Thundercat aka Stephen Bruner continues to ride the wave of his emotionally charged sophomore LP Apocalypse – a project that has elicited immense praise from fans, peers and critics as his best work to date and one many have been brave enough to label a masterpiece, even as the dust continues to settle around the release. His latest single “Lotus And The Jondy” sports a title that reads like an endearing mythical tale and a tone that could burn a hole in your chest and burrow straight through the heart. Thundercat drops a performance that will speak loudly to rhythm junkies across the spectrum, from fans of Nirvana to Return To Forever, as Bruner bleeds into the bass with feverish urgency. This track allows Thundercat to take his jazz chops and affix rockets to them in a demonstration of virtuosity that is totally complimented by the simple refrain of the hook. Apocalypse – recorded after the death of Bruner’s friend and colleague Austin Peralta in 2012 – plays at times like a frantic hyperventilating memorial to the fallen prodigy. Thundercat recently discussed the sweat, sorrow and jubilant space chords that went into the project during an interview with Billboard.
Thanks for chatting. Congratulations on the new record.
Thank you. I appreciate that. I actually tried to listen to it the other day and I couldn’t get through it.
Really? Why not?
To be honest with you, it just has this weight right now. It sucks that my friend died and a lot of this album was inspired by him.
How do you even begin the process of translating something so horrible into music?
I think it translates for different people in different ways. Creatively, I’m not one to advocate people knowing every little nuance about you sometimes. But I felt comfortable with people seeing me in a bit of a vulnerable state this time around. When Austin died, I felt like that could’ve been me. I was just with him. He died in his sleep. He had walking pneumonia or a form of pneumonia. His body was weak. But you couldn’t tell. You could never tell. [Long pause].
We were around each other almost every day and the guy just disappeared into a whole other realm where I can’t see him anymore. He could be one of the X-men right now for all I know. I don’t know. I was just trying to find some way to show how that really feels.
Tell me about “Heartbreaks and Setbacks,” what was the inspiration behind that song?
That song is definitely about going through things that you don’t feel equipped to deal with. I wrote it to tell people “Hold on. You could be in Iraq. You could be in the Great Depression. You could be a turd going down the toilet.” There’s worse things in life than death.
Had singing been a roadblock for you? What kept you from singing more before?
I personally didn’t realize people would enjoy my voice, I guess. I’m happy that they do, but I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous and I still kind of am. I’m not Beyoncé or Trey Songz or anything, so every now and again I feel a little like “Are they listening to me or am I just sounding crazy singing to myself?” I feel like that sometimes.
I played bass my whole life, and when I was called to just play bass, I would be singing in my head. A lot of times when you’re a bass player, you’re just supposed to play nothing. They’ll be like “Just play the record.” Nobody gives a crap about what you have to say. But depending on the person that you’re playing with and how open-minded they are, that determines how far you can go with what you have to say on your instrument. So a lot of the time I would hide that away in my mind. I would still be singing all this stuff while I was playing, just in my head. And it affected what I would do with my fingers, to some degree. I wouldn’t play bass the regular way and sometimes it would freak people out or piss people off and I would get fired. They’d be like, “You’re playing too many notes!”
I remember one time I was on stage with Snoop and he told me to take a solo, and I took a solo. I took a solo like I’d been listening to Jaco Pastorious and Matthew Garrison, and he just kind of sat there and was like “You didn’t have to do all of that.” I didn’t know what he meant. I said “What do you mean ‘All of that?’ You told me to take a solo!” That was one of the funniest things ever. I had a six string, too, so I had gone into Charlie Parker mode [makes rapid-fire scat sounds]. That was probably one of the last gigs I did with him.
Do you consciously make the bass more prominent in your own music?
I feel like I keep it about even. I think the bass is an advantage to have ingeneral, and because I’ve been playing it forever it comes naturally to me. In a way it probably is more prominent because I’m not playing like a traditional jazz bassist with a walking bass line or holding one note. I’m doing different chord progressions and rhythmic things like on a piano.
It seems like you and Flying Lotus worked pretty closely together on this album. Why do you think you two connect so well?
We share a really cool space creatively. It’s kind of like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They were an amazing duo together. It’s a partnership where we compliment each other creatively so we feel like, ‘Why not work together?” If it’s there, why not exploit it? There were times during recording where we were literally almost speaking telepathically. We would be sitting there working on something and then when things would go silent both of us would start something else, but it would be the same thing at the same time. That can be scary and funny. But he dramatically influenced this record. You can smell it all over. You can hear his sensibility and whatever musicality I have. It’s all there.
Lotus is a very perceptive and understanding cat when it comes to creative thinking. He’s very progressive. And he usually finishes his statements— he ends things with a period, if you know what I mean. He has this ability to see things and go for them. Me, I’m kind of like the opposite. I always have so many unfinished ideas, but Lotus knows how to put a period on my sentence. A lot of times stuff will just keep coming out and I’ll be like “Well how about this, what about this?” And he’s just “Aaaand stop.” He’s a master at that.
So what is after “Apocalypse” the album?
I’m working on another album with Lotus. I’m also working with Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, and Syd from The Internet. I’m singing, playing bass, and writing for them.
Check Thundercat’s latest single “Lotus And The Jondy” below. Scroll down to read the full interview with Billboard. Purchase Thundercat’s latest LP Apocalypse via iTunes.