It's rare nowadays to see a musician as hardworking and committed to their craft as Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat. Having played as a session musician and tour band member for Suicidal Tendancies, Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus, amongst others. The Los Angeles Bass Player surprised everyone in 2011 when he released a solo record on Lotus' Brainfeeder label, The Golden Age Of Apocalypse, revealing him to be a star in his own right. Last year he put out his second album, Apocalypse, which featured one of the year's finest tracks 'Heartbreaks + Setbacks' and paid tribute to his close friend and collaborator Austin Peralta, who tragically passed away in November 2012.

As the rain eventually dies off and the clouds begin to reveal some drying sun-rays, we trudge through the muddy fields of Parklife to a tour bus which is currently the residence of Thundercat and Flying Lotus. We catch a brief glimpse of FlyLo, as the Bass player puts on his shoes, and he joins us in the temporary dressing room that has been constructed for him.

I was recently talking to Gaslamp Killer and he told me a story that involves you...

Oh crap! (Laughs)

He told me that when he goes on tour with you, his priority is always about freshening up and getting fed before a show, whereas you just get your bass out and start practicing.

"When I go on tour with Thundercat, as soon as we land, I'm over here taking a shower, I'm changing my clothes, I'm trying to look good, I want to make sure I time my dinner right so I'm not on stage feeling all gross. Thundercat doesn't give a fuck. He didn't take off his socks that he'd been wearing for three days, he just sat down took his bass out and started practicing."

I've been on the road for a long time. I guess that's the best way to explain that! I appreciate Gaslamp's compliments and stuff. It's very hard to be an instrumentalist nowadays, for anybody. If that's your sole income or that's what you do, it has to be for the love of what you do because you're not always going to make it. You still have to keep certain consistency. I also consider every time I'm on stage, practicing, it's almost like playing as hard and fast as you can every night.

From the sound of the records you guys have collaborated on, you and FlyLo have a very natural working relationship. Do you think that part of that stems from your mutual love of video games? I read that the techie, gamer side of him is what made him start experimenting with music software.

That's a very big connecting point between me and him because all kind of conversations we have always stem from why was the music so good that we were listening to in video games growing up. And that doesn't exist hardly anymore, if you think of games like Halo, and I think the one thing that resembles that for us is definitely Grand Theft Auto, because there's so much music in Grand Theft Auto. And it was so allowing of people to find their own paths and what they want to listen to and be the soundtrack to their game. But for the most part in games, it doesn't have the same catchiness or quirkiness that it used to have, where they'd be making really grand music like that. Sometimes, every now and again they do. But yeah we both love video game music very much, and spend a lot of time listening to old video game soundtracks and learning about the composers and stuff like that.

"I feel like sometimes it's kind of a cheap shot where somebody wants to use my name to make their stuff seem cooler. Then there's times when it's actually helpful in a sense..."

I know you've talked before about Final Fantasy and Sonic the Hedgehog. What others were influential to you?

Mortal Kombat, Contra, Metroid, Zelda, Street Fighter. There was definitive music that would happen in these games when there was a change that would completely connect to you emotionally, just drive you nuts. By the end of the game you'd be like shaking like, "What the hell just happened?" And it's like there's this music that's playing while you're doing it and it's like someone's making a soundtrack to your life.

You've also made a lot of references to comic books in your interviews. Do they inform your musical output at all?

Absolutely. I'm a bit into comics, nowadays my friends try to put me on to all these different kinds of comics, because I was an old hardline Marvel cat, and then as Disney bought them I got a bit turned off about it, because now they're for the kids again, which is good but at the same time it loses a male fantasy value that it was definitely made with intentions of. But yeah I'm definitely a big comic fan and it takes a very big part of the music, because it's a part of the fantasy. I feel like, how does this stuff translate as you progress and grow up? You either wind up buying a t-shirt, you try to pass it down to your kids, or you try to create something off of it. And a lot of the time I'd rather try to create something.

You've been doing a lot of hip-hop stuff recently and featured on Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa's latest mixtapes. At what point did you go from being a session musician to a featured artist?

That's funny that you actually asked that, because I feel two ways about it. I feel like sometimes it's kind of a cheap shot where somebody wants to use my name to make their stuff seem cooler. Then there's times when it's actually helpful in a sense, it's nice for people to know the influence that's going on, because the truth is how would you know that I worked with Wiz Khalifa? So that's the other part of it. And a lot of the time I find myself having to protect my name because everybody wants to say something's featuring me if it's just me playing. I'm like, "You do know I sing, and you do know I write music?" So there's a fine line. And I've had to say to a couple of times, "You have to take my name off of that, people are going to know it's me anyway, you don't need to put featuring."

What is the line to you between a feature and just playing on the track?

There's definitive things like having a bass solo, but for me a feature would actually be me singing. I appreciate that people can recognise my sound. I actually had a very funny moment with Kendrick Lamar one time, it was quite recent, he's working on his new album right now and I'm doing a lot of new work with him on that. People would be sending him music, and it just happens, everybody starts sending music around and it gets travelling. And I remember he was rapping to this one song, going off about it, and he stopped for a second and I was totally silent about it because it's one of those things, you never know where I've been for the most part. So he goes, "Wait a minute, that's you playing isn't it!?" And I was like (nods). But it was from a whole different perspective, and he just sat there for a minute and was like, "Holy crap!" And it made the bond in the workspace a little more cohesive, because he was like, "You really are that person to some people. I see that now." And it allowed for him open up more to me and say what he wants to hear happen or the way he feels. A lot of the time people like to abuse that part of what I do. I've gotten better at saying no, for the sake of self-preservation almost.

How is the Kendrick album sounding then?

Ahh man. That dude is a powerhouse man. He's amazing, he's amazing, that's the best way to describe the guy. I've been working a bit with the TDE camp, I've been working with ScHoolboy - I actually played on 'Hoover Street' on his album, see what I mean, but it doesn't say 'featuring Thundercat' that for me feels a little better. It's nice if somebody knows that about the song, or I might say socially "Oh, I played on this song." But it didn't need to have my name attached to it, for it to be special or anything like that. I've been doing a little bit of work with SZA and Ab-Soul, and I actually went to High School with Jay Rock, so it's all in the family, it's still travelling. Within all of that I'm just happy to see that the music is still travelling and I'm happy that I can be a part of it.

"I feel like it's all just music, it's all part of one big ocean. It's all like ripples, you throw stones in and sometimes you throw a big ass rock and you make a bunch of waves."

How about your relationship with Mac Miller? I know he's been posting clips of you on Vine and stuff!

Mac is definitely a brother man, he's a great guy. I've enjoyed working with him over the past year or two. I'm excited to see where he's going because he's always like a wild card. Sometimes they want to write him off because he's like this crazy feral kid, but the funny thing is that's what makes him so amazing. He can rap his ass off, hands down, you cannot say he doesn't rap, and then on top of that he's very musically inclined and very connected to the music. There's so many moments where like, he would remember stuff that I couldn't remember we'd do. He'd be like, "You don't remember doing this?" And I'd be like "Nope!" then he'd be like, "Good!" And we'd just keep going. He's very progressive and very forward minded, so he outputs a lot.

Do you think that it's harder to take the lead and come out with solo material as a bass player?

Not so much, I feel like it came at the right time. It was one of those things where I had to just walk into it because I didn't know what I was doing either! It's not like something I had been working on and that was my goal of what I was doing. I was just trying to be involved in music and make the best music I can, and when it happened -the transition from me playing background and then becoming Thundercat- because it's all new you never know where things are coming from with people, so I'm still learning to navigate through certain scenarios and things. But all in all it's just great. I'm happy that it happened. I feel every bit of pressure from everybody, I feel when people don't like what I do. I've had people who've told me before that they don't necessarily like my voice, and that's fine, that's part of it. But I'm doing it, the act of doing it is what I'm starting to see as important.

Do you think that the fact that you became Thundercat at that point helped differentiate?

Absolutely. Even though my friends would call me Thundercat, or it being a term of endearment from a lot of people, between that happening and a Thundercat album, it kind of put that line straight there. It was like, "Here's Stephen and here's Thundercat." You know, people still try and find where it fits in within, because I can't do everything. I remember one time when I first got on Twitter, it was something as small as people can see the way I move, it was kind of like "Woah." So I needed to take a step back. Because it was like Stephen's over here, and then two hours later Stephen's over there. And somebody was like, "Damn man, you really move!" And I forgot that everybody could see me now, so I just had to take it as a grain of salt. But it was a learning thing because with Thundercat there's a difference, if I go somewhere people may pay attention now.

I'm going to admit, I know your Thundercat stuff with Brainfeeder, but until I researched for this interview I had no idea you used to play in Suicidal Tendencies. Do you think that when you have so much stuff going on the Thundercat/Stephen divide helps separate things a little?

Yeah man, I feel like it's all just music, it's all part of one big ocean. It's all like ripples, you throw stones in and sometimes you throw a big ass rock and you make a bunch of waves. Hopefully you throw the biggest rock you can fucking throw I guess. Especially nowadays when nobody has any rhyme or reason as to why this stuff works.

And finally, what can we look forward to hearing from you in the future?

Well I'm always working on new Thundercat stuff, but the most recent thing you guys will be hearing is the Flying Lotus album, I spent a lot of time with Lotus on that kind of moulding these little balls of clay. That album's going to be amazing. And definitely I've been working with Mac, and sometimes you'll see the hints at it in mixtape and stuff like that, but that's literally only a chip off the block of what's really been going on, it's just an introduction to something. His album will be coming out this year. Wiz Khalifa will be putting out an album soon, hopefully a couple of things I did with him will be on that. And then I'm definitely working on another album, I don't really have a direction, I'm just trying to feel things out, see where it's going to go. Because I feel like that's what it's about. There's a lot of pressure to want an output because of people's expectations or the need to survive. But sometimes you've got to take a step back and look at it like exactly what it is, it's a piece of art, and that's what you want it to be, so take your time.


We strongly recommend picking up Thundercat's most recent album, Apocalypse.