LA's geeky bass god talks Kendrick, 'Rick and Morty' and blowing Snoop Dogg's mind with Frank Zappa
If there’s one man who knows his way around a bass guitar, it’s Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat. First noted for his stellar work with producer Flying Lotus, he’s since established himself as a virtuoso musician with his own solo career. Fusing intricate bass melodies with an almost mystical falsetto vocal, the LA native makes soulful jazz-fusion that’s stuffed with floor-shaking riffs. As a live prospect, he’s on another level.
Recently, his records have started to make a splash too; and with collaborators including Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington and Childish Gambino, he’s destined for even bigger things in the future. We caught up with the chilled-out bluesman to talk Kendrick, latest album Drunk and why his own cat has such a ridiculous name.
Why did it take you so long to start singing?
“As a working musician, your first instinct is to try and do your job. It wasn’t always my aspiration to sing, I just wanted to be a great, working musician. But then Flying Lotus suggested I try and nothing has ever been the same since.”
On the artwork for Drunk your face is half-submerged in water – did you have to hold your breath?
“Yeah! The shot was taken in LA in Flying Lotus’ swimming pool and there’s no editing on it. It’s just a straight picture captured live. I didn’t think much of it at first but then we kinda all came to a general consensus and said ‘this is the one.’”
Did you work on Flying Lotus’ upcoming album?
“Yeah, I’m always writing with him. I don’t know if I’m on every track, but it sounds just the way we always sound when we play together!”
You made ‘Walk On By’ with Kendrick Lamar – what’s he like to work with?
“Kendrick is a master in the studio. He’s a beast of a writer and he doesn’t hold back at all. I tried to tell him what I wanted but he’s too advanced to give any direction to. I just played him the music and he did what he felt.”
What was it like working in Snoop Dogg’s band in the 2000s?
“Ah man, that was so long ago! There is one story that comes to mind though. He asked me what music I listened to and I played him some Billy Cobham and Frank Zappa. He’d not really heard them before and was smoking a blunt with this really perplexed look on this face like, ‘what is this?’ I told him and Snoop just cartwheeled down the hotel hallway, trippin’ out to jazz fusion. I’ll never forget it.”
Kamasi Washington was also a member of Snoop’s band – how important is that friendship to your music?
“Kamasi was like the beginning of my musical life and career. He facilitated a lot for me and my friends back in LA when we were growing up and I will always have respect for him because of that. It’s great when I get to see him. We catch up on video games.”
What do you play?
“Everything: Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed, stuff like that. My favourite console at the moment is the Nintendo Switch. It’s got a bit of meat around the bones y’know? It’s wholesome.”
You’re a big fan of Rick And Morty too, right?
“Hell yeah! Dan Harmon has reached out to me on a couple of occasions to work on stuff and I still haven’t had a chance to. I would love to write a song for the show.”
Which character do you most relate to?
“Morty probably. He’s constantly being thrown into things and somehow manages to get through unscathed. He’s really, really smart.”
In 2016 you went on The Eric Andre Show and bass-duelled a robot – then a naked man ran out and grabbed you. What was that all about?
“They didn’t tell me that was going to happen! It was pretty weird and a lot of my friends got freaked out by it. I think he was an old porn star or something. I don’t remember it too well, I was really hungover.”
Tell me about your cat
“Oh yeah. Me and my daughter gave my cat a really long name. It’s Turbo Tron Over 9000 Baby Jesus Sally. They’re not random names, they’re all very heartfelt. I knew the cat was going to be called Tron, but then I thought, ‘what would make it better?’ Turbo Tron, obviously.”
What’s next for Thundercat – is there a new album coming?
“I’ve been doing a lot of touring lately so I’ve not been in the studio much. The plan is to work on a new album, but I don’t know when it will come out. I definitely want to focus on my own music though.”
Thundercat’s latest album Drunk is out now on Brainfeeder Records