Will Toledo/Car Seat Headrest by Mikeal Beland

A Conversation with Will Toledo and An Appreciation for Car Seat Headrest

On the past, the present, and the future of the Seattle-based indie rock songwriter and his band

Katie Ingegneri
Nov 22 · 29 min read

by Katie Ingegneri

Photography by Mikeal Beland

Figuring out how to write this piece about Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo, and the phone interview we did this past summer, is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done as a writer and music fan.

Why? Well, the next time the universe offers you the opportunity to have a cross-coastal phone conversation with one of your favorite musicians/artists/creators of all time — one of the premier songwriters of your generation — plus the chance to write essentially whatever you want about it, and tell the internet: let me know what you come back with. Not to be overly hyperbolic, but it’s like someone handing you the phone and saying, “hey, here’s your chance to talk to Bob Dylan [or your legend of choice] for an hour — have fun, make something great out of it, and oh yeah, don’t f*ck it up!”

It’s fitting to finally have a piece devoted to Will here at Houseshow — a self-published digital magazine that focuses exclusively on DIY and indie artists — given the facts of Car Seat Headrest’s inspiring, now-mythic DIY origin story, a story built into the name of his band. I hadn’t heard of Car Seat Headrest when I started this magazine in early 2015 — Will’s first Car Seat Headrest album on Matador Records, Teens of Style, would come out later that year— but now it feels like things have come full circle, like this magazine was created specifically to consider him and his work. (For those paying attention, this is indeed the fourth piece I’ve written around Car Seat Headrest, including my pieces about their comedic side project 1 Trait Danger here at Houseshow and at Hard Noise, and my recent interview with hilariously brilliant drummer Andrew Katz, but this is the first entirely about Will as Car Seat’s songwriter and bandleader.)

While I’ve been very fortunate to make connections with a variety of amazing artists over the years — all entirely outside of the machinery of the music media and the music business — Will and Car Seat Headrest are in a category of their own for me. And certainly not only for me, but thousands of other enthusiastic fans around the world. As we move into a new era for Car Seat Headrest’s music, I’m inspired by the conversation I had with Will and what I’ve admired about his work so far to provide a glimpse into where this artist has been, where he is now, and (at least start to imagine) where he’s going.

To first rehash some facts: the better part of a decade ago, Will made a whole bunch of DIY albums in his home state of Virginia, in the back of his parents’ car and while off at college; got signed by Matador Records and built his band in Seattle with Andrew, guitarist and singer Ethan Ives, and bassist Seth Dalby; found critical and commercial indie success with 2016’s Teens of Denial (the album that changed everything for me) and the reworked, 2018 version of his cult 2011 Bandcamp hit Twin Fantasy, whose promotion included global tours, festival appearances, and a set on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (their second appearance on there, actually), with a year-plus addition to the core Car Seat Headrest band of hard-rocking Seattle trio Naked Giants for extra instrumental muscle — commemorated with the 2019 release of Car Seat Headrest’s first live album, Commit Yourself Completely; and became the subject of a three-part TIDAL documentary, which provided the most current views of where Will and Car Seat are right now, in 2018–19. Until our interview!

It’s not too shabby for both Will and I to be where we are now, two kids from the American suburbs of the East Coast: a guy who started out as a teenager recording music in the back of his parents’ car, and me, living out my fantasy from when I was 13 (lol, a very long time ago now) of being rock writer William Miller in Almost Famous — or his mentor, the real, legendary rock writer Lester Bangs — a fantasy which implanted itself in my brain in tandem with my teenage music fan angst about my inability to meet Julian Casablancas when I would see The Strokes play in Boston, or the time my parents blocked the opportunity I had to meet Lou Reed at a record store signing.

I never thought I’d get to have conversations with musicians I considered legends, whose music defines and describes me and my life in a way that non-music fans will never understand — and I never thought I’d find a legend of my generation (indeed, younger than me), prolific enough to add to the lineup of my beloved rock heroes, in an era where vital artistic voices are more crucial than ever. Getting the chance to talk to someone like Will, and write about it, is truly more than I could’ve ever imagined, and mostly makes up for the earlier angst (although I’ll never get over the Lou Reed thing), so thank you Will, and universe.

What was really challenging about this piece is that I wanted to write about literally everything I’ve ever thought or felt about Car Seat Headrest’s music, and every related tangent. I tried to restrain myself, but as you can see by the length of this piece, I only partially succeeded. I don’t even know if this final version has everything I wanted to say — because I want to say everything. But it’s a start.

Car Seat is Keeping Rock Alive For The Real Ones

While it’s true that many of the legends we rock fans worship tend to be in the septuagenarian or even octogenarian category these days, younger artists like Will, who is succeeding at so many of the things we valued about the rock artists of the past, show us that it’s still possible for songwriters to create lyrics that get under our skin, melodies that stick in our heads, and that you can’t beat drums, guitars, and bass for creating the perfect mosh pit. Even the still-living, legendary rock writer Robert Christgau, who I just saw mentioned in Holly George-Warren’s new Janis Joplin biography for having been front row at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, digs Will and Car Seat. What more cross-generational, old-guard, rock n roll validation do you need?

But it’s not just the classic rock dads “with their Beatles and their Stones” who are here for Car Seat, to paraphrase the Bowie-penned, Mott The Hoople classic “All The Young Dudes.” And it’s not just me and my cohort of Millennials, many of us indie rock fan stereotypes with our memories of growing up shopping at Tower Records, and our humanities degrees in introspection, with minors in depression and anxiety. (Although I think I am also a classic rock dad, and from what I understand of Will’s musical tastes, he is too.) It’s also today’s kids — circa middle school, high school, college — the ones who speak fluent meme and post their every feeling on social media, the ones who are deconstructing the boundaries and dichotomies of yesteryear, who find solace and inspiration in Will’s subtly transgressive work as he reframes rock standards into something more honest and inclusive.

Every generation needs someone to tell them it’s okay to be who they are, and Will is now one of those people. Just glancing at comments and posts about Will and Car Seat across social media show fans around the world talking about how his music made them feel better, helped them come out to their family, helped them during mental health challenges and tough times. From lyrical content that resonates with emotional truths to the catharsis of rocking out, Car Seat Headrest is in a league of its own.

Even as conventional wisdom says rock is dead, or kids don’t listen to rock anymore — it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not enough to just keep spinning the same records for 50 years, and I’m so grateful for artists like Will, building on the greatness of the past while moving us toward something even better.

As a lifelong fan of rock music, discovering the music of Car Seat Headrest was like finding some friend through space and time that I had always known. Rock survives thanks in large part to innovators like Will, able to synthesize what we’ve loved about rock music over the past decades into something that feels both familiar and fresh. As Joni Mitchell once said, “an innovator must change what went before.”

And as an anonymous person on YouTube said, Will is basically single-handedly saving rock music as we know it — which you can see reflected in Car Seat Headrest’s sold-out, cross-generational shows, where you can find everyone from the kids born in the 2000s to their grandparents who saw Neil Young live in the 1970s singing along to “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” and “Drugs With Friends,” or moshing to “Beach Life-in-Death” and “Destroyed by Hippie Powers.” Whether you’re a fan of rock-pop, post-punk, grunge, alt-rock, guitar feedback, unconventional song structure, or introspective lyrics, there’s something for everyone.

It’s been remarkable to see the shift over the course of just a few years as Will’s performance skills have evolved to meet the demands of international visibility and playing for packed, sold-out crowds across the world. Even just having been a fan since Car Seat started becoming more well-known in the indie rock world with Teens of Denial, it’s easy to see how Will has continued developing over the course of just three short years in the spotlight.

You can see and hear how he experiments, pushes boundaries, assesses his strengths and weaknesses, and tries new strategies to be better each time. He’s molded and shaped his distinctive voice into a highly versatile instrument, a singer in the tradition of Dylan or Neil Young or Leonard Cohen, artists who may not have had Sinatra-smooth voices but whose emotional honesty and relatability is enhanced by their poignantly raw, authentic style.

From singing in the backseat of a car to singing on late-night TV, from performing with a guitar by default and necessity to becoming a full-fledged frontman supported by a robust rock n roll band, Will is continuing to prove his skills aren’t confined solely to writing and arranging indie rock songs. He’s brought the skills he built as a producer of his own music to bear on projects such as those of Detroit’s Stef Chura, whose 2019 record Midnight is one of my favorite rock albums of the year and features a poignant co-written duet with her and Will, and he’s produced the albums of his friends and touring associates like Virginia’s Gold Connections and fellow Virginia-to-Seattle act Naked Days (project of Degnan “The Ending of Dramamine” Smith). Will would definitely be in demand as a rock producer if he went totally in that direction, and as we discussed in our conversation, he sees it as a good way to keep his skills sharp — but certainly nothing beats being a songwriter and creator yourself.

Influences, Innovation, and Interpolation

I read somewhere that a young Hunter S. Thompson learned and practiced writing by retyping classic novels like The Great Gatsby to get a feel for the flow of language as used by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I see this idea embodied in the covers Will does, and the remnants of his work over the years that exist across YouTube and Tumblr, how devoted fans can trace the development of the songs we love so much. I’m also interested in how the variety of cross-genre influences he absorbs, as documented through his Spotify playlists, are making an impact on his creativity, and I am very curious to see how they make appearances on the next record.

While just about any musician gets their start in both playing and songwriting by covering artists they admire, there’s something special to me about the covers Will has done, on his own or with the larger band. Given the DIY origins of Car Seat Headrest, which has morphed into the high costs of song sampling (the infamous situation with The Cars and Teens of Denial), most of these covers live online, rather than being enshrined in the Car Seat Headrest recording catalogue.

My personal favorite cover is probably his updated, interpolated version of Leonard Cohen’s grandiose nostalgia romp “Memories,” found on Car Seat’s “out of print” 2013 album Disjecta Membra, where Will turns Cohen’s original plea to seduce the tallest blonde girl at the dance into something sexy and sinister for the social media generation. I can’t get enough of it. (By the way, it took me only like 10 years of being a Cohen fan to discover “Memories,” and 2 years of being a Car Seat fan to find Will’s cover. I’m not always great at whatever it is I do here.)

A fantastic, more recent cover featured the full band, including Naked Giants, doing DEVO’s “Uncontrollable Urge” at KEXP in Seattle, where they and DJ Cheryl Waters (clearly a fellow Car Seat fan) seem to be having a great time. My other favorite covers of Will’s and his bandmates include The Smiths and Pink Floyd. But there’s actually whole playlists of covers on YouTube if you look hard enough — I’ll leave finding those to my fellow hardcore fans and internet people.

One of Will’s signature covers — a song he performs solo— has become hip-hop artist Frank Ocean’s indie rock-inspired masterpiece “Ivy,” a track Will’s been performing since Car Seat Headrest’s fall 2016 tour (Frank Ocean’s Blonde was released in August 2016). I saw him perform it in Chicago that September, and it absolutely blew me away. Watching fan-made videos of the performances over the past few years show how he’s made it his own, culminating in the April 2018 video above, which visually documents the version of “Ivy” that made it onto Commit Yourself Completely.

It’s not exactly a cover as much as a remix, with Will interpolating his own lyrics, including a snippet from “Beach Life-in-Death” (“in the mall in the nighttime / you came back alone with a flashlight”) — while he had also interpolated in a lyric of Frank’s, recorded backwards (“it was the start of nothing”) in the 2018 version of BLiD. It’s exciting and inspiring to see these kinds of innovative covers, the responses from one groundbreaking artist to another — in Frank and Will’s case, wildly popular and acclaimed artists who are tearing down their old genre standards that still operate in the context of heteronormative dude vibes and traditional songwriting conventions.

I can only hope copyright and licensing laws don’t squash the next phases of artistic innovation. Will already managed to get his interpolations of Dido onto Teens of Denial, and They Might Be Giants onto Twin Fantasy— who knows what will come next?

New Music On The Horizon

Will and the band are currently working on what will be Car Seat Headrest’s first collection of new material since Teens of Denial (1 Trait Danger albums notwithstanding), and I know that I, along with thousands of other Car Seat fans are eager to hear how Will’s songwriting and musical vision has continued to evolve in tandem with the skills of his consummately talented band.

We’ve gotten a few glimpses of where they’re going via the TIDAL documentary, which showcases the development of new track “Stop Lying To Me,” and via fan-made videos from overzealous concert-goers such as myself — I snagged a video from the official live debut of “Can’t Cool Me Down,” the first song of their 2019 opening tour date on Valentine’s Day in Boston. (I had gotten a taste of it when a secret demo version was included on the first 1 Trait Danger flash drive, and somehow had the presence of mind to whip out the iPhone when I recognized it on stage.)

During the winter 2019 tour (the continuation of their Twin Fantasy touring), the band also debuted a track called “Weightlifters.”

So that’s three new tracks on hand as of late 2019. I’m assuming these three songs will make it onto the album, but who can really say, besides Will of course. Although these first few tracks remain heavily in Car Seat’s signature indie rock realm, from what he and Andrew have been hinting at in conversations, and checking out his extensive Spotify lists, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they start working more electronic music, or soul, or pop, into what they’re doing. I hope we’ll find out in 2020, if the album’s all set by then!

So, My Conversation With Mr. Toledo…

It’s a pretty fascinating experience to formulate a conversation with an artist whose music you consume just about every day — it’s shockingly normal (it’s just a conversation with a fellow human) and yet so surreal. There are pretty much a billion things you want to ask them, most of which you can’t because they’re a stranger, even though you feel like you know the depths of their soul or whatever (and that they know yours, which obviously they don’t), so you keep it light and high-level and try not to sound like an idiot — which I think I can say I somewhat succeeded at, although sometimes I only had “cool!” to say in response to Will’s comments, which is goofy for my supposedly having years of experience in this. Yes, I am Chris Farley, and Will is Paul McCartney.

But Will is great because while in various ways he is a new Paul McCartney for the 21st century — a stunningly innovative songwriter, an artist who put their time in to hone their craft, an enigmatic and charismatic figure on stage, an emotional artist who can effortlessly switch between cathartically rocking out and making you cry with devastating lyrics — as an individual, he could just be another low-key student from my humanities classes over the years.

Whereas the success of many rock gods of the past hinged on their ability to be highly flamboyant, the hard-living ids of their audiences, Will being the frontman of Car Seat Headrest is like the fulfillment of the fantasy of being a rock star for every quiet or unconventional kid who ever picked up a rock record and dreamed of being on stage. He’s a pretty regular dude who also happens to be a “rock star,” whatever that means in 2019 — and he’s certainly helping to deconstruct the previously toxic notions of what it meant to be a rock star in eras past. You don’t have to party, or trash hotel rooms, or be an obnoxious egomaniac to be a figure that entertains, inspires, and brings comfort to thousands around the world through your art and performances.

While I wanted to include the transcript of our whole conversation in this article, I tried to select more of what hasn’t been covered before in pieces about Will and Car Seat. We discussed, among other subjects, our feelings as music fans (and in Will’s case, as a professional musician) about Spotify’s offerings, the influences behind his work, and how he and the guys are working on the next album. I truly can’t wait to see how this next album comes together, and to be on this journey as a fan, and now documentarian of sorts, of the work and evolution of Will Toledo and Car Seat Headrest.

Katie Ingegneri: I feel like there’s a definite literary influence on your style.

Will Toledo: Yeah, I kind of feel like that’s slowly draining out of it, as the years start to divide me from my college years, but definitely at the time there was a sort of a poetic ambition to what I was writing. I guess there still is, but it’s sort of tempered by a lot more different experiences, and more direct social activities.

What influences your songwriting now?

Um, I dunno! [laughs] To me it feels less like writing I guess, it used to be really putting stuff down on paper and trying to understand it from a conceptual point of view, and now it’s a lot more thinking about the physical aspects of playing it live, even the logistical aspects of playing it live. Creating music from that immediate musical perspective, rather than thinking about it and trying to generate something out of my own mind.

Obviously, that’s all just come with doing music full-time and living the lifestyle, instead of just writing in my free time. Playing music live for the past five years has definitely changed and expanded my understanding of what music can be, and what works with people, I think. So when I write now, it does feel less like writing, and it can come from a variety of sources — just putting notes together, putting beats together, it just sort of accumulates.

I follow you on Spotify, with your playlists there —

Oh, nice! I’m impressed with anyone who bothers to follow me on Spotify. I definitely don’t make playlists that are very navigable, but they’re really just for my own archival purposes.

I try to be listening to music more than I’m thinking about making my own music, because I think the more time you put stuff into your head, the easier it is to get something out.

I’ve just been actively trying to look for different types of music, and staying on top of that. I’m reading a book right now called The Story of Modern Pop, and usually when I’m reading a book like that that goes through a lot of music, I’ll just have my computer on hand and every time they mention an artist or a song I’ll look it up, and if I enjoy it I’ll add it to the playlist. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and I’ve only gotten like 100 pages into the book, but I feel like I’ve listened to that many songs because of it. So it’s kind of a way of giving myself a full education in whatever the book is talking about — there’s been several music books of that nature that I think I’ve gone through. You end up exposing yourself to a lot if you bother to go through with it.

That’s why I like Spotify, I know people hate on it but it’s such a good way to listen to, like, everything.

I’ve been very pro-streaming for the same reason, just as a listener of music, I think it’s been easy to vilify, cause it’s very big and it’s dominating the music scene right now, and because it’s secretive — no one knows what is going on behind the walls of Spotify — but someone who’s writing a scare piece on it, they don’t know any better than anyone else what’s going on. From a musician standpoint, I really don’t feel like there’s a great injustice in the way streaming services pay artists, but I think that artists who have a problem with it, they’re coming from a very different perspective.

I came up in the era directly before streaming, and I understand that what streaming replaced is music piracy. People who came up on a major label or whatever, in an era when artists made a lot of money, are looking at streaming and seeing less money. I was buying CDs in the CD age, and I remember how shitty CDs were, and what a ripoff they were in comparison to the actual product that it was. And if that’s what was filling the music industry with money, I think that came at the expense of the consumer. I don’t think that was a great way of making money either.

The fact that they would create basically a legal version of music piracy, where artists do get paid, is really impressive to me, and I think that a lot of people overlook that in favor of saying “well, they don’t get paid very much.” Honestly, I think the real thing to look out for, is at what point streaming services are going to need to be profitable, because I really don’t think that they are generating a lot of money right now.

Because when you look at the numbers, at how many people are paying for streaming and how much they’re paying, versus how much they’re streaming and how much money needs to go out to artists — they’re operating at a loss, essentially. So what concerns me, is at what point is it gonna change, and how is it gonna change.

Honestly, I’m afraid that they’re just gonna go under, or it’s gonna completely change the model, where they’re not offering the whole database of songs anymore, or just something where the fundamental nature of it is changed, and I think we would all lose a lot if these huge databases of music went away. But it’s unfortunate that no one’s looking at it from that angle, and what can we do to keep that idea alive and preserve it in a more sustainable way.

I’m so nervous that Spotify will just like, disappear someday, or something.

Or make the music that’s on there inaccessible — it feels like whenever they move closer to the algorithm, it feels like they’re one step closer to just basically becoming a distribution service where most of the music that you want to hear isn’t going to be on there. I guess that’s pretty much already happened with Netflix…they started out hosting as many movies as they could from all over the place, and now pretty much anything you wanna watch is not gonna be on there, it’s just all their own shit now.

It’s a great concept — that you can be DIY, or you can be a huge label — you can listen to anything, from anywhere.

Yeah, that was another thing, before these services, the only thing that was around was iTunes, and it was super hard to get anything on iTunes if you were an artist. There was this whole weird labyrinthian submission process, and it was very up in the air whether anything you sent them would get posted or not, and so it seemed like a real shift in the culture when the streaming services came along, and then services like DistroKid came along, where if you paid $20, or maybe even less than that, a year, you could put your own music on all these services and people were gonna be able to access it.

It’s crazy how it’s changed so rapidly over the course of our lifetimes.

A lot of stuff is changing for the worse, but it seems like it’s been a change for the better.

I try to utilize Bandcamp as much as possible now, cause if I’m only paying ten bucks a month for Spotify Premium, it’s not really in relation to the amount of music I’m listening to.

And Bandcamp has its own sort of field of music, and that’s good for stuff that is completely unknown. Usually, when I’m on Bandcamp, I go to “recent arrivals” from all genres, and that’ll just stick you on a bunch of completely random albums and I like being able to sift through those, like I’m at a weird record store.

That’s a good idea.

That’s another thing that I hope they don’t get rid of, and already on the mobile app there’s no way to get to that page, you either have to have your own collection or click on what they recommended to you. But I like the sort of anti-algorithm approach, of just completely random.

I’ve really loved the really long songs you do, and I was kind of wondering how you developed those, cause it’s something you’ve been doing since early on.

As early as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed the whole process of listening to music and even just looking at an album before I listen to it, and sort of imagining what’s gonna be on there, and I think one thing that always intrigued me was if an album had especially long songs on it — it just sort of really made me question what could be on there.

If a song can do everything in three minutes, what world is it going to explore in that additional amount of time?

Even before I was really writing music, that was something that was interesting to me, and then, obviously because I was looking at those sorts of albums that had those longer songs, I ended up listening to a lot of them too, and grew up with that idea that longer songs could sit next to shorter songs, and there was really no limitation on the length you could make a song, other than at what point is it unnecessary, or is it getting boring. Even The Beatles had a few longer tracks, and Pink Floyd was an early influence and they had a lot of longer tracks, and I think that those are probably the main two that I was looking towards in fleshing out my own longer pieces.

Do you think that’s something you’re going to continue with into the future?

I think so, yeah — my reputation right now is for longer songs, which kind of makes me interested in shorter songs. For Teens of Denial, there was sort of a question of what we were gonna do for radio, cause they want three and a half minutes for radio, essentially, and everything on that album was pretty much longer than that. So we ended up re-recording a few tracks from that album to be right around that length of three and a half minutes. That was an interesting challenge to me, how can we take what’s good about these tracks and make it work in three and a half minutes.

Well, actually, that came about because Matador didn’t really expect to us to do that, they expected us to trim down the original version into three and a half minutes, I heard what they were doing and was like “no, you can’t do this, like, you’ve turned ‘Drunk Drivers’ into half of a verse and then a bridge and that just doesn’t work.” So, you know, my mind naturally started turning towards how could you make it work, and how much do you have to change it to get to that point. And in thinking about that, I ended up thinking a lot about that sort of shorter song structure, and how people do more with less, essentially.

The material I’m working on right now, there’s sort of a spread of lengths of songs that are in the pool right now, but they’re all sort of concerned with that mentality — if there’s a way to make this shorter and more succinct and more direct, let’s do it, and I think that’s where my mind needs to be, because after years of writing these longer pieces, I sort of naturally write longer pieces, and if you’re not careful about that that can lead to a lot of bloat and less interesting material. So the idea that things should be honed down rather than expanded is interesting to me, and that’s sort of the approach we’re taking with this [next] album.

Like a new challenge, challenge yourself.

Yeah, I guess that was sort of Teens of Denial as well, but I feel like with Denial I was also working with a stricter aesthetic range, where it was all very guitar-based, and everything had a similar tone to it, and right now, sort of everything is on the table as long as it doesn’t drag and it feels like there’s energy throughout the song.

The latest one you’ve shared, “Stop Lying to Me,” is really catchy.

Good, yeah, you can probably tell from the video it’s one of the longer pieces. I guess the structure isn’t quite worked out yet, but it feels like it’ll be one of the longer pieces. So far it’s the only song on the album that was fully band-conceived, we were jamming that out in the studio, and actually the original recording of that jam was part of the [TIDAL] video that went up.

Oh yeah, it was like 2016?

Yeah, I think so, but yeah that was just improvised, and we all liked where it went, so I went to work sort of graphing it into something more finalized. Maybe we’re not quite at that stage yet, but sort of coming from a different place from the rest of the tracks on the album, which makes it a bit of a challenge to make it fit and feel coherent.

I didn’t even realize that “Can’t Cool Me Down” is also a little longer, isn’t it?

Yeah, although so far, there’s only been the live version, and that is already sort of more expanded from what’s laid out right now. But yeah, to me that feels like the core of it should be three and a half minutes, but it’s still like a minute longer than that. But that’s the goal, if it’s longer it should still feel like it’s there and gone, essentially.

I took a video of it in Boston, and I was like “oh, this is a short song,” but then, “oh, I forgot about this whole intro, and outro…”

Yeah, the intros and outros will do it.

I think that’s what so great about your longer songs, is that they really keep the energy and the interest there, cause otherwise folks would be bored.

Yeah and I think the live shows are where we’re able to continue doing that. I’m talking about honing stuff down for the album, but I think once you put it on a stage, you can really expand it back out again — if it goes into a jam, that can happen, or it can be longer, or it can go to different sections or repeat things more often. I guess I’ve listened to a lot more music and especially live recordings in the past five years or so, where that’s basically the scene, where artists will have three-minute songs that turn into ten-minute songs, or whatever, and just sort of get into a groove and keep going with it. And I think we’re doing that enough in the live show that I can feel content with the actual albums, saying “okay, we can save the jam for the live show,” and just make the song.

Are you guys recording the album already?

Yeah, we’ve already made some headway with it, we’re sort of working in opposition to the way previous albums have been done for Matador, and more like what I used to be doing, where it just starts on the computer and gets built up gradually. For a while, I wanted to do the studio thing, and have the studio setup, and have the producer, and I think I learned enough from those sessions, and those albums, that I felt like I could go back to what is more my comfort zone of having these songs that get slowly built up out of nothing.

But we’re sort of mixing that with the studio approach, we went to the studio a few months ago to do some tracking, and I think in another month we’ll go back for some more, but for the most part it’s all just slowly being built up on my computer, and I think Andrew is gonna take a crack at mixing as well.

He actually had given me a song to do vocals for, I think maybe a 1 Trait song but we don’t have any lyrics for it yet. I was just like, these drums are just better than anything than that’s on the Car Seat album currently, and I’ve been working on it for months, so I’m just gonna hand over the drive to you essentially, and let you craft your version of these songs, so that is what is about to happen, basically. And then we’ll have hopefully a few different versions to choose from in what we work with. It’s just the flexibility of us being the people who mix it, and being able to mix it wherever as opposed to in a studio.

You guys are self-producing it, then?

Yeah, we have our sound guy [John McRae] who also tours with us, he’s been the engineer in the studio, which just means he’s setting everything up and hitting the buttons, and then outside of that, it’s just been me and Andrew.

The Stef Chura record that you produced, that was really cool. I really liked the kind of Car Seat-esque vibes that were brought to bear, albeit on her music.

That was sort of a similar setup, where we had a limited amount of time in the studio, and then for the rest of it I was just mixing on my own, putting the rest of it together. That was interesting and it was a challenge, because I was also involved in the writing process for it, where she had ideas that weren’t fully finished, and we had like a week to more or less finish writing the album, and then a week to go into the studio and record it. So I kind of enjoyed the idea of working with that approach, where you just had to very quickly put stuff together.

That’s more or less what happened — there were a few pieces where we had to go back in to the studio later to finish because we hadn’t quite finished writing them, but I think that the songs sort of benefit from that direct approach, and not having a lot of bullshit attached to it.

She’s actually one of two albums, or artists, that I’ve been working with…that album was in the works for a while, I went onto that right after Twin Fantasy, and then I did my mixes for it, and then she was working with another engineer on it for a while. I think it wasn’t until the end of 2018 that they really finished their album properly. So I was working on that, and I was also working on my friend Degnan’s album — [the band] Naked Days — and we’re actually still working on that now, but I’m hoping to be finished with it soon. That’s almost the exact same scene as the Car Seat scene, where we recorded, and actually we went in with Andrew and Seth to record drums and bass. And it’s been me and Andrew, Andrew mostly, doing the production on the rhythm section, and then me adding stuff on top of that.

Do you think you’ll keep producing records?

Yeah, I think that’s a good way to keep your mind activated when you’re not working on your own material. I think if you’re working or trying to write in a vacuum, that’s very difficult. I think it’s better to be active on a daily basis on a variety of projects, and it’s more like, maybe I should be working on Degnan’s stuff, but I’ll get an idea for my own material, but then if I’m not feeling interested in working on my own material I can go back to Degnan’s stuff and work on that instead. You have to like the music and the artist that you’re working on, but if you do, it can definitely serve to inspire you in your own material.

Do you even find 1 Trait has that effect?

I don’t really consider 1 Trait a different artist, it is literally just me and Andrew, but the things I’ve learned from Andrew is stuff that we’re incorporating, or even just letting Andrew handle the mixing on this album — it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me unless we were working on the 1 Trait stuff. His sound profile that he builds up is very different from my comfort zone, and so for a while I didn’t see a way to really combine it.

But the more that we work together — him touching up Degnan’s stuff, and then we also worked together on the live album that just came out — it’s a lot clearer to me now that he can sort of lay the groundwork, and then I can come in and change it afterwards, and it ends up just basically sounding a lot clearer than my natural range would be. So in that sense, 1 Trait has definitely affected my own musical output.

So, as a last question — my magazine came out of Chicago’s DIY community, and I was wondering what you would tell kids coming up today who want to be musicians or creatives, and what DIY might mean to you.

Um, do it! [laughs] I think that you’ll hear a lot of scary talk about how hard it is to be an independent artist nowadays, and honestly I think it’s kind of bullshit. Especially for musicians — like I said, I know a lot of visual artists, people who draw, or write comics, et cetera, for a living, and I think it’s harder to do that but still possible. I think it’s easier to be a musician, cause the overhead costs are super low when you’re starting out, because you can do everything on your computer, and there’s still an industry around it, which means there’s still a lot of people with money who don’t know what to do with it.

The industry is trying to change to keep up with the DIY aspect of it, and I think that’s resulted in a very good place to be for musicians. Because you can make what you want and attract people who can give you that boost, essentially, and put you on a larger-scale market, and you can still have free rein over your own product, as long as you work with people who don’t suck, essentially.

I think that it is possible to find the right indie label who is going to support you in your career, and I think there are very little restraints other than the restraints that everybody has to go through these days. To be a musician, all you have to do is be creating that stuff and be putting it out wherever you can, and there are a lot of outlets to do that, and a lot of people who still need music in their lives, so it’s very important to do that if you want to do that.

Yeah, for sure. I mean, you’re kind of the ultimate success story these days with DIY…

I think other DIY artists would argue that point, but yeah I would hope that I end up not being a significant example, as far as I hope a lot of people can come up in the same way that I did. And I think that there’s no reason why that wouldn’t happen, unless people don’t follow up and do the stuff that I did, as far as just putting out a lot of stuff and hoping that people will like it.

It’s great that you’ve made it work.

I’m glad that I did.

Yeah, I am too, cause I listen to your music like every day.


Check out more of Mikeal Beland’s photos of Car Seat Headrest, Naked Giants, and other work: https://www.mikealbeland.com/

Follow Houseshow Magazine on Facebook for our latest articles and up-to-date happenings on international indie music and culture.

If you enjoyed this article, please share on your networks, and/or add some claps here on Medium! This will help our DIY magazine and the featured artists reach more people.

houseshow magazine

a celebration of the next generation. DIY. music. culture. freedom.

Katie Ingegneri

Written by

MFA — Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School; BA — McGill University, Montreal. Digital human rights worker. Founder of Houseshow Magazine on Medium. Massachusetts.

houseshow magazine

a celebration of the next generation. DIY. music. culture. freedom.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade