For a musician to move from playing bass with thrash-punk legends Suicidal Tendencies to collaborations and solo releases on Flying Lotus’ alternative electronic LA label Brainfeeder, the occasional blurred line between genres is to be expected. What does surprise, however, is the skill and fluidity with which Stephen Bruner a.k.a. Thundercat is able to include elements of pop, soul, electronica, prog-rock, jazz and funk within his music to create cosmically inclined and emotionally sincere records that are wholly unique.
This is music that might seem worlds away from that of Suicidal Tendencies despite the common presence of Bruner’s virtuosic bass playing – although in chatting to BeatRoute he stresses the shared purpose of each musical style and the influence that live punk shows had on his solo career.
“It’s all to get to the same place, absolutely. It’s all trying to get to this place the fastest you can, you know? I guess that’s the best way to describe it. With Suicidal, Mike [Muir]’s influence on my music is really big because he would actually always get me there quicker. Being onstage with Mike you know he would give me chances to stand and solo, and he would just stand there and be like ‘just keep going.’ And then he’d push me further and further, he’d push me up, you know. Suicidal has definitely influenced – I don’t know what to describe part of it as but I can still feel that spirit behind it when I play. Punk energy, you know – I used to at first – I dunno, I didn’t feel too nervous about being onstage or anything, I think it was more so like, I would wear glasses because I wouldn’t want people looking at me, because it was kind of weird, I’ve always been used to getting looked at and all that, and that’s what Mike kind of introduced me to. I would still be like, ‘What the hell is going on,’ you know, but at the end of it, it all made sense because it’s there – it’s still there.”
The ‘punk energy’ that Bruner talks about is certainly apparent in the Thundercat albums, as both 2011’s The Golden Age Of Apocalypse and 2013’s Apocalypse, though devoid of distorted guitar riffs, are both unapologetically personal and wildly confident. It’s obvious from the start that Bruner cares little for rules of structure or genre; Thundercat is very much his vessel through which to adhere to every musical whim. Even Apocalypse’s most instantly anthemic track, the galactic funk jam ‘Oh Sheit It’s X’, is built around a fast, technical, space-funk bass guitar line and is a far cry from pop simplicity. However, Bruner’s music never seems self-indulgent, as the display of musical talent akin to the likes of Jaco Pastorius or Larry Graham is always presented with acutely honest and often particularly emotive songwriting. One of the final tracks on Apocalypse explicitly references Austin Peralta, a good friend and Brainfeeder labelmate of Bruner’s who passed away in November 2012.
“To be personally honest it’s kind of overall dedicated to the guy, you know. But definitely the ending of the album is a tribute to Austin – he was one of my closest friends ever and I miss him dearly. It’s actually coming up on a year that he’s been gone and I try not to get too bent out of shape but at the same time it does hurt – I still feel his spirit all the time, in memories, even in smells and stuff – remembering seeing the guy every day, and always remembering how hard we would work, so I guess that’s my way of keeping him alive, to me.”
Thundercat will play at Fortune Sound Club on November 16th.
By Andy Soloman