As with any budding four-track musician, his initial forays into home recording were based almost entirely on the bands he loved, though his knowledge of their histories were patchy, thanks to his family’s censorship of the music biographies which littered his house. “There’s some of my books on my shelf back in Virginia that still have this white-out tape over a bunch of words, and over John Lennon’s penis,” he tells me, referring to the front cover of the ‘Two Virgins’ album. “There was one book where all the swear words were censored by my sister, and I went through and scratched them out after years of wondering what that long word was – turned out to be ‘sexual revolution’.”
Unlike most young music fans, Toledo would shun going to see the bands he loved play live. “I think just because most people come into guitar music making the music live, with a band,” he says. “I just heard these records and I started recording on my own approximations of this guitar music, but there are just a lot of idiosyncrasies because of the way I was developing my music on the computer, and one of those was that there was a lot more stuff that felt a little more like hip hop with loops and samples and stuff.”
Toledo cites Nirvana’s ‘With the Lights Out’ box set and Of Montreal’s ‘The Early Four Track Recordings’ – and Microsoft Sound Recorder – as the formative influences on his desire to self-record. His parents, meanwhile, were supportive in that way that only parents could be. “As long as I had money coming in some way or another, I think they were OK with it. They put aside money for college, so I had that sort of buffer time – I was just majoring in English, so there wasn’t much going on there…” he trails off, grinning.
Studying English and Religion at William And Mary, the second oldest college in America after Harvard, gave him time to develop his material, and his studies seemed to play a hand in the way his writing evolved. “It was the methods of talking about [literature] that wore me out.” he says. “Just having to listen to the other students spin their stupid theories, and professors just taking it because they want a class discussion to happen. After a certain point, I didn’t even want to come to class because I just wanted to experience the book as I read it, and not as these people see it.
“I was writing lyrics to serve a larger purpose,” Toledo goes on, explaining his fondness for writing tracks that sometimes stretch past the fifteen-minute mark. “That came from reading these poems that are hundreds of years old, and still retain a sense of emotional urgency or importance to it… I always kinda liked longer songs. I found this fake tracklist that I wrote when I was in elementary school, just for this imaginary album I’d written – there were three songs on it that were over ten minutes.”
He claims that there was no initial game plan for the Car Seat Headrest project, though once he garnered a response to his early material, it made him rethink. “My grand idea was to have no persona attached to it, but just put out as much as I could and build this massive catalogue, and gradually gain attention that way. But you know, as soon as people started paying attention to it, it became harder to not have a personality attached to it. I didn’t put up the lyrics to the first four albums because it was mostly gibberish – I was just experimenting with sound more than anything. But I found that the lyrics I actually put thought into were the ones that ended up being the songs I liked more, so I just started focussing on that.
“I like seeing directors and artists as they develop,” he says when I ask him whether there was ever a consideration of pulling the albums from his Bandcamp once he signed to Matador. “I wanted to make it clear that it didn’t come from nowhere, and it came from a place that a lot of people do come from. It’s not impossible to get to here from there. I was lucky in that I can kind of have it both ways, because a lot of people will just see ‘Teens of Denial’ as coming out of nowhere. And if that’s the kind of person they are – if they’re just interested in the now, and what’s hot now – they can be interested in that, and they can think that I came out of nowhere. And for people who are more interested in chasing those narratives of artistry, that Bandcamp is there. And it will stay there.”