Sitting in a parking lot, singing into a laptop. This is how Will Toledo began Car Seat Headrest and launched his music career.
Toldeo’s First Release under Car Seat Headrest, 1, came out six years ago on May 1, 2010. Since then, he has released 13 more albums.
Toledo’s sound is rooted in lo-fi indie rock, drifting between garage noise and modern indie. His work has earned attention from Festivals, Noisey, and even The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Car Seat’s Headrest most recent release, Teens of Denial, is one of aging and cynicism and the reason for launching a tour across the country. Toledo carved out time on his birthday to talk with us about how he handles going from life as a bedroom producer to being on the front page of Pitchfork and preparing for a North American tour.
“I haven’t not been tired this month,” said Toledo.
The frontman of Car Seat Headrest has been running the festival circuit as well as getting a North American tour in order.
“When it’s just touring it’s easier I think because you can get into a rhythm with things,” said Toledo. “It’s kind of hard when you’re flying out to different spots every week. Once we embark on the road I think it’ll start getting nicer again.”
This attitude towards to the road is polarizing to where Toledo started. For many years, Car Seat Headrest was exclusively a solo, recording artist project.
“At the time I didn’t have a lot of experience performing or seeing a lot of other artists so I didn’t really understand the appeal of it,” said Toledo. “I hadn’t seen artists who really did something special live. They were just playing songs, that were on the record, in front of you.”
It wasn’t until Toledo attended a Swans show that it all clicked for him.
“I started seeing some acts that did different things live and really expanded the songs that way,” said Toledo. “Seeing Swans play was a big deal for me. They’d do something a little different every night and explore songs in different ways from night to night.
Since then Toledo has incorporated the same ideas into his own performance.
“That was a couple years ago and that really made me understand more what the potential of a playing live was. You didn’t have to just play the song on the record. You could do whatever you wanted with it.”
After 14 releases, Toledo has refined how he approaches songwriting.
“I’m sort of going back to the way I did it,” said Toledo. “I’ll start building music on the computer until I find something cool and expand on that. In the meantime I’ll be writing lyrics, just building up stuff on the page from life experience…I’ll keep working on it until the last minute basically.”
The life experiences in Toledo’s lyrics are more than just songwriting. He’s referred to each albums as emotional weather patterns.
“That’s how I look at them,” said Toledo. “When taken together they create sort of a map of where I’ve been so far, just in life with my own personal progress.”
The albums act as Will’s only form of journaling.
“That’s one of the reasons why I try to keep recording and writing, it’s the only document I keep about my own life,” said Toledo. “I don’t write a journal or anything. What ends up on the record is what I remember most about that time in my life, so I always try to make it something meaningful.”
With the band spending an increasing amount of time on the road, Toledo tries to work in as much writing as he can.
“I’ve written a lot of lyrics on the road, it’s harder to build music,” said Toledo. “I’ve actually got some band demos we were just jamming during sound check and a few tracks I built up on logic, but for the most part it’s difficult to build anything significant. There’s not a lot of quiet space on the road.”
Recently Car Seat Headrest released “Does It Feel Good (To Say Goodbye)” on Soundcloud for a deal made with an indie short film.
“It was a song, and it was going to L.A. to shoot…it seemed like a good opportunity,” said Toledo. “I like one offs like that where I’m pushed to make one song and do something different. The day before shooting I came to a completely new idea which is what that song was…so I went and shot it then recorded it pretty much right away.”
In general, growing attention from the media and the public has been something Toledo’s worked on acclimating to.
“This month I’ve been feeling a little negatively about it, I think just out of exhaustion,” said Toledo. “I think it’s something I always sort of considered even when there wasn’t much attention. Once you get at…understanding the different ways people feel…you can at least not be taken by surprise when people react a certain way to your music.”