The Wunderkind: Will Toledo

Photo by David Belisle

AGE 23
Leesburg, Va.
“Psycho Killer” 
by Talking Heads
I have no weaknesses
“I have no weaknesses”

It didn’t take long for Seattle to claim Will Toledo as one of its own. The Virginia native arrived in the Northwest last spring sight unseen, drawn by the region’s storied musical history and an online acquaintance who offered a place to stay. Toledo soon put together a band of local players and, recording in a Kirkland living room under the name Car Seat Headrest, went to work on his 11th album of dramatic, cerebral rock ’n’ roll. In the meantime, he signed to New York-based Matador Records—professional and artistic validation for the self-described introvert, who’d been independently releasing music online to a rabid Internet fanbase since he was 18.

Teens of Style came out in early October and was immediately hailed as a work of modest genius by media across the U.S. It featured expanded versions of songs Toledo had recorded solo previously—soaring, roaring meditations on fleeting youth, impending death and other existential matters. Toledo proved a guitar virtuoso, not as an insistent soloist but as a wizard of sonic patchwork, compiling layer upon layer of textures into swooping peaks and valleys. His lyrics were frank and revealing and occasionally profound. Suddenly Car Seat was performing around the U.S. while being hailed on KEXP as a “local artist.”

“I felt like there was a ‘what-am-I-doing?’ aspect to what I was doing in the last year,” Toledo says. “The move to Seattle is pretty risky when you’ve got no prospects, so getting signed made it a lot easier for me to talk to my parents.”

As part of his deal with Matador, Toledo will release the follow-up to Teens of Style, called Teens of Denial, later this spring. With label money behind him for the first time, he worked on the album through the latter half of 2015 in various studios around Ballard, guided by veteran engineer and producer Steve Fisk.

“I get to create art on a whole different level now,” Toldedo says. “Before, my albums were zero dollars to make and now I get to go into the studio and work with other people and make something that’s bigger and is going consumed widely. It’s a different sort of creation.”

Teens of Denial, says Toledo, sheds its predecessor’s blustery distortion and embraces the polish of its upgraded recording conditions. The young auteur considers himself a structuralist, his art comprising the arc of his entire career rather than a single album at a time. Context and progression make the work worthy of obsession.

“I think about that a lot,” he says. “For me it’s an approach to life, to know what you’re doing and know how it relates to what comes before it and how it’s gonna relate to what comes after it.”