Stephen Bruner, or Thundercat as he is commonly known as to the world, is a bass player of tremendous virtuosity. He was devoted to the instrument from such a young age that he got to play for punk band Suicidal Tendencies as a teen, and eventually working with the likes of Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus. Thundercat has always been prolific, and has remained in the radar of the discerning lot. But oddly, it took his efforts on Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album To Pimp a Butterfly for Rolling Stone to finally write an ‘introductory’ piece on him. Nevertheless, JUICE spoke to Stephen over the phone about his role on FlyLo’s and Kendrick’s respective albums, working with his heroes, and that demented music video he did with Eric Andre.
You’re well-known for your love of anime and comics, and you once attributed it with the notion of fantasy; your music has an otherworldly, slightly psychedelic feeling to it. Does that have any connection?
Oh, absolutely! It’s directly connected to music. It connects to certain aspects of music, and I’m actually a visual artist, so I spend a lot of my time watching cartoons. When it comes to doing cartoons, there’s definitely an otherworldliness that translates to music, you know?
You started recording your latest release The Beyond/ Where The Giants Roam while simultaneously working on Flying Lotus’ and Kendrick Lamar’s respective albums. You’ve described the whole process as seamless, but overwhelming as well. How were you able to separate yourself from all these different, individual ideas and sounds to find your own?
I feel like it’s all connected, I don’t think it’s ever just my sound. I think my sound is affected by everybody who I work with also. I think it’s just one of those things that we share a lot of space we created [with], so it’s actually more directed to each other.
You’ve worked quite closely with Flying Lotus; he has always been the guiding voice when you’re making your albums, and with Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, you in turn had a large, significant role in guiding and shaping his album. So, how was it to have your roles changed in that sense?
Well, I’m very much utilised as an instrument, and on different parts on Kendrick’s album, I definitely contributed more on the writing side. With Lotus, there was more of a jamming experience in the literal sense, you know, like the exploration of the music – that was what we were going for. With Kendrick, it was more implied.
With all the touring and singing live, do you feel more confident now with your singing ability? Have you found your voice?
Yeah, I’m getting better. With singing, I feel more comfortable on stage singing out loud. I always felt when I’m playing, ever since I was a child, I was always playing at weddings, different concerts, different people, so it all becomes easier. The combination of singing and playing has always been a little weird to me, but I’ve been more comfortable with my gift.
Can we talk about that USD5k video for ‘Tron Song’ with Eric Andre? How did you come up with that zany, creepy concept for your pet cat?
(Laughs) Eric is crazy! Eric is very crazy… not very crazy, literally. He is a creative ball of energy which can appear as crazy. But he is really an amazing artist, he’s actually a musician — he plays bass. We talk, sometimes we have serious talks about music… you know, I’m kinda crazy myself. With the video, it was kinda funny because he asked me if there was anything that I would have a problem with, is there anything I wouldn’t do. I thought about this and my mom’s gonna be watching this – it’d be embarrassing. I told him, “You can’t show my balls, anything else is fine. Just no frontal nudity.” Everything else was very open. It was funny on the set, it was hard to do a lot of the scenes, because it was too funny. It was very in the moment. And he would see how far I would go (laughs), [then] he’d be laughing.
How do you feel about having the opportunity to work with artistes that you’ve admired or listened to as a kid, such as Erykah Badu and Herbie Hancock?
Very grateful. I’m grateful for it because it’s a very weird area to be close to people who make music because it’s a very personal space. I feel like Erykah shared everything she could with me and I appreciate her very much for that. And the opportunity to work with Herbie Hancock was very interesting because it was nice to know that he was a musician in the literal act of being a musician, coming to work and playing. You don’t get to see that a lot of times in these people, you know… [being] that grand, that creative, or that amazing. I mean, not to sound weird, but I literally sat at his feet while he was playing.
What do you have planned for the next record?
I’m trying not to think so much on the direction, but on the experiences, just trying to enjoy the experiences. You know, I’ve made new friends, so I’ve had new experiences based on that. I’ve actually taken a step back from writing for the last month of two… the best way I can describe it is that there’s a lot going on.
Thundercat is slated to perform at Laneway Festival Singapore ’16 on Saturday 30 January ‘16.