Masquerade Tour, which found Toledo performing in the Trait costume, even dancing during some songs, while the band delivered some of their most explosive shows yet. The show I saw at the end of the three-night stand at Brooklyn Steel is one of the best concerts I’ve seen in recent years.
But unfortunately, wearing a mask onstage and trying his best to follow safety protocols wasn’t enough to keep Toledo safe. He came down with a particularly nasty version of long COVID, which he eventually learned triggered a histamine imbalance, and had to cancel the rest of Car Sear Headrest’s 2022 tour, including a number of festival dates.
The good news is that Toledo is feeling much better and is already back at work. Car Seat Headrest recently launched a Patreon and covered Death Cab For Cutie’s “We Looked Like Giants” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Transatlanticism. Up next is the new live album Faces From The Masquerade, which collects highlights from the above-mentioned Brooklyn Steel stand. It’s a thrilling reminder of how great Car Seat Headrest are, though if I had been consulted about it, I would have included the “Can’t Cool Me Down” into “Vincent” set closer I saw that featured a guest appearance from Bartees Strange.
Toledo grew up in Leesburg, Virginia. A voracious music fan and a scholar of indie rock, he began posting entire bedroom-recorded albums to Bandcamp as a teenager, eventually earning the attention of Matador Records. After graduating from the College of William & Mary, he assembled a backing band consisting of guitarist Ethan Ives, bassist Seth Dalby, and drummer Andrew Katz. (Katz and Ives both sing a song on Faces From The Masquerade.)
In 2015, Car Seat Headrest had their indie-mainstream coming out party with Teens Of Style, which compiled studio re-recordings of selections from their back catalog. In 2016 came Teens Of Denial, an instant-classic portrait of the artist as a nervous young man. It’s one of the best albums of the 2010s, and if you catch me in the right mood I will go even further than that. (I do believe that Toledo screaming “I give up!” at the end of “The Ballad Of The Costa Concordia” was the decade’s best vocal performance.) Toledo capped off this initial period with Twin Fantasy (Face To Face) a re-recording of one of his favorite albums from the DIY days, before beginning a new chapter.
And now it sounds like it’s time for Car Seat Headrest to enter a new era all over again. I first talked to Toledo in 2016 for Bandcamp, the music service that made his career. I’ve always found him to be smart, articulate and polite, if a bit reserved, but when I caught with him in November, he seemed more relaxed, confident and open than ever before as he discussed the changing nature of his audience and the responsibility he feels towards it, and why he thinks the album Car Seat Headrest are working on might be their best yet. (Though don’t expect it too soon, he cautions.) Below, read our conversation, edited for concision and clarity.
So Will, before we get into the live album and the rest, the most important question to ask is, how are you feeling these days?
WILL TOLEDO: I honestly am really good. I had a long period last year where I was not good, and that was unfortunately a matter of public discussion because we had to cancel a bunch of shows. And yeah, that was just rough for me physically. But it was actually really good for me mentally and spiritually, because basically my whole life I’ve been very worried about getting sick, about losing my health, about not being able to do things that I needed to do. And then this was the first time in my life where I really was in that condition, where I was not able to do things that I was expected to do.
I had a bunch of post-COVID stuff that resulted in me being bed bound for weeks and weeks. We just kept having dates creep up, festivals were on our calendar. There was a week-long tour on our calendar, and as it crept up, I was just like, “I know that I can’t really leave my apartment, let alone get on a plane and do a show.” And so I had to make those calls, one show after another, and cancel them.
And that was not fun. But it was also good to know that I can do that and not die. I’m someone who really wants to not cancel and to be as good as my word and to show up. And so it was kind of a test in that way. But yeah, I’ve spent the past year slowly getting better. And as of right now, I feel like I’m probably in peak condition for me. I’m exercising. We’re practicing and recording again.
TOLEDO: And I’m loving life.
So I believe the official term was that you had a histamine imbalance?
TOLEDO: And it is something that I didn’t know until a good friend of mine also got long Covid and ended up with that disorder. And I actually recognized it in myself, because I had been through it with him. But it is just a random list of food, but it’s a lot of fermented stuff. Stuff like wine, processed food, prepackaged food. There are these proteins called histamines that can build up inside the food. And so it’s especially with stuff that’s fermented or packaged, not fresh. And it’s the same thing that gets released when you have an allergy to something.
So when you have an histamine intolerance, it’s like having an allergic reaction to something. But I think the only difference is instead of your cells releasing it, it’s actually in the food. And when you eat it, it kind of just gets cast into your body like dandelion seeds and it just doesn’t get processed, the way that it normally does when you eat. So I was eating all this stuff that was slowly and slowly building up this giant wave of badness within my body and sort of the point where I realized, oh shit, this is histamine intolerance, and I recognize it because I saw it in my friend. That was also the point where it was kind of too late. And so it’s if you kind of catch it in time, you can change your diet accordingly and kind of ride out the wave. But I had a big wave to ride out.
And so there were just a lot of days where I couldn’t really eat anything without a lot of buzzing, nervous system stuff. [Toledo makes whirring noises.]
I’m sorry, Will.
TOLEDO: And so there were a lot of days where I couldn’t really eat anything without a lot of buzzing, nervous system stuff. And it’s really weird to describe because anything that’s like nervous-system related, those sicknesses are kind of in a more amorphous state than something like the flu, where it’s like, okay, I’m sick to my stomach. It’s probably the flu. Or like, my nose is runny. It’s probably a cold. Nervous system stuff is just way more complicated, and they know a lot less about it. But basically it was hands buzzing, face buzzing. A lot of anxiety is coming up, but it’s sort of a chemical anxiety. I can learn to tell the difference between just normal anxiety, which feels more like an emotion, and this sort of…. “no, this is something else. This is my body generating this sort of chain of chemicals that is going nuts inside my body.” It’s like ping pong balls bouncing around my body and messing with my mind and my feelings. So all of that was going on as I figured out what it was. And it just took a long time for those symptoms to slowly recede. But I got on the right diet and I started taking an antihistamine, and that was it. It just took a long time to clear up, but eventually it has. And I’m still on a restricted diet. But other than that, I am operating. My operating system has rebooted.
I’m glad to hear that. When did you start to feel better?
TOLEDO: It was kind of slowly and slowly, and it would be back and forth a lot, too. It was especially tricky last year because Seattle was getting a lot of wildfire smoke. So I’d start to get a little bit better, and then we’d kind of have a fresh wave of smoke, and my system was just too sensitive to really handle it. So I’d be back in bed. I was better enough last Christmas that I could go back home. And I think pretty much ever since then, it’s just been a slow climb, but I’m able to get back on my feet, get behind the wheel of a car and start slowly adding in everyday activities again.
Yeah, I can imagine that’s had to have been really frustrating for you. When we talked a few years ago about Making A Door Less Open it was, I think, the day Car Seat Headrest had to cancel their tour because of COVID, and then for a little while you were able to play shows again, and then that got taken away from you. That must have been really heartbreaking.
TOLEDO: I’ll tell you something funny. The first run that we had to cancel in 2022, we were already back on the road, and then we had to cancel shows because I got COVID on tour. And that stretch where it was just a week that we had canceled, that was like one of the best weeks of my life, because I just got to sit in a hotel room and order Grubhub for every meal.
I was in this hotel in, I think, Alexandria outside of DC, because we had just played our DC show, and so I was just supposed to be there for one night, but then I got COVID, and I had to quarantine, and I was there for a week, and there’s this little grocery store across the street with this cramped parking lot. It was just horribly designed. So only one car could drive across at the time. And I would just sit and watch people go in and out of this parking lot, and it was always some sort of adventure because no one was prepared to navigate this parking lot.
So I was doing that, and I was ordering food, and I was watching the Get Back documentary, and I just kind of got to go off the radar for a week, which I felt like I needed at the time. It had only been about two weeks or so, but it just was a very intense tour. And of course, at the time I figured it would just be a week of quarantining and then we’d be back in action. And then we ended up doing one show in Seattle, and then we had to cancel more, because that’s when the post-COVID stuff started popping up. Eventually I was able to get that under control and we did finish out the tour, but it definitely felt like a mess. And a mess isn’t always a bad thing. There were real gems on this tour. It made the good shows feel great. And I think that the New York shows that we captured on the live album are some of those great shows. But I cannot deny that it was a mess. I think I’ll always see it as that.
You said it was an intense tour. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that?
TOLEDO: Yeah, well, the show itself was intense because it was just the way that we arranged it and we’re playing it, it was just kind of maxing out our abilities. Andrew was drumming at a really high intensity the whole time. Ethan was also playing… I mean, everyone was playing at a high, high, high-octane level because of the way that we put the songs together for this run. I was doing a lot of dancing and that sort of thing in addition to singing, and I had the Trait costume, which had me all strapped up because we had this light show which was beautiful. I would look at videos of the show and really be pleased with what we were doing. But it was a pain in the ass to actually do it every night, because I was strapped up to three different belt packs. I had a headset mic, I had the strap that connected the eyes and had the light control, and then I had my in-ears for the monitors. So it was like a spacesuit style, it was an elaborate process getting ready every night.
And then on top of that, we went out and we hadn’t been playing shows for two years because of COVID. And so we really didn’t know what to expect. And I think the audience didn’t know what to expect either. So when we first came out, it was very MADLO-centric.
We didn’t have a lot of our old songs on the setlist, except for old songs that we hadn’t really played before. So audiences at first… we could tell that they needed a little something more. So we kind of had to customize the set as we went and add back in stuff that people were expecting and wanting. And so we added stuff like an online request field where people were voting for songs beforehand and we would throw them into the set. And that was really good.
Once we started getting into that flow of being a little more flexible night by night, I feel like that’s when it started to flow. But it felt like a rough start because we didn’t really have any… we were going in cold after that long break. Not just going in cold to shows, but it was two years of not doing anything social. So we all came back as Halloween costume versions of ourselves. We were not our best selves when we came out. I don’t think anyone was when we first started shifting back out of pandemic mode or back out of lockdown mode. So it was intense, because we were learning how to be humans again, at the same time that we were learning how to be a band on tour again.
Did you ever have any nights where you’re wearing the Trait costume and thinking “Why did I do this to myself?” Because I have to imagine that overheating was a real possibility.
TOLEDO: I think so, but that part of it I planned out a little better. I had pretty much scheduled costume changes during the show where I would strip off a layer. So I would start off in the full jacket and high-vis gear, and I would only do a song or two with that much gear. And actually by the time I finished, I wouldn’t really be wearing that much, because I’d have just this black skintight material on with some jorts and a T-shirt and the Trait mask, which was designed to be pretty lightweight and wearable for a show. So really I was not suffering that much in that aspect.
I think it was a little harder psychologically because there is that distance between the audience, which I think is not inherent, but I think it’s especially when audiences were expecting what they’d seen in Car Seat before with wanting to see my face and wanting to hear the hits. There was a lot of different material being thrown at them so I kind of had more work to do, or I was in the mindset that I had more work to do when I started the show. And so that was a little difficult. One thing that that helped us there was, Bartees Strange was opening for us, but he was also having his own COVID issues where a couple members got sick, one after the other. So they lost some dates that they were doing with us. And instead of getting an opening act, we would just open for ourselves. So Andrew would go out and paint with a canvas. Turns out he’s a good painter. None of us knew this before the tour. Ethan and I would go up and just do a few solo songs each, and that was a really great way to get in touch with the audience before our official set. It was a lot of troubleshooting, I felt like, before things started really to click.
So when MADLO came out, obviously you didn’t get a tour for it and reviews were overall solid, but it was maybe less universally praised than the last two albums. And when we talked, you admitted you were constantly revising songs up until the last minute. How do you feel about the album in retrospect? And did you kind of feel you had something to prove to yourself or to your audience by mainly playing those songs at first?
TOLEDO: I feel like I have a lot of distance between myself and that record now, because we are in the thicket of making our next record, and I’m glad for that distance. I still really like the songs on MADLO, and like the tour. I think it was a bit of a mess the way that it came out and just coming out right when lockdown was starting, no one was in the mood for a sort of thorny album, which I think MADLO was. So it was painful to go through that. And then it was kind of just like, “Well, let’s pick up from there.” So that’s what happened. And we just started working on new material. I fully birthed MADLO at a certain point, the umbilical cord left my own body and now it’s out there in the world.
So I appreciate that I went through that, I wouldn’t want to go through it again. But it’s just a strange album. It came from having these little song snippets and wanting to flesh them out into full songs while keeping that original energy to them, that sort of computer demo energy. So that was sort of the challenge of that album. And I think that it was successful on its own terms and that it did that, we were able to see those songs through to their birth.
This [upcoming] album is a little more, coming at it from, I guess, the normal rock perspective, the fleshing out through practice and going with what feels intuitive and clicks in as a band and working at it from that arrangement. I think [MADLO] is always going to be a strange one in our catalog, but I’m glad it’s there.
Me too. We’ll have to see what the future holds for your band. But, being a fan and a critic, my sense is they had to do this album in order to not always be the Teens Of Style/Denial band. And by introducing all these ideas that maybe their fans weren’t ready for, eventually they’ll see that they had to do this in order to go whatever else is in the future.
TOLEDO: Yeah, and I mean, Andrew will say, “Man, this song or that song off of it could have been a hit.” And I say it could still be a hit. During the lockdown, one of our biggest songs on Spotify was “It’s Only Sex,” which is a song from 2013, I think, and that was just a self-released EP thing that I did at the time. So sometimes you make something and you put in the effort to make it good, and you think it’s about as good as it can be. And you put it out and then who knows where it goes from there. But I think if you do make it the best thing that it can be, it will eventually find its slot. So I still feel fine about the idea that maybe in 10 years, something from MADLO is going to be a surprise hit.
So it’s funny because you had to keep revising songs for MADLO until the last minute. And even for this live album, “Deadlines” got another revision. Can you tell me how that one came about?
TOLEDO: I feel like “Deadlines, there’s a version on the vinyl which is more the version that it was for a long time, and I kind of saw it as potentially sort of the centerpiece of the album. We were working on it and working on it, and it kind of came into final form the way that it is on the vinyl. But that final form didn’t still didn’t feel quite right. It didn’t feel intuitive. It didn’t feel like it flowed right. So at that point, I kind of gave up on it being the centerpiece of the album, and it ended up sort of splitting in two. And so there’s two versions on the digital version.
I guess in a way that kept it as a centerpiece. But it was spread out into two. So, there’s still sort of it’s like… I don’t know, an Earth and moon situation where a chunk of it just flew out to be its own thing. [We split] it into this dance electronic thing and then this rock thing, whereas in the first version I was trying to combine everything into one. Separating them into those two elements really helps each one stand on its own, I think. And then we did revise it again for the live show and sort of brought everything back together into this long, 10-minute piece that wouldn’t really have fit on the album. And that was sort of the most epic version yet. And I really like how it came together live. But actually I was listening to MADLO in the car recently and started getting all these new ideas for MADLO, because that’s what I really need right now. So maybe in the 10th anniversary edition I will re-record it and totally rewrite it and “Deadlines” will be the centerpiece again.
I wouldn’t put it past you. So I went to the final night of the Brooklyn Steel run and it was incredible. And this is the kind of thing it’s hard to quantify from a journalist’s perspective, but I’ve been a fan since 2015. And, you know, maybe it has to do with the shows I saw or the venues, but I definitely got a sense when I was at Brooklyn Steel of “Oh, wow. There’s a lot more teenagers at the show than before, like a lot.” Which I think is wonderful. I’m glad they found your band, but am I off base here, or have you noticed that there’s more kids at your shows?
TOLEDO: Yeah, that was was one thing that surprised us when we went out on tour, and that was one of the reasons why we had to recalibrate, I think because we first came in kind of assuming that it would be sort of consistent from the last time we had toured and that most of it would be, you know, um…
You can say older people, it’s fine.
TOLEDO: Older people.
TOLEDO: Aging hipsters who had seen us before and also had sort of been to a lot of concerts before, so maybe they know a basic vocabulary of what to expect. And instead we did have a bunch of teenagers. And I think for a lot of them, this was one of the first shows they’d been to. And so that was one thing that started changing our minds as far as like, do we want this to be sort of a challenging and conceptual show, or do we want this to be an easier entry point for people? I think once we started leaning into that and saying, okay, it’s consistently a change in our demographic. So let’s shift gears a bit here.
I think it really became a highlight for us, and a beautiful thing to see the energy of these young people who have very little expectations, I guess. I think for folks who have been around and been to shows, you develop expectations about what band is going to do what. And for young people, they just don’t necessarily have that. And so you kind of get to be that first experience and you get to define what they’re seeing a lot more. Honestly, like one of the hardest things about it is just kind of trying to take care of them.
TOLEDO: Because a lot of them aren’t expecting the concert to be as physically taxing as it is. So we had a lot of people passing out or struggling, getting dehydrated. And so as the tour went on, we kind of got used to having to stop shows to make sure that people were getting attended to. People who passed out were getting revived and brought to their feet. And that’s really hard to juggle as a band, because you also want to push the energy as much as possible. You don’t want to stop the show for anything, but you also want to take care of your audience. So when you have people who are not used to shows and not used to how they need to take care of their body to get through a show, yeah, that becomes a challenge.
Do you have any idea why or how this younger audience seems to have found you?
TOLEDO: I think it was just kind of a wave that happened during the pandemic. Like I said, “It’s Only Sex” did become a TikTok thing. So maybe that’s some of it. But we’ve just really had a lot of luck where every couple of years there is kind of a new wave of people who are checking out the band and taking an interest in it. And yeah, the most recent wave with this past tour and everything has really been a bountiful wave of new, young people who are really excited about the music. And, and I think it kind of grows every time, where every time there’s more of a community and more things for these new people to find and jump into.
I think there’s a couple of things going on. I think you’re right. During the pandemic, a lot of younger people realized they never got to see a show or they were worried that they’re never going to see a show, so they were eager to get out there as soon as they could. I also think if you make an album like Twin Fantasy or Teens Of Denial… like every couple of years, a new generation of high school and college kids will discover Pinkerton or discover Dookie, or they’ll discover Exile In Guyville or what have you, albums that really speak to teen or young adult alienation and that coming-of-age experience. And I think you have a few albums that are in that space now.
I do also think for a while, TikTok was mainly popular with people who like rap music and pop music, which isn’t a diss, just how it was. But over the last few years, I think it’s also been away that younger fans find rock bands. Like completely different genre, but I recently talked to Chino Moreno of the Deftones. He’s like, “We’re huge on TikTok and I have no idea why.”
TOLEDO: Your knowledge is probably better than mine. I think Andrew has a TikTok but I just can’t stand that it yells at you every time you open it. So I never got past that.
I also noticed while listening to the live album that “Beach Life‐In‐Death” seems to be a really, really huge song to your fan base. I think that song speaks to younger people who are dealing with, perhaps, questions about mental health, or have questions about their sexuality. There’s various lines that people are screaming really, really loud on the album. Do you think that this is now one of your hits that seems to speak to people?
TOLEDO: Yeah, I think “Beach Life‐In‐Death” has always kind of been that since the start. But I think it’s held on to that status. That’s just kind of another way that we lucked out where there is an eternal teenager inside me. And I think I was a teenager when I was eight years old, and I’m still a teenager now. I don’t know, there’s something about the angst and the youthful hope of the teenage years that dwells within me. And I’ve been able to write from that perspective more easily than I’ve been able to write from any other perspective. And so I think, especially on something like “Beach Life‐In‐Death” people can can hear that and pick up on that if they’re in that same state of mind. So, it’s rewarding to see that reflected.
Now do you ever struggle with that? Because MADLO seemed like an attempt to not write from the perspective, and I think a successful one. But obviously you have to know… there’s something to be said about a songwriter knowing their strengths and knowing what they’re good at. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s just being honest with yourself. But I can see how from your perspective, there could be like a tension between the two impulses.
TOLEDO: Yeah, and MADLO was really a push, to be honest, because I do have that teenager in me, but I also have other things in me. And I did feel like if I kept writing in that one vein, it wouldn’t be honest, and I wouldn’t feel like I was being honest if that was the only thing that people saw in me. And I was just sort of trying to maintain that almost as an illusion, even though it is a genuine part of me, there are these other perspectives that felt like it was necessary to explore.
I don’t know exactly what the type of identity is on MADLO, but I think it was accurate to the person that I was at the time. Maybe not the most pleasant person, but I guess, an adult who rides public transit a lot. It was a way to be sloppy and myself in a different sort of way. I think I sort of got it out of my system. And then I went back and I said, well, I do also kind of miss the more sentimental stuff, the channeling into that teenage Phil Spector emotion. I have since been going back to tapping that being more but I’m glad that MADLO exists as that sort of odd man out on that front.
So a lot of indie acts these days — and this isn’t a criticism, it’s just how it is — it’s one songwriter and a backing band. But on this album, Ethan sings a song and you cover Ethan’s band Toy Bastard. Was it an attempt to say, “I know I started this by myself, but Car Seat Headrest is a band.” Are you trying to make a statement here?
TOLEDO: I think we’ve always been trying to make that statement more and more since we formed together because it’s been me and Ethan and Andrew and Seth since Teens Of Denial, 2016. It doesn’t feel like me and a backing band. It feels like we have been in it together since that time, which is really when Car Seat Headrest took off. So we have been through a lot, a lot, a lot together. And it’s been sort of a navigation album by album as to how do we translate that, that this is not just me demoing stuff, and then anonymous people come in and fill in the blanks. It is us working together to try and figure it out. I think the live show is one element of that where I’m saying how can it not just be me? How do we all get involved in this? And people were really receptive. People really enjoyed Ethan’s song when it came out.
And I enjoy it too. That was the most fun for me to play out of the whole set, because I got to just stand back and play second guitar for a bit. I feel like even when Car Seat Headrest was just total solo output as far as the albums were concerned, whenever we did any show live, I would just go around with my college friends and they would all have their projects too. And so any live show that we did, we’d just do some of my songs, we’d do some of the drummer’s songs, we’d do some of the guitarist’s songs, etc. And I just like that energy. I like that more than just, oh, it’s just one guy, one artist, and you’re going to get that when you see the show. I like the feeling of, you have all these energies on stage, and at any moment any one of them could come forward.
So did you know ahead of time that you’d be making another live album, even though you had a live album a couple of years ago, or was it at some point clear that “these Brooklyn shows are special, they really need to be documented.”
TOLEDO: We recorded every show just because we have our own console and I’m a fiend for documenting stuff. So I just make sure that we capture each show. I don’t think I had specific plans for a live album when we set out, but at the very least, if we got something, we could put out like one song on YouTube. Then at the end of it, we had a bunch of shows recorded, and it just made most sense to focus on these New York shows, because that felt like the peak of the tour. I think we were really going full steam by that point and had not yet been blemished by sickness. So it was just kind of the brightest flash in the, in the picture, I think. And so we went back and just pulled from the three nights there.
So I went to the third night of the stand, and I remember you played “Can’t Cool Me Down” into “Vincent,” and Bartees Strange came onstage to add guitar, you were screaming, and just when my edible kicked in, all of a sudden multiple furries started crowd surfing. Which is awesome, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. And you were wearing the Mortis costume. It was a special night, is all I’m saying.
TOLEDO: Yeah, yeah, that was great. My friend Scurrow came out and he was probably one of the furries crowd surfing. He brought my fursuit with him, and I was at first trying to get someone else to wear it and just have it be in the crowd, and there wasn’t anyone really available to wear it. So I was like, well, whatever, I’ll wear it instead. So I put that on like 10 minutes before the show. And then I looked at Andrew and I’m like, “Am I going to be way too hot for this show?” And he’s just like, “I don’t know, maybe.” So I went on and I got through five or six songs with the fursuit on, and then I ducked offstage to take it off, so I survived that.
You get to a certain point on tour where you’re willing to say fuck it and do anything to to spice up an individual night on a show. It seems to be a good decision. I think it made it a good night for a lot of people.
So what was the reaction to you speaking publicly about being a member of the furry community, and what made you decide to be public about that?
TOLEDO: Well, I mean, I don’t know if I’ve decided that, but I think it was always sort of an open secret, and I didn’t necessarily consider… you know, it was not a conscious statement. Like I said, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision when I did it. And I didn’t wear the head at the time. So I wasn’t even sure if people would really figure out what the hell was going on. But thanks to Twitter, people did. And it was like, “Okay, well, this seems like a good way to do it.” I think the main thing for me is I didn’t want that, and I still don’t want… I don’t want to use it as a tool for my own promotion. Like to the extent that I’m a public member of the furry community, I want that to come from the community and from caring about the community.
TOLEDO: Because it’s something that I’ve been a part of since I was a teenager. And it’s brought a lot of meaning to my life and brought a lot of good people into my life. And so I never wanted to use it as sort of a marketing tool. Like, I was kind of drawing a strict line in my Car Seat public talk so as to keep that from the tendrils of capitalism, I guess, and just focus on the music and what we were doing with the music when we did when we did interviews. But I think it was a sort of thing that’s going to go from a very open secret to not a secret eventually. So that felt like it was a fluid transition to me. So I was happy with that.
When the wider world first discovered the furry community in the 2000s, there were some cheap shots, but later on people were like, “This hurts no one. Leave these people alone. Move on.”
TOLEDO: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think it hurts anyone. And I think for a lot of people, it’s a really great resource. And I just really feel like it keeps me young and surprised with life. I meet new people constantly through the community. And it keeps the grounds fertile, I think. It’s a good thing. I’m thumbs up for anyone who participates in it.
So switching topics, I think this is worth talking about. Car Seat Headrest are one of the main artists to break from Bandcamp. One could even make the argument you were the biggest artist to break from Bandcamp, period. Have you been paying attention to what’s been going on with them recently?
TOLEDO: Yeah, it’s sad. The last thing I heard was that they had gotten sold again and laid off a bunch of people. I don’t have any behind-the-scenes info on that, but it’s definitely sad. It feels like… maybe it’s not quite the end of the era because the website is still up, and there are still plenty of independent musicians you can support on there. But I know that a lot of those musicians are sad about how things have gone, and they’re pining for the days when that sort of mid-level bubble was more sustainable, that it wasn’t just about increase for the sake of increase.
It’s true, I was there for the sort of the golden era of it, I guess. And I remember after Car Seat became a big enough thing that we were turning heads, people from Bandcamp would now and then sort of weigh in with me and say, like, “Hey, we’re going to add this new feature or that new feature,” and I would always just say, “The main thing is to just stick with the model you’ve got, don’t upscale, don’t go after the piece of the pie that you don’t have. Just keep it sustainable for the artist and you’re good to go.”
And I mean, they did that for a long time, so I can’t I can’t fault anybody. And I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes there. But it was a long run where they kept the same model. And I mean, they still do have the same model, but I think that it’s not a great look to downsize and lay off that many people. And so I think that there’s some chaos behind the scenes there. And I don’t know, I can’t predict the future. Maybe it’ll end up an independent entity again and they will preserve that model. And I think that’s what I’ll choose to hope for.
How old were you when you discovered Bandcamp, and what were those early days using the site like for you?
TOLEDO: I was in high school. I think I was 17 when I heard about it, and I heard that bands were using Bandcamp and ending up getting reviewed by big-time music blogs. So I said, “Well, surely I will get famous if I put my music on Bandcamp.” So I did that, and that didn’t happen so quickly, but it was great using it, because I came up in the era of CDs where if you didn’t have a label, it was pretty hard to distribute your stuff. And then the early days of the internet is like you had to submit it through iTunes. There’s a whole process, and you had no guarantee that your music was going to end up on any of these online retailers. So Bandcamp was really great because anyone can join.
You just join and put it up and you can set any sort of price for it. And I always just set mine to pay what you want, because I never expected that someone’s going to drop any sort of money for a random album they don’t know anything about, but they might download it and listen to it and start liking it from there, and maybe pay money for the next album. And that pretty much held true for us. It was never quite a money making endeavor before we got signed, but it absolutely got us an audience from year to year that was slowly turning itself into the seeds of a very loyal fan base.
So in one of the more unusual, but for a while, heartwarming Twitter stories of recent years was Car Seat Headrest and Smash Mouth becoming Twitter friends and even covering each other’s songs. What do you remember about that? And did you ever actually speak with the late Steve Harwell?
TOLEDO: I never spoke with Steve. I spoke with Greg Camp, who was the songwriter. I think the only time I spoke to him directly was during a Sirius XM interview. But he was a very nice person. And I didn’t know a lot about Smash Mouth before this interchange occurred, but I had grown up with Astro Lounge, and I thought that that was a great album. So it was cool to learn a bit more and find out who was writing the songs for that and meeting him. That was just one of the special little moments in a career that you would never in a million years predict. And those are the moments that make it worth doing.
Here’s another strange moment in your career. Did you ever clear the air with the late Bob Saget?
TOLEDO: Well that whole incident was him clearing the air, I think. Yeah. So that was a real tangled web where, I had written a song called “The Ghost Of Bob Saget.” That was based off of my friend Cate’s webcomic, were there was this ghost who was telling people to suck dicks. And when he was asked whose ghost he was, he said Bob Saget. And the main character said, well, Bob Saget is not dead.
But anyways, I wrote a song called “The Ghost Of Bob Saget” off of that. And then years later, I guess people started bothering Bob Saget on Twitter, in the way that young people enjoy bothering people on Twitter, just messaging it and stuff about the song or tweeting song lyrics.
And it sounds like Bob Saget was just a blocker and I can relate to that. I went through a phase where I was a blocker on Twitter. You see someone annoying you and it’s just an instant block. And I think there’s not a lot of emotional baggage for the blocker, but there can be a lot of emotional baggage for the blockee because you perceive someone as more socially powerful than you, and then they’re blocking you and it turns into this whole thing. So I think a lot of people were upset that Bob Saget was blocking them, and eventually he tweeted that he just doesn’t want to see hate on his feed and that he… I forget what he said exactly, but he said he bears no ill will towards us. And so then I just tweeted at him and tried to explain the situation as succinctly as possible. And that was as far as that went. I never heard behind the scenes on that.
It’s one of those things where young people online can have very specific online, perhaps too online, subcultural in-jokes, which make no sense whatsoever if you’re not part of that very hyper specific circle.
TOLEDO: Yeah, one thing that I’ve got going on right now in my inbox is in 2011, I posted on Facebook Car Seat Headrest page, like, “Hey, I’m selling these shirts for $10.” And it was like a hand-painted shirt. And so this is back when I had like 10 fans. And just like today and yesterday, suddenly I’ve got a bunch of people emailing me, “Hey, here’s $10, I want your shirt.”
TOLEDO: So it’s like, I think every now and then some sort of community will find that post and they’ll be like, “Hey, it’d be really funny if we just email them now and ask about the shirt.” And, okay, sure, you’re not going to get a shirt, but go for it.
Your band has recently become enough of a cultural touchstone to other younger musicians that you’ve been covered a bit recently. Have you heard either that the very mysterious South Korean musician Parannoul merged your song with LCD Soundsystem, and the band Glass Beach covered one of your songs also? If so, what do you think?
Yeah, they combine “Bodys” and “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem.
TOLEDO: I think I did hear that, I think I liked that. And then yes, I did hear the Glass Beach one too. They checked with us beforehand to see if that was okay. And yeah, that was a really good cover. There’s also a band called Gory Murgy, and I think they also did an interpolation of “Bodys” and some other song. That’s blowing my mind right now, but, uh, that’s that’s a different matter.
But yeah, it’s kind of trippy because, I never feel like we’ve gotten particularly popular to the point where we are kind of the old guard that people cover. But it does happen. And it’s rewarding to hear. And a lot of times I’ll like what these kids are doing more than what we’re doing, because they just have that energy and that sloppiness that you can have when you’re just starting out. And it always inspires me to bring them more of that energy back into what we’re doing. But we’re just too popular and too good. So we just try to be sloppy and then we just end up being super on the ball.
Must be tough.
TOLEDO: It is, it’s a burden.
I’ll wrap it up. So you recently released a cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s “We Looked Like Giants.” And a lot of your fans were very happy because A) it sounded great and B) they’re excited because they’re thinking, “Oh, Will must be feeling good if he’s doing this.” And now it sounds like you’re working on new music. Is there anything you want to say? Album titles, producers, general sense of where it might be out? Whatever you want to put out there.
TOLEDO: I guess I want to point out that it’s not going to be out right away. When we announced our live album, Andrew tweeted something like “new live track now, album later.” And I think some people thought, “Oh, it’s going to be out in two weeks.”
TOLEDO: We’re still very much in the process. We’re going to be recording through the next year. But it’s very good. We’re more involved as a band than ever. And everything that we’ve laid down for the album feels good, and it feels like some of my favorite work that I’ve ever done. I think if I’m not feeling that on an album, then it means we don’t have a lot of material that is usable. So it’s typical for me to feel like the thing that I’m working on is the best thing that I’ve worked on, but I think that this is actually the best thing that I’ve worked on.
It feels like very much a culmination of what I spent my whole life doing, which is just enjoying and participating in rock music. And I think for the first time, we kind of started figuring out… we are this band and we can use that sort of thing in the creative process as well as in the performance end of things. So we’ve just been really drumming up a lot of material this year, and we’re in the hammering out phase and it’s going quite well.
Faces From The Masquerade is out 12/8 on Matador.