In the first of (hopefully) many articles, I’m going to indulge my inner music nerd and research an artist that I’m currently infatuated with. The result will be little posts such as this one, giving you everything you need to know about some of the creators of the most exciting music right now. I’m going to start with Car Seat Headrest.
I was first introduced to Will Toledo a.k.a Car Seat Headrest by a friend of mine, Caleb, whilst we were recording an episode of my Albion radio show for CiTR (you can hear that show here). Caleb sat gazing in awe at the wall of CDs sitting in pride of place in the CiTR studio. After surveying the full selection for some time, he plucked out Teens of Style, Car Seat Headrest’s first release on Matador records, with the endorsement “this guy’s meant to be pretty great!”
He wasn’t wrong. For the rest of the year that album was spinning round my head. It’s indie rock’n’roll at its finest. Passionate, raw and all-consuming. It’s genuinely a joy to listen to, and you get the impression that Toledo is having the time of his life playing it.
His first album of new material, Teens of Denial, since being signed (I’ll explain in a second) was released last May. It’s nothing short of a modern masterpiece and I like to think I don’t throw terms like that around lightly. This is why I was compelled to write this (unendorsed I promise) feature. That, and the fact that his back story hit a certain resonating frequency with me.
Let me explain:
Car Seat Headrest started back in 2010 as 17-year old Toledo’s solo guise. He recorded alone in his bedroom, (or in his family’s car for better soundproofing) in his hometown of Leesburg, Virginia. Under this pseudonym he channeled his emotions into songs about heartbreak, teenage angst, parties, drugs, family, friends and everything in between.
He was prolific, releasing 11 full length albums on his bandcamp page in the next four years. It’s a vein of inspiration that harks back to the ’60s and ’70s, where bands would release two or three albums each year.
This insatiable work ethic is what has created Toledo’s success but it’s not fuelled by drive for big-money success, in my opinion. After listening to his music, it is apparent that this is just what he wants to be doing at all times. No amount of monetary drive can replicate someone’s pure joy for making music.
In 2014, New York’s Matador Records picked up on Car Seat Headrest, and he relocated to Seattle. Here, now with the help of a full backing band, he record Teens of Style. The album was a ‘best of’, of all his previous recordings, utilising tracks from 3, My Back Is Killing Me Baby and Monomania. Only now they benefitted from a tight backing band and professional production, to make Car Seat Headrest sound grown-up all of a sudden.
Having such a wealth of old material, you would then assume that it would be hard to make a ‘fresh-sounding’ follow up to Teens of Style. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Although Teens of Denial, sounds like a sister album in title, it is a whole new beast. The sound of a man who is in his creative prime, full of confidence, and loving every second of it.
On the record, Toledo sings about all manner of issues; with each new song comes a new issue to ponder – a reason to press repeat. Nothing ever feels contrived, just insightful, witty and honest. Without wanting to sound like Pitchfork, it’s as good as indie has sounded since Pavement were in their heyday. Check out stand-out track “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” for the clearest example of this brilliance. Or try the epic marathon of “The Ballad Of The Costa Concordia” or album-opener “Fill In The Blank.”
In fact, scrap that and listen to the whole album. Repeatedly. You won’t regret it.
It’s an exceptional record, that I expect to see feature heavily in 2016’s album of the year lists, however the reason I felt compelled to write this piece is more down to what the album represents for me.
In this age in which I’ve grown up, bands don’t break out like they used to. No longer do they learn their craft playing as many live shows as they can, honing their skills, before a record label spots them and shoves them in a studio. It’s now all about getting recordings up online and staying active on social media.
Car Seat Headrest is the success story of the generation. He’s not just different for the sake of it; he has stuck to his guns, constantly churning out material and staying committed to what he loves. He never lost faith and now he has been rewarded. In fact, all the signs are pointing to a long and successful career to come for Toledo. He’s already fast becoming a cult hero, so who knows how high he could rise? His look is not as marketable as some, a pretty standard indie geek, but his music speaks for itself. Which is the most important thing after all.
To round off my ramblings, seeing Toledo succeed after so much graft gives me hope for our ‘bandcamp-generation’. Stay true to what you love, and if your music is worth listening to, eventually it’ll be give the platform it deserves. In short, if you’re making great music, it will be able to stand out amongst the enormous amount of filler on bandcamp and soundcloud.