This year’s San Diego Music Thing headliner, Car Seat Headrest, is a classic example of DIY. Will Toledo, the mastermind behind the band, has self-released 12 albums via Bandcamp since 2010.
It all began with him driving to quiet areas of town to record vocals in the back seat of his parent’s car -- hence the band name. However, he didn't play live shows, because he didn't have a band with which to do so. It was a bedroom/car seat solo project that only existed online.
That all changed in 2015. Toledo signed with Matador Records and was finally able to collaborate with a full band in a traditional studio, giving birth to his 13th album, Teens of Denial. Voila! The 24-year-old’s internet sensation transformed into a legitimate band with a headlining U.S. tour.
“It was always a solo project. I was writing and recording everything on my own until Teens of Style,” Toledo nonchalantly speaks as if he's in a rocking chair with a cigar in hand about moving from his hometown, Leesburg, Virginia. “I moved to Seattle in 2014, and met the band in late-2015/early-2016 and that's when we started writing and recording together.”
The band’s latest album, Teens of Denial, is still pretty lo-fi indie rock. It owns the quirky songwriting and unpolished production of Beck’s "Mellow Gold" or "Odelay." “Drugs With Friends” is the perfect example: flimsy guitar maneuvering and playfully hopeless lyrics: “Hangovers feel good when I know it's the last one, then I feel so good that I have another one." Will Toledo’s lackadaisical vocals only add to the '90s nostalgia -- imagine a Julian Casablancas and Beck mash-up.
Lyrically, the album takes you through his days at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. The overall theme of the 70-minute musical novel deals with the transitional period from college to the working world -- the limbo of senior year. The party scene has run its course, and all of the drugs and alcohol can’t distract from the fact that adulthood is inevitable for the youthful Toledo.
“The place that I am in in my career has affected the way I’ve written,” he says, “Working towards a larger audience, I think about things a little differently and I think its a good place to be.”
Digging deep into Car Seat Headrest’s heavy discography, you can hear the maturity and growth in both production and songwriting. Toledo explains his music as if he's writing in a journal:
“Writing styles should change as a person’s life changes, and I would say my life has changed in a good way in the past two years and I think it reflects that.”
Musician, people-pleaser, lover, fighter and writer Matthew Craig Burke has been spewing musical words of wisdom since never. He lives off of peanut butter sandwiches, beer and Beck Hansen. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.