Work / Film

Toro Y Moi Live From Trona: a concert film of honest perfection

Anyone who is familiar with the work of Chaz Bundick aka Toro Y Moi, will know that each of his exceptional releases is accompanied by an extraordinary video. This is due to a long time collaboration between Chaz and director Harry Israelson, who’s vibrant and quick witted work is an absolute treat. Today (4 August 2016), Chaz and Harry release their latest collaboration Toro Y Moi, Live From Trona, a live concert film and album shot in the Mohave desert, from sunrise to sunset, in just one day. This film is perfect in its honesty as you continually see the camera crew, the dolly tracks, the light and sound equipment. It means there is no room for error, but what they have pulled off is flawless.

Harry’s aim for this film is to encourage future musicianship, “I want some kids to see the film, to watch Chaz playing Wurlitzer with one hand and holding a mic with the other, to realise how cool it is to play an instrument. Electronic music is important and has its place, of course, but we just can’t let organic musicianship go. We need kids to keep emerging from garages – we need jazz & rock n roll – it’s where we started and it’s the only way we’ll get out of this rut”, he explained. We asked Harry (who was featured in a Submit Saturdays article back in April) about his partnership with Chaz and the insane process of making a film in just one day.

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Phillips Shum

You’ve worked with Toro Y Moi countless times, how did this collaboration begin?

I was working a desk job in New York City, shooting fashion films on the side. I remember the first time Chaz emailed me; I was on my way to shoot a NYU kid’s music recital – I had a heavy tripod on my shoulder when Chaz reached out. He asked my directing partner at the time and I to come out to San Fransisco and make a video for Say That. We just got along and it felt so easy – it grew from there.

What made you decide to create a film for this album?

I was shooting a short documentary about Chaz a few years ago called Chaz: In Parts – I brought my VHS cam along for the last few shows of a tour, which concluded in Joshua Tree. I remember watching that show, seeing the tour bus parked behind the stage, and realising that we needed to finally make a concert film. The tour bus made it into the film as well.

How did you decide on the location of Trona?

Both Chaz and I are east coasters who have moved west, looking for something. I think the desert sort of represented to both of us this new landscape. We found Trona, three hours north of LA, down a ten mile unpaved, rocky road. It’s just the band out there, with the wind and sand, which allows for the music to be listened to intently, decontextualised from the real world.

Could you talk us through the process of the day?

The process behind making this film was as important to us as the final product. It wasn’t easy – the idea of trucking all this equipment and crew out there was challenging, but we wanted it to be an adventure. A few days prior to the shoot we received a warning that a windstorm with 50mph gusts was predicted for our shoot day. We of course were recording sound, as this was as much a live album as a film, so we made the call to push back one day. Somehow the forecast held. The wind blew in as predicted the day before and died down when we needed it to. Then the grip truck blew out two flat tires on the way to Trona the day before – my producer Lindsey quickly solved this and we kept on track. Our caravan of about ten vehicles slowly rolled down the unpaved 10 mile entrance road, we landed and immediately got building.

The film was shot over the course an entire day, racing the sun as it dipped lower in the sky. Before the very last song Yea Right, the keyboardist Tony stepped away to use the restroom on the tourbus. He came back a few minutes later clutching his hand: His finger had gotten stuck in the bus tour and broke on impact. The ever blank-faced Tony powered through – our medic wrapped his hand in a makeshift splint and he finished the song, singing every harmony on key.

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Josh Terris

How many of you were working together on the film?

There was probably a crew of about 50. Everyone who came out understood the spirit in which the film was being made. It was gonna be a hard, long day, but we were trying to make something in the spirit of rock n’ roll. All the grips, gaffers, art department folks – everyone knew that coming in. We handed out aerial maps of the stage set up the night before so that we could kick into gear as soon as we landed.

Do you have a particular fond memory of the experience?

The fact that we came away with a film at all is a triumph. Pat Jones master-minded the sound recording. He had about 30 microphones, all with custom built windscreens to withstand the elements. The sound to me is what’s most impressive about the film. Knowing what we were up against – I mean you can see the wind blowing the whole time and you don’t hear a single microphone clip! It sounds so clean – in the desert there’s no reverb to hide behind – the band sounds how they sound, and I think it’s a testament to how good Toro Y Moi is.

Is there anything you would of done differently?

I learned things on this shoot, maybe next time I won’t set up my monitors in a heat-absorbing orange tent. I cooked like a Tombstone pizza over the course of the day.

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Ryan Carmody

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Josh Terris

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Phillips Shum

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Josh Terris

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, site map by Harry Israelson

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, animations by Johnathan Rosen

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Josh Terris

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Toro Y Moi: Live from Trona, photography by Josh Terris