Will Toledo, who performs as Car Seat Headrest, released 11 albums on Bandcamp before he was picked up by prestigious indie label Matador. He performs with his band at the Sunset Tavern Saturday, Jan. 9
After Will Toledo graduated from Virginia’s The College of William and Mary, he moved out to Seattle in 2014, crashed with a friend in Kirkland and decided he’d see how long he could go without getting a real job.
By the end of the year, he’d formed a band, but in 2015 he was still playing to Seattle crowds that could almost fit into a phone booth. Then he got an email from Chris Lombardi, the founder of Matador Records, who rescued him from the trappings of gainful employment.
Though he was still virtually unknown in Seattle, Toledo was able to land a record deal with one of the most respected indies in the country because he’d released 11 albums as Car Seat Headrest on Bandcamp — the online music store and digital hub popular with up-and-coming bands. Being prolific is not uncommon. What was stunning about Toledo’s output was that it was good.
Car Seat Headrest
With Naked Giants, Boyfriends. 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9, at the Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave., Seattle; $10 (206-784-4880 or sunsettavern.com).
But you can judge for yourself Saturday (Jan. 9), when Toledo performs as Car Seat Headrest with a backup band at the Sunset Tavern.
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Car Seat Headrest’s first album with Matador, “Teens of Style,” released in October 2015, was mostly re-recordings of songs released during his fitfully productive half decade.
Toledo makes straight-ahead rock that he serves either with a scream or nonchalance that evokes The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas. The tracks are decidedly lo-fi, but they’re not wanting. You wouldn’t know they were mostly crafted in his bedroom if you hadn’t read one of the glowing reviews of his material.
Toledo says the lo-fi wasn’t as much an aesthetic choice as a necessity. He didn’t have the resources to book a fancy studio or hire a producer he trusted, so he did it all, more or less, himself. For his next album, “Teens of Denial,” which Matador will release later this year, he had the opportunity to stretch a bit.
“I think that you can’t really call it a low-fi record this time,” he says. “It’s a little grungy, but it’s pretty hi-fi.”
The album has a bit more of a polish, he says, thanks in part to its producer, Steve Fisk, a local knob-twister whose résumé includes work with both Nirvana and Soundgarden. Fisk — who prefers to compare Toledo’s voice to The Kinks’ Ray Davies over Casablancas — took delight in introducing Toledo to some of the spoils of working in a proper studio. He is particularly proud to have introduced Toledo to the joys of the Hammond B3 organ.
“It’s all over the record,” Fisk says. “It may as well be a Steppenwolf record. In a good way. He turned it up to 11 and did really cool (stuff).”
No surprises there.