Unraveling the mystery that is Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo released around a dozen albums before being signed to a record label and he's only 23. Now shifting into the spotlight, he tries to keep his real life personal.
The internet has changed the lives of musicians and wannabe musicians in countless ways. For some bands. digital music sharing means smaller profits; for others it’s a chance to get a foot in the door and to find fans and an audience. But for Will Toledo, his band would not exist without it.
Car Seat Headrest has generated a ton of media attention with interviews and profile pieces from Billboard, Spin, Vice, Interview Magazine, MTV and even USA Today. All of these interviews stem from the fact that he’s only 23 years old and he’s already released 13 albums — most of them for free on the online music streaming website Bandcamp.
"Younger artists don't really have much of a way to get exposure except by touring," says Will Toledo, "But I circumvented that by having more of an online presence."
Not everyone who puts music on Bandcamp gets that kind of response. It’s a site where anyone can upload their music — even if you record something alone in your room or in the backseat of a car — which is something Toledo did early in his career. At the same time, releasing his albums on Bandcamp is where he got his 10,000 hours, as Malcolm Gladwell would say, and music fans started paying attention.
"It took off, but it wasn't really taking off from a media standpoint. It was all kind of grassroots stuff. It was people trading it on forums and sharing it online. So I grew this very natural fanbase, and at the same time, there was really no media presence at all with Car Seat Headrest. I was not getting anywhere sending out emails or anything. So instead I just worked on continuing to make good music and trying to cultivate the fanbase that I had."
Before the internet age, a musician would’ve been making demo tapes in their room and maybe selling them on the street, but with digital production tools and internet sharing sites, Toledo could make albums and share them with the world — without leaving his house.
"Music was kind of where I went to retreat," says Toledo, "I wasn't a super social guy so I spent more time by myself writing music and then recording it." It was less of a job or a hobby for Toledo, but more of a sanctuary.
"There's a lot of intense emotions on the albums that don't really show up in other places in my life because I repress those emotions in everyday life and that's where they come out, is in the music."
Toledo signed with Matador Records last year and just released his first studio album, “Teens of Denial" — but moving up the ranks didn’t affect his personal approach to writing music. Toledo says that his personal dilemmas played a big part in writing songs for his latest album.
"There's a lot of mental states on there that are definitely highly reflected on my life around 2013-2014 when I was writing them. It was a more or less depressive phase for me and it was very hard to get out of these states, and it was frustrating because I wanted to write about them, because that's sort of how I get out of those states. I make art out of them."
Now that Toledo is on an international tour for his new album, he’ll be meeting his fans face-to-face — as well as doing more interviews like this.
"I think people think they know a lot about me and my personal life, but there's always going to be secrets that are yet to be revealed, and if that's ever not the case then I'll have to find new secrets. So it's more about trying to unravel the mystery that is Will Toledo."
Car Seat Headrest's new album, "Teens of Denial," is out now.