Shepherd Express – Car Seat Headrest Feature
Car Seat Headrest Turns Up the Volume
By Joshua Miller
Jul. 12, 2016
23-year-old singer-songwriter Will Toledo has been accomplishing a lot of firsts in the past year or so while taking his project, Car Seat Headrest, from a simple solo bedroom pop outing to a fully-fledged rock band.
In May, Toledo documented Car Seat Headrest’s growth into a full band with the new album Teens of Denial. Though he’d made his Matador Records debut last year with Teens of Style, a retrospective album that reintroduced some of the songs from the 11 college-recorded albums he had previously released via Bandcamp, Denial marked the first time Toledo had recorded in a proper studio with a producer (Steve Fisk’s studio in Seattle).
And finally, on Sunday, Car Seat Headrest will be making their Milwaukee debut.
So far, the transition to becoming a real rock band has gone exceptionally well. Denial is a sprawling, ambitious 12-song album that finds Toledo and his bandmates fully embracing and embellishing its new full band status. “We recorded these songs as a full band and that’s the way they were conceived,” Toledo says. “So for the first time we’ve got everything together, as far as the way they’re written is the way they’re being played, which is ideal.”
Playing in a rock band has always been an end game for Toledo. The primary holdup until recently was he couldn’t find the right musicians. “I was just working by myself out of lack of having people to play with,” he said. “I’m really glad to be finally working as a real rock band.”
Retaining his sole songwriting duties, Toledo wrote the lyrics for the album over a two-year period. He initially wrote them about things he was experiencing and seeing in the world. It later morphed into a bit of a concept record revolving around an alter-ego named Joe. “It wasn’t really conceived as an alter-ego. At the time I was writing just about myself and there wasn’t that distinction,” he says. “It was something that just came in later on as I was piecing things together and these song titles came up. There was a thread in just the song titles that ended up influencing people’s interpretation of the songs.
Denial features song titles that span from confessional to humorous like “Fill in the Blank,” “Destroyed by Hippie Powers,” “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for) Using Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem),” and “Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra).” Many parallel and contradict big themes like personal responsibility and existential despair with minor digressions like Air Jordans and whether to have one more beer.
Toledo credits Fisk for making the recording sessions go so smoothly. It also helped they were ready to record day one since they had been playing together and working on the songs for six months. Toledo says he’s impressed by Fisk’s live and to-the-point recording style and it was something he wanted emulated on Denial.
“I went into it knowing the music that Steve recorded and that influenced the way I approached how we recorded it,” he says. “We did things very simply and there weren’t a lot of overdubs. There wasn’t a lot of stuff we did in the mix other than arranging tracks. There weren’t any effects or reverb or distortion that we added afterwards and that was us sticking to what Steve was used to.” The recording of the album couldn’t have gone any better, Toledo says.
“That’s a fun one to play live ’cause there’s a lot of places we can go with it,” Toledo says. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do beforehand and sometimes I’ll do a guitar solo and sometimes I’ll do some speaking parts into the mic or sing. At the end of it we’ll always do it a little different. We keep experimenting with those parts and see what works. We go in not knowing exactly what form it will take but it’s a fun task to take on.”