The last time Stephen Bruner was in Australia he made quite an impression. In February last year he was playing bass for Erykah Badu, during the neo-soul artist’s debut headline tour. By all accounts it was an – ahem – explosive performance.
“Last time I was there I set my amp on fire,” Bruner laughs. “I had my amp turned up really loud, and I thought I was doing really well because there were all these people pointing at me. So I’m there, bobbing my head and smiling at the people; you know, getting into it. Then I catch this strange smell, and realised the people were pointing past me. The worst part is it happened at the Sydney Opera House. But the show was still a lot of fun.”
Bruner has fond memories of Australia – prior to playing here with Badu he toured with thrash heroes Suicidal Tendencies. At the time, Bruner and his older brother (and drummer) Ronald Jr. comprised the rhythm section of the legendary Californian act.
This week Bruner gets shot at his own headline tour, under his Thundercat moniker. Fans of the genre-hopping artist have been begging to see him in action since he dropped 2011’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse. The record was produced by his close friend and frequent collaborator Flying Lotus – another member of the Brainfeeder crew and a darling of discerning music fans worldwide.
Thundercat’s debut didn’t just shatter expectations, it obliterated them. Over 37 action-packed minutes the spirits of great soul artists – both past and present – were summoned and marbled with the hustle of Bruner’s innate and tremendous skill as a live musician.
There’s undoubtedly oodles of skill and intellect to what Bruner does as Thundercat, but it’s also a whole bag of fun. Bruner says that is no accident, largely because so much of his time is spent doing really fun stuff. “I’m super big on comics, graphic novels, video games and cartoons,” he explains. “The Marvel universe is probably the most outstanding thing I’ve ever come across. Everybody in there ends up dying a million times, which is awesome.”
Is he happy with the recent direction of some of Marvel’s flagships, including his beloved X-Men? “I think it might be getting a little too metrosexual,” Bruner says. “They’ve got Wolverine’s son now, who has two claws instead of three – that choice seems a little lame. Also, the way Wolverine’s costume is now is a bit Skrillex, and Skrillex Wolverine is not what the American people need right now.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he continues, “I love Skrillex, and I think what he’s doing is really interesting. But I live and breathe comics, so don’t mess with ‘em too much.”
Bruner is in a period of transition. Thundercat’s second album, Apocalypse, will drop this July, and he’s recently previewed some of the new material during selected solo shows in North America. “This is the first time in fifteen years I’ve done live shows solo. I’ve actually spent a whole year touring by myself, which means I get to do a whole lot of different stuff. Sometimes I’ll speed everything up, and then other times I’ll just play the whole thing way slower. Sometimes I might not play at all,” he laughs. “The solo thing can be really crazy – it’s kinda like combining mustard and hot chocolate. It sounds insane, but it just might work.”
The maniacal tone will continue during the Australian shows, where Bruner will be joined by drummer Thomas Brigden (The Mars Volta) and keyboardist Dennis Hamm. “It’ll be good to have those guys there, because my overall level of feralness increases a lot when I’m on tour. Some of the things I do freak out my friends.”
BY BENJAMIN COOPER