Interview with Thundercat

Having started playing bass at age four, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, has made significant waves as a collaborator and solo artist. Before debuting his solo album The Apocalypse of the Golden Age on Brainfeeder, the prolific bassist worked with an extraordinary roster of musicians from Suicidal Tendencies, to The Sun-Ra Creative Partners, to Snoop Dogg, to Erykah Badu and of course Brainfeeder boss Flying Lotus, who calls him a kindred spirit.

Now following the summer release of his second Brainfeeder album, simply entitled Apocalypse, we called Thundercat in advance of his appearance at U Street Music Hall and chatted with him about working with Erykah Badu, his questions about outer space and his passion for cartoons:

Hi Stephen, how are you tonight?

SB: Nothing too much to think about, just kind of hanging.

You’ve been really busy touring this year. I’ve heard a lot of artists talk about how touring takes a toll it takes, but you seem comfortable with it. Are you just naturally better adjusted to traveling?

SB: [Laughs] I would guess so. I’ve been doing it for so long… You know, I can’t complain. It’s always going to be the same thing over and over you know, it’s nothing new. It’s pretty cool because I look at it like it just comes with what you do so I don’t see it weird it all. I see it as part of how it works, I’ve been traveling since I was 15 or so. I do have my share of shenanigans on the road, I will say, but at the same time, but respectfully with all that, it’s just one of those things…I just take it in stride.

About a month ago you were here with Erykah Badu. Could you tell me about your experiences touring and working with Erykah?

SB: It’s the best thing ever, you know. She’s awesome, she’s super awesome. She’s very inspirational. She’s one of my closest friends and I enjoy working with her very much. She’s been a driving force creatively for me. She kind of…how I do I describe it? If you stood us next to each other we’d look exactly the same.

How were you two hooked up?

SB: I started working with Erykah years ago, like when I was a teenager, and that was around the beginning of working on New Amerykah Part One. I met her through the group Sun-Ra Creative Partners which would be Taz Arnold, Shafiq Husayn and Om’Mas Keith, For the sake of argument; I would definitely say I was a part of Sun Ra. You know, I was with Sun Ra and she was working on her album…and she was curious as to what I did in the group. I was quiet, I was young, I was a kid I didn’t say too much and yeah she literally uh….she kind of took me out of there, she snatched me [laughs]. She snatched me up real quick. Ever since then we’ve been some of the closest friends ever. Touring with her is a joy. It’s just fun watching her go and do her thing.

You’ve supported a long list of musicians as a bassist. Do you have a specific piece of insight that has stuck with you from one of your collaborators? 

SB: There’s lots of different tips that I’ve learned from all the people that I’ve worked with… it’s hard to pinpoint one. They’ve given me so many gems throughout the years that I appreciate and I don’t take for granted [laughs]. I don’t know, I guess life lessons have their way of teaching you, if somebody tells you or not sometimes somebody is there to help you learn it faster [laughs]. One thing Erykah told me, I’ll say, is that people are going to flip flop all the time. One day you’re the best thing that ever happened to somebody and the next day you may not ever exist. She told me to never get offended at that. She says people are going to be people and it’s not worth anything to allow yourself to get yourself hung-up over it. So I’ve always held onto that in watching different things come about and different changes. I’ll say that’s one gem that she definitely passed on to me.

Either creatively or technically, is there anything you get to differently when headlining your own tour (as opposed to when you support other artists)?

SB: I wouldn’t necessarily look at things like stuff I couldn’t do… I’ve never felt held back by anybody I’ve ever worked with. I’ve always felt freedom in what was going on. I’ve never felt like I couldn’t go where I wanted to go. There was always facility and things that helped me to grow. I was just fortunate that I worked with people that cared about me that much.

When I saw you here in April with Flying Lotus you wore a fantastic costume. How do you come up with your ensembles? 

SB: Well, to be honest with you it does take time. I don’t always want people to always think I always have “costumes” and stuff like that so I am very cautious when I do wear stuff like that. But in the same breath, I look at it like it’s part of the performance. It has to do with how you feel and stuff like that. Sometimes I’m dressed up, sometimes I’m not.

I’ve heard the tag “cosmic” used to describe your music. What do you think about that? 

SB: I guess it more so does translate into my music because it’s not always that I’m trying to display like… [laughs]. You know, I’m not always trying to be cosmic. But yes I’m very interested in space and everything that space has to offer, wondering how space smells and wondering how if you can’t light a fire in space, how come the sun is just burning? I have my space questions [laughs]. I think it definitely comes through in the music sometimes, you know?

You’ve said that The Golden Age of the Apocalypse and Apocalypse are like one complete album. Clearly you made them in different head spaces, but from your own perspective, how do you think they complement each other? 

SB: I feel like it’s part of one big picture, naturally, and I don’t see them separately. They were both inspired from the same place at the time that they were made, but at the same time there were different factors from the first album to the second album. [There were] different scenarios and situations that presented themselves such as Austin Peralta dying and how I was feeling watching things progress and all that stuff.  So [pauses] together I do see feel like it was one piece but separately there was a little bit more emotion that I could say better in the second album. In the first album there wasn’t a lot of singing because I didn’t know if that’s what people wanted to hear, I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable. But as I got more comfortable with the singing, which would be the second album, it felt more comfortable to sing a little more.

I read it was difficult for you to listen to Apocalypse straight through. Would you say it’s more comfortable to perform the material than to have to reflect on it as a listener?

Sometimes. Sometimes I get caught up when I’m performing it, though. But not all the time. It comes natural to perform. Especially seeing it as something that I’ve always done. And, you know, it has its moments. I mean, I still have my moments. It’s only been a year since [Austin Peralta] died so I’m still feeling the aftermath of those things and the times we spent together and stuff like that.

Relating back to your apprehension about doing more singing on Apocalypse: Are there any other musical thresholds you’d like to enter?

Well, I don’t know if something would be expected different at this point. I don’t know. I can honestly say I don’t know. I’ve always been one to want to go further in whatever I’m doing so I look at it more or less like if something presents itself and it’s a challenge or something then I would try to go for it. Does that make sense at all?

Yeah, that makes sense. I guess I was wondering if there were any specific things you already had on your mind to try. But I guess it’s like your example with singing that with the right encouragement, you do it. As something comes up, you just do it.

SB: I guess that’s something I would say I do. That’s kind of how I am about stuff. If it presents itself at the time, and it’s easy for me to tackle. Most of the stuff is in the moment, you know? Even with singing. You know, if you look at the “Tron Song” that was literally a song about my cat. I wasn’t necessarily setting up to write a song [about my cat]. I mean, it happened in a minute that we wrote it and you know I was like, “What do I love? I love my cat.” So I wrote a song on my cat [laughs]. And when we finished it, it was kind of like “Wow, did I really just write a song about my cat?” And I did.

You had the opportunity to play on Adult Swim’s  Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem A Klock Opera. As a fan of cartoons, what are your thoughts on developing your own series?

SB: Oh man, I’ve always wanted to do something that portrayed the lifestyle of [musicians]. I feel like Metalocalypse does it–I feel Metalocalypse does it way over the top which is like exactly what it needed. But, I always wanted to display the lifestyle that musicians live that’s a little more on the serious side. Something more along the lines of a progressive cartoon where every time it starts out the same but by the end of it, it ends in some weird other way. I’ve always had ideas for cartoons and stuff like that but at the same time it’s one of those things that’s like..[pauses, laughs] I don’t know! I would definitely like to do something like that. I would love to be involved in the creative process for a cartoon. A really good cartoon, you know? I have a big passion for cartoons. I actually usually prefer to watch cartoons over everything. And, um, you know… in my whole day to day reacting to things, I think like, you know… [laughs] You actually caught me really candid, I would love to work on a cartoon [laughs].

Is there anyone is particular in the cartoon realm, that given the chance, you would work with in a heartbeat?

SB: Oh my gosh, are you kidding me?! I sing the Adventure Time theme song every day. Anything that I watch, like all the stuff that I watch, I would love to get the chance to be involved. I worked on the theme song for Aqua TV Show Show with Flying Lotus, also. Just that one moment for me was like the most epic thing ever [laughs]. And to be honest with you, Doomstar Requiem just made my whole entire year. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m playing in my favorite cartoon!” And I still feel like that and I feel like I would love to do more: Playing and singing, being a character in a cartoon […] I love all that.

Maybe that would be neat to do something like Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 for your next album.

SB: Or like a little series of cartoons. Like maybe three episodes so that way I don’t have to worry about having to fit everything into one hour [laughs]. The whole problem that people have with cartoons is that they try to keep people’s attention because  you know, they don’t give people any credit.  I would make the most awesome cartoon ever!

Well, I hope I get to see it. I’m looking forward to that.

SB: [laughs]

Thanks so much for your time! We’ll be seeing you Tuesday. Have a good night!

SB: Thank you so much. You, too!


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