Photo by Lucky Banks-Kenny
Outside of his Toro Y Moi project, Chaz Bundick is well-known for collaborating with a wide range of artists. Throughout his prolific career, he’s found himself working alongside Chromeo, SZA, Das Racist’s Kool A.D., Travi$ Scott, and The Avalanches, just to name a few. His latest collaboration once again finds him branching out musically, though this time it came together by literally stupid chance.
Jonathan Mattson, drummer for the twin jazz duo The Mattson 2, had absentmindedly forgotten his drum stool for an Oakland concert in 2014. The Mattson’s friend and photographer Andrew Paynter said he knew a guy who could help out, and it just so happened to be Bundick. When they all met up at a cafe the next day to return the stool, Bundick and the twins clicked, and a musical relationship was born.
By the end of February 2016, the trio had recorded their new album, Star Stuff, as Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2. Out March 31st via Bundick’s own Company Records, the effort is today being previewed with a new single, “JBS”. The nearly seven-minute track is a bluesy piece of psych-jazz, laid back and mellow like that feeling one gets after returning home from a long, joyful trip. When you’re feeling struck with a bit of well-earned exhaustion, “JBS” is the kind of jam that reassures you it’s okay to embrace the laziness. Take a listen below.
“JBS” was preceded by the album’s lead single and title track, “Star Stuff”. To find out more about the record and how it came together, Consequence of Sound chatted with Bundick and Jonathan Mattson in an exclusive interview. Speaking on the phone, Bundick explained what drew him to make a free-flowing jazz album, and Mattson answered a few questions about the collaboration via email.
You all met pretty much by chance, and really hadn’t heard of each other before that. So what was it about that first encounter that made you want to work together?
Chaz Bundick: More than anything, it was their music taste. We went to breakfast the next day, just so I could get the drum stool back, and we were just really talking about what we were listening to, what each other listens to. Once I figured out they had [a few] similar influences to me — [Serge] Gainsburg, [David] Axelrod, the whole general idea of lirbarby music, all sorts of jazz — I was like, “Man, if you guys ever want to record anything, just let me know.” Because that’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile, go into that library music world, psych world. It was perfect timing really.
You hadn’t seen them live?
CB: No, it was more just the musical bonding, the musical taste is what brought us together closely. But then when I did see them [live], it was mind blowing because they’re both young virtuosos. We were just bonding over different production techniques, and kind of had the same taste. That’s when we decided to book some time.
Jonathan Mattson: I knew after talking with him lengthily about music, art, and other like-minded passions that he would be a great person to collaborate with. The thing is, [my brother/bandmate] Jared and I are not people that like to “jam” much. I feel that a lot of people who aren’t musicians, or something, think that musicians always want to “jam.” I always remembered jamming with people when I was younger and I would literally fall asleep on the drums. Jared and I exert so much of our energy improvising, performing, and creating music together, that when we have free time on our hands the last thing we want to do is jam with random people. But with Chaz it was different — he had his own aesthetic (I could already tell) and I saw him as a musical inspiration that could enhance qualities that we couldn’t do ourselves. I think that’s the key to collaboration, working with people that can offer something that you can’t do.
I was a bit worried at first that after all the hype of meeting each other and nerding out on music and stuff that I would hear his music and wouldn’t connect to it. Or that it would be something that wasn’t really in line with our aesthetics. But when I started delving into his catalogue I was super impressed at his compositional skill, his production, and his vocals. I could see all these inspirations culminating into this original sound. Everything had such a catchiness to it that got me and Jared so amped and inspired. It came along at a perfect time because we were wondering what to do next.
Chaz, you’re known for working on multiple projects and with multiple collaborators, often simultaneously. Star Stuff came together right after you’d finished Toro Y Moi’s What For?, while things like PLUM and the Samantha mixtape were all in various stages of percolation. How are you able to keep all those different things separate in the studio?
CB: There are several different approaches. For the Mattson’s record, to give it consistency throughout the whole record we kind of just knocked it out in two huge recording sessions. We did maybe two or three weeks of recording over six months or something like that. That’s kind of the best way to do it when you’re collaborating with another band. But if I’m by myself, say with Toro or Les Sins, it’s more just compartmentalizing. Being like, “This one could be a house track, I’ll just put that aside.” Or if I have vocals on it, scratch vocals on it already, I’ll go ahead and put it in a Toro file just for now. But who’s to say that’s gonna turn into something else, ya know?
At times, if I’m working by myself, I pretty much just work until I have a group or a collection of songs that kind of sound cohesive. And with a collaboration, like any of the Company Records [albums], pretty much we just knock it out all at once.
The Mattson 2 normally function as a pretty closely knit duo, so what was it like adding a third wheel to the mix? How did it affect the dynamic of your songwriting and process?
JM: That’s an interesting question. You’re right, Jared and I are very close intuitively and musically. We finish each other sentences in day to day conversation and in musical dialogue. Our connection exists on the plane of compositional elements and also with improvisational performance. Throwing in Chaz grounded our sound and made it something accessible.
At first, our dynamic in studio was as a normal band & producer relationship, but then we started realizing he had much more to offer than just engineering and producing. We then began collaborating on a compositional level — which I feel would have only been naturally inevitable, given that the three of us are all composers and instrumentalists. So his original role as producer/engineer changed to becoming a full fledged band member. This was never planned from the beginning. The music was just growing organically with Chaz becoming a pivotal collaborative composer and we let it all form the natural way it wanted to. The project ended up needing all of our compositional idiosyncrasies. We’ve enjoyed all of our engineers we’ve worked with — but we’ve never been able to collaborate with an engineer that was so well versed compositionally and instrumentally and that had his own branded sound and story telling.
CB: We pretty much just jammed for a few of the tracks and then just filled in the blanks. But for some of them, the Mattsons had a structure and everything and I just recorded it, and they played everything. It’s kind of a mix-match of different approaches.
So you didn’t play on everything?
CB: Right. I’m mixing and finding the guitar effects and picking the reverbs. Adding vocal touches here and there. But there are some tracks where I am playing live with them, like the opening track or “JBS”.
Can you talk some more about “JBS”? How did that track come about in particular? Was it one the Mattsons had pre-structured or was it the result of a jam?
CB: That was one of the Mattsons’ first tracks. They would play that at soundcheck. Maybe like a year before we started working on this record I heard that song because we asked them to open for Toro a couple of times. I was like, “That song that you played at soundcheck, we gotta record that one. Whatever that one was.” They let me play bass on it and then just mess with it a bunch.
JM: “JBS” was something Jared and I wrote before meeting Chaz. He heard us play that live and immediately dug it. We never had any intention of having vocals. We gave Chaz the basic compositional skeleton and recorded it — but sometimes with compositions you play a song live so many times before recording it — and when you play it live, it just grabs the audience and everyone loves it. But when you get into the studio you do exactly what you did live and for some reason it doesn’t work, or it doesn’t have the same effect you thought it would. That’s how this song was initially — but then Chaz added some keyboard pads and some beautifully tuned auto harp over that and really brought the emotion to a new level. I had this idea to do a glockenspiel line on the chorus that worked out nicely too.
After the song was more complete instrumentally we felt it would be really dynamic and appropriate for Chaz to add vocals. He didn’t sing the vocals while we were in session. He sent the track to us with the vocals on it weeks after we were already out of the studio. When we heard it we fell in love with his vocals. They had a simplicity that didn’t over power the music and the vocal sound was way drier and different then his vocals in Toro Y Moi. We were really honored that he took such a different approach, vocal-wise, with our project.
Right, there aren’t many lyrics, but there are some sort of plopped in there.
CB: It’s a different approach to the songwriting song, I guess. The way that there’s no chorus or anything. It’s one verse just kind of there.
So what’s the story behind that one verse?
CB: I guess the whole song kind of has this weaving, bluesy vibe about it. And me, just the life that I’m living, I was jet-lagged when I wrote the lyrics. That’s pretty much what the song is about. It’s about pretty much just being lazy for no reason, but you kind of have a reason because you’re just exhausted. No matter how much rest you get, you’re always still a little bit exhausted, but you just go with it.
The Mattson 2 played on Toro Y Moi’s Live From Trona album, which came together after you’d actually recorded Star Stuff. Can you talk about that experience and how collaborating with Chaz beforehand eased you into working with him on that live recording?
JM: Yeah, in the studio we just clicked so well. I couldn’t believe how well we connected and created together. It was so effortless. When Toro was going to film the Trona concert, Chaz asked us to be a part of it. And we decided that contributing “JBS” would not only introduce our collaboration to the world but also add a different dynamic. It was incredible working with the whole crew in the desert. The Toro guys are all such epic, kind individuals. Harry, the director was awesome working with also — he did such an incredible job directing — he is also the director we worked with for our “Star Stuff” music video.
The next step is the tour you three are going out on in April. How is that coming together and what are some of your plans for the shows?
CB: I’m excited! I don’t know what’s in store yet, to be honest. We haven’t really tackled to songs yet. A couple weeks before the tour is when we’re going to start rehearsing. We’re trying to keep it simple. We’re going to try to go for a trio sound as opposed to an orchestrated sound. It’s going to be pretty raw, but pretty jazzy and psych rock stuff.
Those guys love to jam [live]. I’m more of a pop guy, so there’s definitely gonna be some pull to jam less on my side just because I’m not that technically advanced to even jam for that long. Except for on bass maybe [laughs]. So I suggested that we learn some covers and try some really cool stuff. I think we’re going to throw an Axelrod cover in here, just coincidently. It sucks that he just passed, but that’s kind of a coincidence.
JM: We are super excited for the tour. I think playing this material live is going to really excite our audiences. A lot of the repertoire that we will perform has a lot of improvisation that audiences are hungry for these days. I also feel Chaz’s audience is going to experience a different side of his virtuosity then they are used to that is only going to enhance and reinforce their appreciation of him. And vice versa, I feel our audience is going to see a different side of us as well that they may not ever thought we were capable of.
Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2 2017 Tour Dates:
04/12 – West Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern *
04/13 – Durham, NC @ Duke Coffeehouse *
04/14 – Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall *
04/15 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s *
04/16 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom *
04/18 – Somerville, MA @ Once Ballroom *
04/19 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz PDB *
04/20 – Toronto, ON @ Canadian Music Week
04/21 – Ferndale, MI @ The Loving Touch *
04/22 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle *
04/23 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club *
* = w/ Madeline Kenney