To put it quite simply, Stephen Bruner, better known as Thundercat, is on fire.
But it’s not just the high-quality array of artists who long to include his bass-driven genius on their own tracks – Thundercat’s original output is turning heads too. His album Drunk, set for release this week,has already spawned singles like ‘Show You The Way’ and ‘Friend Zone’, revealing a new side of the Brainfeeder genius: one that ditches his dark undertones of the past and gives fans a fresh outlook on his future.
“Yeah, I think that’s definitely true,” Bruner says. “A lot of the time with the album there’s a lot of things happening that kind of explore stuff that I’ve never really done before. But ultimately, it’s not even about that. I mean, everybody hears it differently. I put myself out there and it’s up to the people to find their own translation of what it is. I don’t necessarily try to lead people in a certain direction. I just talk about what I see and how I feel. But yeah, I definitely wanted to do the whole happy thing. I’m glad people are realising that and taking it that way.”
In what is even more of a surprise than Thundercat’s shift in musical motif, ‘Show You The Way’ features an impressive array of ’80s superstars, including past collaborators Michael McDonald and ‘Footloose’ singer Kenny Loggins.
“It took for me joking about it on the radio for it to actually happen,” laughs Bruner. “To start with, my piano player that tours with me had also toured with Kenny, and I actually only recently found out that his kids were fans of my music. I feel like Kenny just wanted to explore and create again, and we did. We challenged each other in different ways and tried to come up with something between us that was cool, and it just worked.”
Releasing four full-length solo albums in six years is quite a feat, and a testament to Bruner’s work ethic. In between all that, he is a regular contributor to tracks by many of today’s top artists, providing basslines for Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Childish Gambino, and Brainfeeder label figurehead Flying Lotus, who signed Thundercat to his independent imprint after the release of his first album in 2011. Brainfeeder is home to an impressive roster of musicians, and Bruner draws inspiration from them all.
“I think that Brainfeeder is meant for people to connect in the way in which they normally would,” he says. “I feel like the label has really challenged me, and you can hear the influence between each artist. There aren’t many labels like that out there, so I’m very grateful to have met Flying Lotus and all the people that I’ve worked with on the label. I think that it’s very important for that to be shown and that to be portrayed. I’m just happy that I’m around for it to happen, you know?
“I always try to go into things with an open mind, and not look at it with anything other than uncertainty. But there’s a lot of beauty in that, because it helps me to give my all on whatever I’m doing. I don’t do everything that people ask me to do, but thankfully most people are normally impressed,” he laughs.
While collaborations are seen as his forte, Bruner has dabbled in other projects beyond his solo career, including writing music for film. His most recent endeavour has been working on Flying Lotus’ first horror film, Kuso, which The Verge called “the grossest movie ever made”.
“I feel like Kuso is kind of like Lotus’ brainchild, and I wouldn’t dare interject into something that’s ultimately his,” Bruner says. “He told me he wanted to put an album out while he was doing it, but I kind of wanted him to be by himself because I feel like it was very personal for him.
“I was definitely involved in it, like always, and even in the film sometimes you can tell parts where Lotus and I created some fucked up shit. But this was solely his idea, and I’m happy that it came about. But I kind of just stood back and watched the master work, you know? I’ve never really written for film before, but I definitely see some in the future – it’s a lot of fun.”
As for what else lies ahead, Bruner remains coy, but there’s no doubt he’ll be invading our ears for years to come.
“I mean, I like to keep it quiet, I don’t really like to blab my mouth or anything,” he says. “But ideally, there are a couple of things in the works – I just don’t like to speak too soon.
“I don’t know man, it’s a deep sea and I’m down to be carried off somewhere.”
[Thundercat photo by B+]