Some of you might know Thundercat from his work with thrash-metal band Suicidal Tendencies. What’s more likely is that you know this Brainfeeder artist from his cutting bass lines and melodic chords. We sat down with the bass master himself a while ago, when he delivered a strong performance in Rotterdam venue Bird.
People may know you from Suicidal Tendencies, can you tell us a little bit about your musical career for being a bass player in a metal band to who you are now?
That’s funny, that actually freaks a lot of people out I guess, I get that a lot. From playing metal to this, I look at it as one of my good friends said one time ‘There’s only good music and bad music, and it’s just up to you to decide’. You know, if it’s good to you or bad to you, I look at it all as good music. And it isn’t a big change, I played the same as when I was in Suicidal, trying to keep the same mindset. And I still play with them from time to time, but it doesn’t feel too out of place at all. I was playing in Suicidal for almost thirteen years, since I was a teenager.
At what age did you start playing?
It would be around sixteen or seventeen.
How did you end up using the name Thundercat?
It kinda stuck with me after Shafiq Husayn and Erykah Badu, or better yet, like Sa-Ra Creative Partners and Erykah. I remember, a lot of friends would never call me that. You just always see me in a Thundercat shirt and I have tattoos all over me, Thundercat tattoos. It actually was kind of funny at first, cause it’s a cheeky way to refer to me; the guy with the cat shirt on. I remember when I met Erykah, I was a teenager of course. She called me Thundercat, she just wouldn’t call me Steven. She was like ‘Hey Thundercat’, and I’d be like ‘Hey’, so I started responding to it more.
It didn’t come from the American/Japanese animation show?
It did, absolutely.
Which character would be your favorite?
Ah man, I hate that question (laughs). I love ‘em all man. Especially the new one, the new cartoon is pretty awesome. It’s like… a good story, cool cartoon, cool colors, cool concept, you know? It’s almost perfect. I don’t know why they haven’t adapted it into a movie, or at least Silver Hawks. Maybe one day…
You released your first and second album at Brainfeeder, how did you meet Flying Lotus and how did that work out to the birth of your first album?
South by Southwest. They just love these moments, but I really met Lotus at South by Southwest, in the middle of the street.
You were not playing there with Suicidal Tendencies?
I was there with a group called ‘J*Davey‘, and a friend of mine. Brook D’Leau and Briana Cartwright aka Jack Davey of J*Davey. I was there with them, I was actually going from playing with them to playing with Erykah, so I was bouncing around in Texas a bit. We were walking down the street and I watched Lotus standing over there with his Kangol hat on. And then Brook actually introduced me to him, it was funny because it reminded me of that one scene in Nacho Libre; where Escalito meets Nacho, and they decide to work together and they shake hands. It was kind of like ‘We got to work together!’.
So there was like a instant connection?
Yeah! It was like ‘We’ve got to hang out’. The funny thing is, we didn’t start hanging out immediately, we started hanging out way later. You meet so many people. I called him and I asked him to send me some of his music. A lot of the time, when you say something like that, people always drag their feet and it almost feels like you’re talking to yourself. Like, ‘Hey man, send me something to work on!’ and then they go ‘Yeah!’ and then you don’t hear from them for like ten years. But Lotus though, as soon as I called him, I said ‘Send me something to work on’. He was like ‘Alright’, so I checked my inbox in about ten minutes, and there already were like two or three songs he’ve sent over.
How did he know you? I know he’s a big fan of your work.
He knew of me and I knew of him, but I didn’t ever realize that we would wind up working together, you know. I think the first song we did was ‘Zodiac Shit’. I said to him, right when he sent it, ‘Alright, we’re working’. So it happened, years and years of fun, traveling through space and time.
Who are your biggest influencers?
Some of my biggest influencers… I’ll give you two, actually my father (Ronald Bruner Sr.) and my high school music teacher, Reggie Andrews. To this day, and I’ve been out of high school for a while, I didn’t realize how much my music teacher influenced me. He actually was a very involved producer and musician in the seventies and eighties and all that stuff. When you’re in high school you don’t really pay attention, you just want to graduate and get out of there! And I remember, I actually used to stay at his daughters house in this sort of transition period for me. I saw this picture, this is like years later, of my music teacher playing in George Duke and Patrice Rushen staying around him, watching him play. And it just blew my mind, because I was like ‘He was that guy!’. I just hung out with him a couple of days ago, and literally man, the guy! He’s a bit older now, so it’s kind of like he doesn’t always know what’s going on with me, or you hear about something like the Jimmy Fallon show; ‘I heard you were doing something’. There was a group he was in called ‘Karma’, and I used to see the posters in class like ‘whatever’. I never really listened to Karma’s music, and he said ‘Oh, I found some of my music on YouTube’, and I was like ‘oh, okay, cool’. He played it and it was like somebody punched me in the stomach, my little brother was in the car and I was like ‘Are you hearing this!?’. I never knew my teacher was like that, I never knew that about him. And then it all became full circle, that was what he had been training me for. But he would never say that, I was mind blown. So, my music teacher and my father. My dad really fought hard to make sure we stayed in that mind frame, in his mindset. We musicians are kind of, we’re interesting nowadays. It’s like some rare breed when you see someone actually working as a musician, unless they’re jazz musicians, full time. You’ve got to be a rock musician or a jazz musician. These guys still exist, I’m happy to have them on stage with me, guys like Justin Brown and Dennis Hamm. My dad taught me the work ethic of being a musician, like what it means, know where to stop.
Can you describe a regular day in the life of Thundercat?
Compulsive masturbating, just kidding. Grand Theft Auto V (laughs), I am thinking about it during tour… But literally when I am at home, I have to wait for everybody to go to sleep and then it’s on, from nine ‘o clock at night, till six in the morning, it’s just on! I’m taking a break for a week, I’m actually sleeping because I haven’t been sleeping because of this game, which is pretty cool, but it messed up some of my braincells. But now I’m intentionally sleeping on tours, because when I’m coming home, I know I’m not going to get much sleep.
'I never knew my teacher was like that, I never knew that about him. And then it all became full circle, that was what he had been training me for. But he would never say that, I was mind blown'
What are your favorite tv shows at the moment?
I literally have to try not to watch Faces of Death every night, but beside that, I watch a lot of anime and cartoons. My favorite tv show right now, hands down, isMetalocalypse, Brandon Small is comedic awesomeness. It’s like watching five seasons of Spinal Tap, like, for five seasons. Seriously, it’s like the most amazing cartoon ever made. Yeah, Metalocalypse!
Next to music, what fascinates you?
Just wondering when the earth is going to end. Like when it’s all gonna be over, stare out the window and like ‘It’s getting closer’. Not in a bad way, not like I want it to end. I’ve always wanted to see the things from the bible, the things we were always taught about. Some people say ‘Why would you want to see that?’. Well, I would like to see it, we’re in those times right now, we’re seeing different things happening. It’s very nice to know that time is moving forward.
What is your songwriting process like? Do you write songs together, with other people or just alone in a studio or are you jamming at the same time?
I like to work with other people, because it puts a different spin on what you would normally do, you know. Other than that, you’d always do the same thing. Unless you are so involved in music that you just shut everything else out. I love working with other people, especially when there’s magic there, you know. I do a lot of writing by myself too, it kind of gets all mixed up.
Are there any things on your first two Thundercat albums that you would really love to do but didn’t happen? For example, some collaborations you’ve had in mind?
I wished that I could have done more visually, so people could see a bit of the spirit behind some of the stuff. It’s overtime, it’s kind of like, it’s happening, you know. Everybody saw the video Walkin’, it’s pretty funny but at the same time there’s a lot of seriousness to it. So in the future, I would hope to get more of a chance to show people visuals.
And then use your visuals in your shows as well? Which would be really cool, with your music.
It has those moments, you know.
Any further plans? Collaborations you can tell us about? Some sneak previews?
I’ve been working with a couple of different people, for one: Kimbra. I love that girl to death, she’s amazing and I’m happy that I get the chance to work with her. She’s very helpful with instrumenting, in the creative process. And I just love watching her doing what she does. So I’ve been doing a lot of work with her, we’re kind of hanging out a lot. And me and Erykah are still working together, you know. Hopefully, I’ll be working with her on her next album, writing and singing and stuff. There’s a lot of stuff going on, it’s kinda hard to pinpoint some. Me and Lil B have been talking a lot, I’ve been sending him music and stuff to have written, all kinds of stuff. Amongst others, Mac Miller, me and him also have been working a lot.
There’s a bright future I guess, planting new seeds of jazz.
Who would you advise us to interview next?
Hahaha (laughs), who would I advise you to interview next? I would say Mono/Poly.