There was a time when Toro Y Moi couldn't really book venues in Charleston. House shows, yes, and there was a bigger one at the now defunct Eye Level Art a couple years ago. Chaz Bundick took the stage in the sweaty art space by himself, synthing his way through his breakout record, 2010's Causers of This. Otherwise, if Bundick was at the Music Farm, he was in the audience, not on stage. "Last time I was there, I think I saw Broken Social Scene," he remembers. "And it was really weird, because we were just on tour with Broken Social Scene in South America for, I don't know, a week. It's weird to be in this position now, but yeah, it's really awesome."
He plays with a full band now, and his sophomore record, 2011's subtler Underneath the Pine, was as much of a blogosphere darling as Causers of This.
But before chillwave — the indie genre that defined summer 2010 in part because of Toro Y Moi — was ever a part of hipsterism's lexicon, Bundick was playing music as a teenager in Columbia, with kids from Ridge View (his high school) and Spring Valley (another one in the city). "I started going to shows, started hanging out with people that were playing in bands," he says. "You sort of just get immersed in that kind of stuff, and then I started playing live." Columbia has a small community of DIY musicians, many of whom are now connected in some way to the small indie label Fork and Spoon Records, so it wasn't hard to get to know everyone.
"I feel like the scene, it's very small, but it's really strong," he says, not just of Columbia, but of South Carolina in general. "If you want support, you'll get it. There's a lot of people there that are going to be for what you're doing, because everyone knows that South Carolina is not known for its music scene, so they want to keep pushing to make it better."
And he sets his own example, naming some of the Columbia bands who he's waiting to see take off. Coma Cinema, for instance. "Mat [Cothran]'s got a lot of talent and he could really get somewhere. I'm just waiting to see him get that big push," he says. And then there's Those Lavender Whales. "I've known Aaron [Graves] for a long time, and his music has always been super amazing and thoughtful, and it's going to see the light of day one day," Bundwick says. "He's going to really get noticed. He's really influenced by Asthmatic Kitty [Sufjan Stevens' label] and that whole scene. It's really good stuff." Toro Y Moi's Charleston show will be supported by the Choir Quit and Can't Kids, both Columbia bands.
The only difference now: Bundick doesn't live in Columbia anymore. Recently, he migrated west to San Francisco, where his girlfriend was starting grad school. He was ready for a change in scenery. And Bundick has no real plans to permanently return to the Capital City. "I might convince my family to move out here, or I might move back down to the South, but probably not Columbia."
So now, whenever Toro Y Moi plays a show in Columbia, or even Charleston or the rest of the state, it's a homecoming. Bundick thinks that as long as your head doesn't get in the way, you can still be a normal person when you go back. "Every time I go back to Columbia, it's different than if I'm hanging out in New York and I'm wondering if I'm going to run into somebody and have to take a picture or something," he says. "I never have to really worry about that in Columbia. I'm back home and I'm like normal — before everything ever blew up. It's really nice. I hang out with all the people that helped me get to where I am now." Though at the same time, he's trying to work when he'd rather just hang out with his friends and family — "And it's like all your friends and family, and not just like one or two that you let in on the guest list," he says. "It's hard to play because you just want to be at home. You don't want to be working."
Still, Bundick hasn't turned his back on Columbia, and Columbia hasn't turned its back on him. "I come from a humbling little city, so I'm pretty humble still," he says. "I don't know why a lot of musicians sort of disown their hometown sometimes. It's pretty weird when they do that."