In 2012, playing an instrument is a foreign language to most urban youth. But in the case of California’s Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, he speaks that language quite fluently. As the bass player for acts ranging from Erykah Badu to thrash grunge outfit Suicidal Tendencies all the way down to pop star Jessica Simpson, it’s safe to say that Thundercat is well versed when it comes to the many genres of music. Late last year, the bassist joined forces with producer Flying Lotus to release a solo album titled The Golden Age of Apocalypse that has garnered much critical acclaim. Life+Times caught up with the awesome bass player to discuss dropping a solo album, his musical roots and how he got the name Thundercat.
Life+Times: I’m assuming you got the name from the cartoon.
Thundercat: I was obsessive over that cartoon when I was a kid. My mom thought I was going to worship the toys so she wouldn’t buy them for me. It was one of those things that stuck with me because I always wear Thundercat shirts. Under my shirt right now is a Thundercat shirt. I started getting called Thundercat by Erykah Badu and Shafiq Husayn. I remember being with Kanye West when we were working on the Black Fuzz album when Sa-Ra Creative Partners was signed to G.O.O.D. Music. Kanye asked me one day if I was going to get mad if he wore a Thundercat shirt. I have a tendency to latch on to things that are creatively inspiring to me.
L+T: Why the bass?
TC: I’ve always played strings (violin and double bass) and had a sense of melody. When I was younger I had perfect pitch and I still have perfect pitch. It’s just one of those things that I gravitated to. I had an epiphany at a young age listening to bassist Jaco Pastorius.
L+T: How did you end up in a thrash grunge band Suicidal Tendencies?
TC: My brother originally started playing drums for them. They were going through a major transition at the time when Robert Trujillo moved on to Metallica. So they were looking for a bass player. My brother brought me to meet one of the guys from Suicidal Tendencies and it was a great relationship that took off.
L+T: What were you doing before Suicidal Tendencies?
TC: I was in a pop band signed to Universal Germany. It was a group called No Curfew. We were that one album band that didn’t take off. I was like 14-years-old at that time and still busy playing video games. But I was also a music director for (former Rawkus artist) Novel and playing with different artists like Jessica Simpson and Eric Benet.
L+T: It’s pretty safe to say that you have an eclectic taste in music. Was there a prevalent genre of music played in your house growing up?
TC: I grew up in a solid Christian home. My entire family is artists that never cease to amaze me. My older brother won a Grammy and my younger brother is one of the most amazing piano players I’ve heard in my life. The soundtrack to our house was anything from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack to the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was an open ground creatively. There was no specific sound that we heard. We’re just a bunch of crazy artists making music. My dad was into jazz fusion, Gospel, Rock…everything.
L+T: Was there any competition in the house growing up?
TC: Not at all. The only thing we competed over was the TV. I would be playing Sonic The Hedgehog and my older brother would come and put in a drum video if I walked away for a second. My brother was a butthole! I remember growing musically because of my brother. We had a jazz club called the Young Jazz Giants and we used to play serious jazz. My brother turned to me one day and said, “Man, you really suck! You need to play a lot better.” After that, my friends started telling me I was playing better. That was a defining moment for me.
L+T: One of the other interesting things about you is that you spent your spare time playing alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg, Bootsy Collins and Erykah Badu. How did that happen?
TC: I’m from LA and you’d always be around certain things when you’re doing music. Terrace Martin was the reason why I had a chance to work with Snoop. It was very interesting because I would bounce between Snoop Dogg and Suicidal Tendencies but I never felt any different. With Erykah and Bootsy it just kind of happened…
L+T: How did you end up meeting Flying Lotus?
TC: I met Fly-Lo at SXSW in 2003. I was with hanging out with J*Davey. I met him through them and we had that weird Jay and Silent Bob moment. We both said that we should hang out sometime and we didn’t for awhile. I remember he called me to work on Cosmogramma and we didn’t realize how close we lived to each other. When we first started working together it was almost like a creative explosion. If I was to have another brother, it would be Flying Lotus.
L+T: Are there any collaborations on the horizon?
TC: I’ve been working with Erykah a lot lately and working on an album with Stanley Clarke. My brother and I have an album that we’re working on called The Bruner Brothers. I want to work with Thom Yorke, John Mayer, Esperanza Spalding, Andre 3000, and Sting. But I’m open to anything. I want to create the best music that I can. I also want to work with Tyler, The Creator - I actually wanted him to rap on this album.
L+T: What made you want to do a solo project?
TC: Everyone aspires to do something that they can call their own. I felt like that, too, but I didn’t ever really think to go through with it. The reason that this album happened is because of Flying Lotus. It was all this music floating around and Lotus was like, “Yo, we should do an album.” I had music there but I didn’t have a place for it. I gave it all to Lotus and it was like he was putting a puzzle together. I never listened to my music the way I did until he made me sit down and listen.
L+T: What made you want to lay vocals on the album? Was it like, “If Kanye can sing, I can sing too?”
TC: Yeah man! I was inspired by Tony Williams. Tony Williams was one of the most amazing drummers in the world. If Tony Williams can sing on his album, eff it! I can sing on my album!