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Car Seat Headrest

Melodies and Memories

Feb 12, 2016 Car Seat Headrest Photography by Ray Lego Bookmark and Share

Speaking to Will Toledo, the 23-year-old mastermind of Car Seat Headrest, as he’s preparing to release his Matador debut Teens of Style, culled from his 11 Bandcamp releases over the course of five years, feels a bit awkward. This is primarily due to the fact that Car Seat Headrest are presently putting the wraps on their sophomore Matador release, Teens of Denial, recorded by Steve Fisk and due for release in the spring. Then again, the songwriter, who relocated to Seattle after spending his youth in Virginia, has always favored an aesthetic that’s gone against the grain. He switched universities on a few occasions in Virginia before his move to Seattle, where he assembled an ad hoc band. Then, out of the blue, he was contacted by Matador co-head Chris Lombardi, who, after hearing his Bandcamp tracks from an intern, came out to Seattle to see his band play. He was so impressed with them that he signed them on the spot.

“I didn’t have a ton of offers, so it wasn’t a hard decision,” laughs Toledo. “It’s something I’ve been wanting for years, and it’s good that it’s come. I’ve got enough experience in dealing with music that I know what I can and can’t do. And I’ve got a great crew behind me now.” Lombardi suggested culling the best of the Bandcamp tracks for Teens of Style, and Toledo acceded with alacrity, putting together a great hodgepodge of tracks re-recorded with his full band that fits like a well-worn glove.

Toledo, whose rather unorthodox band name­a topic he’s rather sick of discussing and defending-stems from recording vocals in his car as a teenager as a place of solace away from his parents, often writes about subject matters belying his youth. “Something Soon,” with its surging, fuzz-laden chorus, namechecks author Raymond Carver. Toledo explains, “I liked his prose. He’s got a cool way of writing about stressed out characters, or raw characters, and he does it without betraying weakness because it’s so raw and economical.”

He also mentions Michael Stipe on “Strangers,” as Toledo sings with palpable naivety, “I fell in love with Michael Stipe/I took lyrics out of context and thought ‘He must be speaking to me,’” over guardian angel backing harmonies, lending the flashbulb memory a sepia-tinged hue. “When I wrote it, I was listening to R.E.M. in middle school and early high school, and that’s sort of prime time for overanalyzing those lyrics,” explains Toledo. “I realized that Michael Stipe isn’t always writing the most meaningful lyrics. You’re putting your own meanings in it.”

But what ultimately comes through with Car Seat Headrest is their knack for writing indelible melodies, which Toledo claims will be even more copious and at the fore on their upcoming Teens of Denial, composed of all new tracks. This predilection was instilled in Toledo at an early age.

“My parents exposed me to The Beatles and The Beach Boys,” he reveals. “Just today we got through Revolver, Rubber Soul, and some of Sgt. Peppers in the van.” The new album, nearly completed, will feature the harmonies and melodies Toledo has cultivated so carefully, as well as an even more fleshed-out band feel. “I tried to give this one a more cohesive shape. It’s easier to give it that feel recording with a band and a studio. Beyond that it’s lyrically self-aware, and not a compilation. So the concept behind it is that it’s a self-aware album that isn’t a compilation,” Toledo says with a self-deprecating laugh.

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December Issue. This is its debut online.]


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