THUNDERCAT (Stephen Bruner) is a Los Angeles-based multi-genre bass guitarist and vocalist best known for his countless quiet collaborations with big names like Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. After dropping the single “Them Changes” in 2015, he released the highly-anticipated Drunk, his inventive third studio album. It was released in late February and sports a wide variety of feature tracks, like “The Turn Town” with Pharrell, “Drink Dat” with Taylor Graves and Wiz Khalifa, and “Show You the Way” with Flying Lotus, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. From the subject matter of his music to his sound, Thundercat perpetually delivers with unpredictability. This record is no different—Drunk treats his listeners to tracks teeming with duality, and presents us with a delectable assemblage of jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop and electronic music.
After listening to this album, one thing is definitely apparent: Thundercat may possibly be the most eclectic musician of our time—and he gets weird. On this album, he basically lets it all hang out: he addresses political themes, plays skillfully with comedic themes within substance abuse, the futility of life, anime, and more.
In conjunction with DJ Ezra Remer from WVUM 90.5 FM in Miami, I had the opportunity to sit down with Thundercat at the 2017 BUKU Music + Arts Festival before his performance in the Ballroom. While we were nervous, Thundercat’s energy totally took over the room. He serenely walked into the media lounge and instantly captivated us with his musings about the inner workings of Drunk and life itself. Read the conversation below:
ER: How are you doing today?
Thundercat: I'm chilling I'm just being all weird you know. Nice and warm. Everyone kinda stinks. It's pretty cool. Just a little bit of stink. Skin smell, body odor....Trying to fight it. Fight the stink
ER: Where are you from?
Thundercat: I grew up in L.A...I originated in Compton. And kind of moved north a bit you know. Now I live in North Hollywood.
ER: That's where my Grandmother lives.
Thundercat: I love that area. It's pretty cool you know…progressive and an artistic area.
ER: Right. Good coffee.
Thundercat: Great comic stores.
ER: Right yeah, there's good comic stores here if you get the chance.
Thundercat: I got you. I'm leaving immediately, I never get to like soak up anything.
ER: Right. At least you can soak up that weather.
Thundercat: Oh my God, Good Lord.
ER: So, first of all, congratulations on the new album—I think the fourth listen is when you really get into it. You got to go front to back, then back to front and then do it again, then switch it up, that’s when you get it.
Thundercat: It's pretty intense man.
ER: Yeah I love it though. It's got to like a lot of impressive features. Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, all those famous people, Kenny Loggins. Is there one feature on the album that you felt a special connection to maybe personally, musically?
Thundercat: For me personally, I mean, I love the whole album as a whole. You know, I feel like every piece is very special. But there's actually two in particular that are really special and that's the one with Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. Yeah. The Mac Miller song is not on the American version of the album but like those two songs are really important to me. It’s like, drunk to the point where you just…y’know.
ER: That’s cool. That Wiz Khalifa one was funny. It was like drink that...and this man just talks about rolling papers all the time.
Thundercat: Yeah, you know.
ER: But I guess you got that, you don’t smoke though—so you got the drinking, the smoking, all the vices in one.
ER: You’ve got to equal that out. The dichotomy is there.
Thundercat: There's also, I feel like there's a saying that goes, “the drinker always finds the smoker.” It's funny because that song was the genuine moment of him like conceptualizing drinking. It's pretty intense you know.
MH: Yeah, especially, I’m sure for someone that like doesn’t really experience that on a daily basis. It's a hard thing to write out an experience you don’t typically have.
Thundercat: Yeah, I feel like it's something that we shared together you know and that's why I feel like it's so special. You know being drunk to the point where you can't even see.
ER: That’s good man, it’s like New Orleans as a whole
Thundercat: Yeah, just a consistent thing here on a consistent basis.
MH: Definitely a theme in New Orleans. So we when we first listened to your album I mean the second track is super funny. When you're like: “Brush your teeth, beat your meat, go to sleep”—that was very humorous and made us a little uncomfortable, but we love it. So I mean, you're friends with people like you know Dave Chappelle and Eric Andre, so...
ER: Hannibal Buress man, don’t forget Hannibal Buress!
Thundercat: Big shout out to Hannibal for being there, that’s a cold dude
ER: He’s the homie, I saw a show in L.A. He’ll come after you man.
Thundercat: Last time I was here, I was here with him. Check this picture out. This is hilarious on the boat. Yo, Hannibal loves New Orleans man. That’s his thing. Yeah, he's alway texting me: “Were you at?” “I’m in New Orleans.” I’m like ‘Ok, he’s out here going for it.’ Turbo. [Shows picture] That’s like Buku a couple years ago
ER: That’s cute man, I don't know who's cuter in that picture. But he looks faded—I mean that’s how you have to be here. Get that second line, next time you come, we’ll hit you up with a second line, close off some streets for you.
Thundercat: Good Lord, yeah, oh my God.
MH: I mean seriously, that would be so fun. But I mean, how do you see comedy like working into your music? That’s a hard thing to accomplish successfully, but you do it.
Thundercat: Yeah, there is a fine line and everybody wants to be funny. You know, I think and I feel like there's a context in which you have moments where you can be. But I feel like it's more—like a lot of the time comedy—I think is just observation, you know. Like drawing conclusion, observation, and conclusion, you know. And, um, I think with the with the song writing, like there's a bit of reality that comes with it, and that allows for some of the darkness of regular stuff like that to be a part of it. So, the funny thing is, when you really think about it, you know as a guy you know you have these moments like, what are you doing with your time throughout the day? Either nothing or just a bunch of jerking off, and you feel like what the hell am I doing? and then you just go to sleep you wake up and do it again the next day. It's just weird. I think I was told at one point our generation is the least sex-having generation.
MH: Really? It’s like, mono-sexual?
Thundercat: It’s like everybody just like completely isolated themselves. And would rather just masturbate instead of interact with people. It’s true because I saw a commercial where I think it was a Cheerios commercial where they're trying to inspire people to have sex.
Thundercat: Yeah no, seriously because it just like, it's just weird. Things have become weird you know. Genitalia is always in trivia, you don’t know what's going on there are weird smells and you don't know what to do with people you like. You just go: ‘I’d rather beat my meat.’ You know what I mean? But again, here's that comedy part of that, where it's like it's a dark reality but it's at the same time it's like you know you gotta laugh to keep from crying. So it's pretty sad you know. But it's funny.
MH: It’s true.I think all the best humor comes from that like pessimist side of view
ER: Yeah. Actually speaking that point of view, have you ever see the film “The Lobster?”
Thundercat: Yeah, yeah, yeah, good stuff.
ER: Right? It like makes me think of it with the whole like having to have sex with someone in order to live. In order to not be turned into an animal. I feel like that's very encapsulating.
Thundercat: Yeah, again the dark comedy thing, you know. One of my favorite movies is “Happiness,” have you ever seen “Happiness?” One of the best movies ever. It’s hilarious, you know. It’s this consistent spiral of just terrible.
ER: Actually speaking of the films, that was actually our next question. So your man Flying Lotus just released a crazy film man. I remember when he announced that I was at his concert.
Thundercat: Yea, I don’t think anybody was ready.
ER: Nobody was ready for that man.
Thundercat: Nobody was ready for that.
ER: So I was thinking, conceptualizing your album Drunk as a film or painting, like I know you probably think of things like that. If you could make it into like a painting or a film, how would you see that transferal?
Thundercat: Oh man, you know it would be a cross between “Dead Alive” or is it “Dead or Alive?”
MH: I think that’s what it is.
Thundercat: “Dead Or Alive” the Korean horror film and the Paul Jackson or the Peter Jackson movie—“Dead Alive,” you know a cross between like some real grotesque and like happiness, happiness. There's a movie called “A Single Man,” you ever see that?
ER: I've not seen it
Thundercat: It is one of the funniest movies I've ever experienced in my life. I think it's called “A Single Man” or something like that. So “A Single Man” I’ll have to look it up. I'll look it up for you. But yes it's just some really you know dark humor stuff you know
ER: And do you like, do you ever think about doing that yourself?
Thundercat: No, I mean, not so much I think it usually ends up translating in music videos. Yeah. You know
ER: Oh yeah that was actually one of the next questions too. Like you've worked with your music videos. With what “Tron Song” was directed by Eric Andre.
ER: Everybody loves that track. Also, “Them Changes”—that was one of my favorite music videos. What was that, 2015?
Thundercat: Yeah. Um…And that was almost two years ago. Wow.
ER: Yeah. And that was Carlos Lopez Estrada?
Thundercat: Yeah, that's intense to think about, you know, time moves fast.
ER: When you're doing these music videos do you have a lot of oversight over them, or do you kind of tell them your vision and they get it out in the cinematography?
Thundercat: Oh no, I mean a lot of it is collaborative work. You know a lot of the time it still has you know it has a process where you have to sit and think about it. Sometimes there's like this just hurry up and wait or push and pull. It happens but it's like you know you try to find the actual inspiration in doing it you know it's got to be for the most part as true is it can be what it is you know. And I think that's why the videos have translated a lot. You know there's a bit of the volatile state of mind—it's a recurring thing in these videos. And you know just like minded people that I've worked with.
ER: Yeah, that's the most important part
Thundercat: Yeah it's like you know, because a lot of the time you know being a recording artist people try to paint this picture for you. Where it's like you know you're a pop star or you're like you're a jazz musician.
ER: Put you in that genre.
Thundercat: Yeah, it’s just that there is so much more to it, you know. And I'm thankful that I have a label like Brainfeeder that's very open to the options of what things can be. You know as compared to try to you know oversaturate me or like you know squash out the ideas because I felt like it was really important to have an Eric Andre video, you know I really did. You know it, even him—it's like everybody sees it now. The stuff where I'm on the “ Eric Andre Show.” You know we’ll be out and about. But it was very important that that happened you know. And actually I plan on working with him in the near future with some of the stuff to do
ER: And that was my next question: Do you see any more videos in the future?
Thundercat: Oh yeah man, absolutely. I got a couple artists in mind that I'd love to work with. There was a guy I follow on Twitter named, I don’t know his last name, his name is Randy though—he always puts these funny videos up. And it's pretty intense because it's like it's this idea that everything is terrible. Pretty fun.
ER: I like that though. I’m looking forward to it and all of our listeners are too
MH: Yeah definitely, I’m kind of blown away with the amount of collaborations you’re able to do, because I mean, I’m a musician and a writer and so I know that it’s very hard to find the situation where you can create something with someone else and trust them to give you the right ideas. And so I feel that there’s a very unique energy about your music, because there are so many different cross-genres. And it’s so layered and eclectic—there is this patchwork that you create with the different collaborations, and every new song is something exciting. It’s unpredictable, sometimes it even seems improvised. Can you speak about that?
Thundercat: Thank you. First of all thank you for that. And I don't know I mean, what about the collaborative process or like what specifically?
MH: More about I guess the different layers of cross-genre.
Thundercat: Yeah. I mean I think that's what everybody is supposed to do. You know I'm supposed to mix and match things you know you're supposed to experiment with it. I mean there was a time where I was a bit apprehensive as a writer because I didn't want to share too much personal. I didn't want people to know anything about how I felt. There's a lot of the times you step into the world and the world just eats you up, you know. So there's like the line of where you have to be comfortable with yourself to some degree. And I think that the experimentation you get to be you have to be able to take the criticism and take all the different stuff and not let it hit you so hard and without me that would do it to where it discourages you. And maybe try to just see through the moments that everybody doesn't get a chance to see through and just try to keep pushing it forward and that's what creates that patchwork. Because you become like open to the idea of like yeah like what things can be. So everything from like hearing something a little faster to maybe hearing something way way slower than you know you know singing the melodies over and over and different things. A lot of the time I think with songwriting you get—you feel—like there's this thing where you’re supposed to always have these new fresh things, and like that, you’ll drive yourself crazy. I think a lot of the time you may find yourself having ideas that seem to re-occur. And it's up to you to find where they fit. Sometimes I think it's like I can always sing this melody, or I always come to this conclusion and sometimes I will drop in that conclusion in a different place. You know, I think that's kind of like the place where the mix-matching comes in.
MH: So is your—I mean just to get an idea of like your creative process, is it a lot of trial and error?
Thundercat: Of course, you know, I remember like a lot of the songs that people have heard over the last couple years, if I was to play you the song off my computer you'd just ask me to cut it down. As you know, a lot of the time there’s like these incomplete ideas and rough drafts and vocals will be all distorted or there’d be too much bass or it’d be too much snare or something and it will be like, the idea’s only 30 seconds long. You know but then these pieces are... they’re kind of like puzzle pieces, almost, to where even where the album Drunk sounds a bit like a crazy sporadic train of thought. That's how that's how I really write, you know. It'd be like ‘why isn't this song longer?’ It's like because there was nothing else to say.
ER: [laughter] It’s like an extension of the truth.
Thundercat: Yeah, and it’s like having to accept that because what everybody's norm is for a song has to have a hook it's got to have a—it's got to have a bridge it's got to have a B-section, and you know you may want to modulate.’ It's like, you know D.R.I. didn't do it like that. I don’t think John Lennon did it like that. It just comes to you when it comes to you just you just go with it, or you don't, you know?
ER: Yeah. So it's kind of like pushing the boundaries, too.
Thundercat: Yeah. Because you wind up pushing yourself. You know you get you push yourself out of the fear of it not making sense, and that’s when you stop looking at it in that sense like, ‘well it's not supposed to make sense.’ And then what you realize it you just kind of like ‘OK. Cool.’ It's a whole other set of rules and then you know it it's an interesting story.
MH: I can definitely see that train of thought coming through. I can definitely see that train of thought coming through on “Where I’m Going.” The beginning it reminds me of this like punk, like bass, like uh type of like like 90’s like alternative—
MH: It’s very interesting, but then it like drops and gets into a more hip hop/jazz-type feel and I was very taken off guard with that. I was like, ‘Whoa, this doesn’t sound like Thundercat,’ and then I, it was like you’re saying, I had digested it and it was like ‘This isn’t supposed to make sense.’
Thundercat: Yeah like, even with my voice in that part where it sounds all weird—that’s like my natural voice, you know. People are used to hearing me sing in falsetto, maybe, or you know a different register in my voice, but like naturally, my voice sounds completely different than every other song on the album. I know that one for a fact, because it weirded me out to hear, I was like ‘Oh, God,’ you know. But that’s, that’s it for me, I couldn’t do anything else. I’m not some crazy R&B singer.
ER: [laughter] So one thing I wanted to ask you, your dad and your brother are both jazz drummers, right?
ER: You worked with Thomas Pridgen—is he still working with you?
Thundercat: Not at this moment. Yes we still work together at times you know I tour with Justin Brown a lot. Thomas is the boy, man.
ER: Awesome. So, you obviously know how to play the bass since like four years right?
Thundercat: Something like that, yeah.
ER: And like vocals, top two instruments. Any other instruments that you like to play?
ER: You don’t mess around with the drums or anything like that?
Thundercat: Nah. I had friends like that growing up a lot of the time like that—sometimes that’s just how a person's brain works, but um, I have friends that played multiple instruments growing up but I used to get really irked when somebody would play a bunch of instruments really mediocre, but they could play everything, so they're not good at one of them. So it's like, I don't know, it wasn't that I discovered the bass early, but I’m just kind of a one track mind kind of guy. It's like, I picked up the bass and it just. That's it.
ER: You just felt it there. You felt it coming through you.
Thundercat: Everybody would think I could play drums because I have drummers in the house. Hell no, and they can't play the bass either. My little brother though, my little brother can play like the drums a bit. He plays piano and the drums
ER: Yeah, that’s cool. Does he help you out at all? Does he collaborate?
Thundercat: My little brother, every now and again he comes out on tour and you know I feel like everybody's kind of learning what it is to be their own artist right now. So maybe in the future you know I think my little brother is figuring out for himself right now.
MH: This is something we’ve been talking about at WTUL—you’ve previously stated that you’ve structured Drunk around conveying a feeling of the now or the present. And we can definitely feel that, and I see that now that you're explaining the improvisation or getting used to the uncomfortability of the album. So if you could speak to that, we’d love to hear about it.
Thundercat: Oh man—that’s kind of like the direction of the album. I feel like it's I don't know it's like it starts...if it feels like it comes from within a bit you know where, where you know you have to search how you feel about what's going on you know who's speaking, as in you know to me, and I remember I would sit there and you know it’s like how much are you really going to be willing to reveal about how you think about stuff like again like I'm saying and it's like everything from you know the title millennial and we're having like some corny denotations to like this listlessness that we have or like. It's like it gets washed over but it's just because a lot of this stuff is so overwhelming it just feels like you're just in a sea of just like just garbage. You know it just is what it is—it's like everything from we’re not really able to believe, like saying Obama is the most perfect person ever, to the moment of like feeling so inspired by seeing the first black president ever, to like this complete clusterfuck.
That's what it is. It's like you got to call it like you see it. It doesn't matter if it seems cool. It's like completely caused dissension and it's like you just it's like if it walks like a duck quacks like a duck it's not a damn Ferrari: it's a duck. It's f***** terrible.
But it's like from that moment, too, like the bombardment that you have like what you actually wake up and experience everyday has a younger person. Those rules are just different. They are. And um we're not—everybody loves to throw the term around just being a slave to your phone and stuff like that. But the reality is even—it's a bit of a juxtaposition—because it's like this is the phone isn't you, but at the same time this is a communication tool that lets you speak to the world, even if is trash coming out of your mouth. This is still a good thing you know, but it's just that now it's like you have to pick and you have to fine tune all the pieces and moments that you can find in life. So I think the idea of Drunk is that it washes all that away. It’s like you jump into the sea. You just try to swim it you know and it's like you know it’s the age of information in a real way. You know it's like too much information. You know, nobody's brains are getting bigger. You know it's just it's like just like perpetual loop. I've never like at times feeling like waking up like I was in like in Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. It's like Grand Theft Auto mixed with Groundhog Day it's like did I have sex last night. OK. I left the door open. Wow. Nobody saw that. That's good.
It's like oh crap, TV’s on blast and you know your mom’s calling you to figure out like are you ok. I was trying to talk to you last night. You know, you like it and it's almost like it didn't happen. You can literally live the same life every day in perpetuity and that's it. Some people like to try to fill the space with stuff like, “I’m really active I get out there,” and it's like—you're just gonna die. It doesn't matter how active you are. You’re gonna die.
ER: Eat the best food you can while you’re alive.
Thundercat: And then there's that humor thing again you know...so it's just like it's a bit of observation and report. So that's kind of how I look at the album. I mean with so many denotations to so many different things, that it could be the literal sense of ‘drunk.’ You know what happens when you're normally really drunk, you know you just washed away, and it's a weird state you know you’re not yourself, you're a different person. You know it can be amazing it can be terrible. You don't know. You know but you’ll find out the next morning though. So I just think we're we're in that state of mind right now.
MH: Wow. You just blew my mind a little bit.
ER: We are drunk as a nation.
Thundercat: Yeah man you know it's just trippy stuff and like...you know you look at like that—the funny thing is even if you were to look at the drinking and what it did for us, it was like if we look at it like prohibition...you know it brought us together actually you know it was like a way of relating to each other. You know, so it's just weird man, that it has a lot of you know denotations to so many different things you know. But all in all everything feels drunk right now.
In the end, we would rather be swimming in this strange sea with Thundercat than walking on land. Stream Drunk here.
This interview was coconducted by The VOX (WTUL 91.5 FM) and WVUM 90.5 "The Voice of UMiami." This interview was transcribed by Frank Bombaci