MAHAL (meaning “love” or “expensive” in Tagalog), was released on April 29th 2022, adding another incredible accomplishment to the 35-year old visionary’s prolific repertoire of numerous accolades, catchy songs (you might know his 2019 "Ordinary Pleasure," or 2013's "Rose Quartz"), and ingenious collaborations.
With his town of Berkeley welcoming him back home (even declaring June 27 as “Chaz Bundick Day”), Chaz is no stranger to all the best local dining and hangout spots his neighborhood has to offer. We had a chance to converse with Toro y Moi not only on his recommendations for his favorite eateries around, but also on some background on MAHAL, and on his Filipino identity influencing his work, as evident by the title and classic Jeepney adorned on the front.
Kamusta! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, so how does it feel to be back in the bay?
I missed it, I was gone for a few weeks so it was nice to be back in consistent weather and good food. I really appreciate our weather patterns, I think it's nice that it's sort of against the grain. You’re always able to find a little secluded part for yourself no matter what time of the year.
Exactly, that’s what’s so unique and charming about living here, and our great weather never hurts! So then I’d love to know, what are some of your favorite places around that you enjoy going to grab a bite?
There’s so many things around Berkeley that i'm a fan of. One of my favorite things is that I love North Berkeley, it's so fun there. I love checking out the Imperial Garden and getting the best sushi from Ippuku.
I also love all the coffee shops around that area. I’m always on the hunt for a cafe for breakfast, lunch, matcha, and some of my favorite spots are Cafe Reveille, that one’s really good. Bartavalle Cafe here on San Pablo is also great. Red Bay Coffee is one of my favorites because they do these vegan beef patties that are just amazing.
And then restaurant-wise, I tend to gravitate towards those less meat-heavy on the menu. It’s been a while since I’ve eaten out indoors, but when I was, it was mostly sushi. I also really love, I mean its no brainer, but Chez Panisse. It's my must-try spot.
It's so inspiring to hear how informed and involved you are in your community. For Filipino food specifically, do you have any places you recommend?
Yeah! There’s FOB Kitchen over here in Oakland, and the Senor Sisig truck is really good. One of my favorite Filipino spots is called RSM Grocery in Hercules, and it's just an amazing mom & pop shop that has a nice little grocery store with only like one or two rows and a small restaurant attached to it. It's the cutest little one stop shop.
I love hearing how much your Filipino American identity influences your art and your craft. Can you speak a bit on your inspiration for calling your newest album MAHAL, and in using the Filipino Jeepney as the central image and literal vehicle for your music?
I felt like with MAHAL and stumbling across the jeep, it was just perfect timing and I so took it as a universal signal to represent everything going on at this time. I’m also in a position as a Filipino American to put a lot of things on a higher platform, and I felt like this was the right time to do it.
Other than that though, I knew that I wanted to do something that was a little more real and grounded and less of a fancy world. Like, I wanted to build a world that was unfamiliar and alien to some, but was also true to me. Instead of trying to direct videos to be unique, I wanted to find an antique piece of culture. This representation was an easier solution rather than finding a new sound or voice.
And with the album’s groovy song, “Postman,” I would love to hear more about its background, knowing that it’s about the genuine excitement to just receive tangible mail and have a consistent person to see in both the pandemic and digital era. Your statement in that song regarding the contemporary decline of obtaining real letters and other print truly resonated with me as a journalist.
"Postman" was a song that was inspired by a couple things, one being that I wanted to pick a subject that represented the times without necessarily bringing up the pandemic. For a lot of us, we were able to just be home to see the postmen still out delivering our news daily. Other than that, the main reason was that I wanted to touch on the theme of magazines and printed matter, to really just lean into the idea of music being physical again. To treat the record cover like a magazine with the different texts and classic barcode, I felt like that was a good double entendre to play with.
How does it feel then to not only know that you’re representing Filipino culture through this album, but also that people will feel uplifted listening to the positivity and cheeriness of it during this otherwise difficult time?
To me, it's more than appropriate to make music that's healing and helps you feel everything in between from good to bad. That's the best part of this job, is to get to see people’s reactions, getting to harness these emotions and reactions. There is a bit of magic there, where you're like, “I know how this song’s going to make you feel, but wait until I actually play it for you and enjoy it together.”
I also want it to be substantial and be real, because the things I talk about are my own feelings and expressions, and thats important to maintain. It’s important to build a community and just be comfortable sharing your music and art.
Yes, and touching upon that idea of “healing,” when it comes to the Filipino identity, without being too negative, there’s a considerably fraught history we have. And now there’s so many people in our new generation that’s reclaiming our pre-colonialism culture, healing intergenerational trauma and misunderstandings, and just expressing our diaspora in creative and authentic ways.
Yeah, it’s about building these communities and reaching out to peers. That's also the most efficient way to practice conscious consumption- acknowledging where we spend our money and who we give our money to. I feel like it's so important to buy in what you believe in.
I’ve been listening to you for a while, and one of my earliest memories being connected and inspired by you was seeing the use of the Filipino word “Talamak” as a song title. That unique representation was so important to me. Do you have any advice for other upcoming Asian artists who look up to your career path?
It's important to remember to remain “you” without being influenced too much by others. But also remember that there’s really no such thing as originality. All ideas are borrowed, but the curation of these ideas is the magic part for each of us. No one is thinking exactly the same, and that's the power we have as humans, is to make unique decisions and hone in on who we are as individuals.
I try to keep those two things in mind- to find my lane but also remember there's a lot of lanes going in the same direction at different speeds.
I love the positivity you bring to your music and creative approach. I know touring can be hard, how do you balance and prioritize your mental health during it?
One of the bigger decisions I made was to tour for shorter amounts of time, and that allows me to actually enjoy it more- both the anticipation and getting to travel but also without getting so homesick. I found a good balance there.
Ok, now onto a fun last question: what are some of your favorite Filipino dishes? I have to know!
My go-to is always adobo in general- chicken or pork, especially with the creamy sauce with white vinegar. There’s a lot of good flavors that you can’t find in other cuisines. I'm also a big dinuguan fan!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Smartwater