I featured Chaz Allen, or Chazzzy, on this column a few months ago after falling in love with his mash-up “Coco Chanel.” Based on lazy reporting, I mistakenly stated that he’s 17. I begin our interview by asking him if he is in fact that young. He tells me he’s 20. I follow up by asking him whether he’s in school.
“I really like laying around and watching TV,” Chaz tells me, “and in college you don’t really get to do that.” I say his decision to forego college makes sense given his talent in music, and ask whether he is able to support himself. “Not very well, no,” he says. “My mommy loves me.” Music-wise, Chaz mainly makes money through Karaoke DJ’ing in his native Chicago, where in high school he partied with Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. He currently lives with his mom, with whom he drinks cheap champagne almost nightly, in an Old Town high-rise filled with bro’s (“people walk around my building with solo cups”). “I do DJ gigs and get paid some,” he tells me, “but its not like I’m driving a Maybach.”
I enjoy speaking with Chaz Allen for many reasons – because I’m a fan of his work, because he’s got his finger on the pulse, because he’s a stoner prone to free-associative soliloquies, but mainly, because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. “I don’t like conscious music,” he stresses to me, and in our hour-long conversation, his most-used adjective is “funny.” In fact, he says of “Lana Del Rae,” his most popular mash-up, which found its way on Billboard.com and Gorilla vs. Bear: “I didn’t think it was good. I just thought it was kinda funny.”
Chaz also uses the word funny to describe vaporwave, a genre with which he’s frequently linked, and which he tells me is long over. “Can you explain vaporwave to me?” I ask early in our conversation. “It’s a feeling,” he laughs. “No,” he says, becoming more serious. “I think it’s a joke. It’s an actual joke.” He cites Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 as an early pioneer in cutting up Toto’s “Africa” to make it sound chopped and screwed. “That’s like funny,” Chaz says, explaining how the genre plays with producers’ tendency to make everything sound like it should be enjoyed with a side of codeine. “It’s making lean music with weird samples.” He says the term eventually was used more broadly to describe “any music sort of about capitalism or sort of about the Internet in 2013.”
Later in our conversation, Chaz compares vaporwave to French Impressionism. I often think about how the Internet has acutely hastened the natural evolution of cultural phases, which around 2009 began forming and dying off at manic speed (see witch house, trap, seapunk, soft grunge, normcore, health goth…). The way Chaz speaks, referencing things that happened in “early 2012” or “late 2013” as though they were distant historical periods, is the living embodiment. “The cause and effect cycle of the universe,” he tells me, “puts a life span on everything.” Just as someone who paints like Monet today wouldn’t be recognized as a genius, he tells me, if an artist puts out vaporwave today, no one is going to be like “you’re such a genius for slowing down Mariah Carey.”
When I ask him about his influences, Chaz tells me he’s mainly inspired by culture. “I read a lot of music journalism,” he tells me. “Oh and I’m very influenced by Top 40. Like Taylor Swift. And Taylor Swift. And Taylor Swift.” He pauses. “Oh and Taylor Swift!” Chaz’s brain seems to contain a perpetual swirling of cultural references high and low, sincere and ironic, mimicking his musical style. “I have undiagnosed ADHD,” Chaz tells me, a disorder that might thwart his ability to maintain gainful employment (“I worked at Pinkberry for one day” – “I’d rather be a customer”), but likely helps him creatively. If musical genres were cognitive disorders, ADHD would be the mash-up, the format in which Chaz has had the most success, the genre that drew me to him for his creative pairing of Air France’s Balearic ebullience with trap god O.T. Genasis.
Before he started doing mash-ups, Chaz was doing “a lot of weird random projects,” a comment upon which he doesn’t expound, but one which could mean a number of things. Before Chazzzy was born, he made music under the name Metallic Ghosts. He’s also the co-founder of SPF420, “the virtual version of a nightclub,” which he launched with a friend in “mid-2012,” “kind of unintentionally.” The online music venue features “anything from Japanese footwork to EDM to jangle pop.” Given its virtual status, I’m at one point confused when Chaz mentions a SPF420 show in Austin. “Oh sometimes we do it I-R-L,” he says, the first time I’ve heard those letters spoken as opposed to written, “mainly when we want to meet up.” Chaz unsurprisingly describes his latest project, THIRSTY, as him “trying to be funny,” expounding that it’s a “pop-rap-type-thing,” “with like alcoholic lyrics.”
Chaz’s playful, ADHD attitude extends to his thoughts about fashion. A day after the interview, he asks me if he can wait to send me a picture until he dyes his hair – silver blond. “I always liked to dress a little fun,” he tells me. He thinks childhood enthusiasm for clothes should be embraced more frequently, telling me about a picture of him at age four in a leather jacket and sprayed hair. “I also really love bourgeois mid-2000s fashion,” he tells me, describing a puzzling admiration for Ed Hardy and True Religion, brands he considers “bold.” Chaz also loves Nike Jordans, “gilded stuff,” furs, crew neck sweaters (“It can’t just be a crew neck sweater like it has to be the right ironic crew neck sweater”), and – almost poetic when strung together in sequence – “turtlenecks and cashmere.” He prefers women’s tops because he thinks they’re made better, qualifying that he “usually takes out the shoulder pads out if they’re from the 80s.” Also he also cites a love of robes, particularly of the velvet variety: “you wear that shit to the club, you’re leaving with somebody.” He thinks people shouldn’t be afraid to wear what they want, unless a friend says it looks terrible. His parting fashion advice is the following: “Listen to your heart and listen to your friends.” He pauses. “Listen to your eyes.” He laughs. “Listen to your eyes, man.”
Listen to the following Chazzzy tracks with your eyes, man!
By Anna Dorn
Photograph by Faith Silva