FASTER THUN­DER­CAT THRILL THRILL

The bass player ex­traor­di­naire on lock­ing down grooves for the likes of La­mar and Lo­tus

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s the year of the ’Cat. Over the past 12 months, Stephen Bruner has found him­self mov­ing closer and closer to the lime­light. The dude who kicked off with sup­ple, heavy­weight and out-there basslines for acts such as Sui­ci­dal Ten­den­cies, Erykah Badu and Stan­ley Clarke is gain­ing plau­dits th­ese days for his own re­leases, 2013’s Apoc­a­lypse and this year’s fol­low-up The Be­yond/Where the Gi­ants Roam.

In ad­di­tion, ground­break­ing ap­pear­ances on albums such as Ken­drick La­mar’s To Pimp A But­ter­fly, col­lab­o­ra­tions with Fly­ing Lo­tus and ap­pear­ances across the Brain­feeder la­bel’s out­put means Bruner is in in­creas­ing de­mand.

On an early morn­ing phone call from Cal­i­for­nia, Bruner spins his mantra. “It’s all about be­ing open,” he be­lieves. “You can learn some­thing from ev­ery­one you work with if you’re open to it. It’s not just about tak­ing from other peo­ple, you’ve also got a con­tri­bu­tion to make. You find your voice. The ideas never stop com­ing and it’s your job to know when to tap into them and when to let them pass.”

It’s a guide­line which has served him since it be­came ob­vi­ous he was go­ing to be making a liv­ing from mu­sic. His fa­ther Ron­ald Sr drummed with The Temp­ta­tions, Diana Ross, Gla­dys Knight and other soul stars. His older brother Ron­ald Jr fol­lowed his fa­ther to the drums and Bruner took up the bass.

Teenage thrash

“Many of my friends played mul­ti­ple in­stru­ments, but for some rea­son me and my brother do not multi-task, so we stuck to one in­stru­ment. He had the drums and I had the bass. It was al­ways the bass for me. I was very straight­for­ward about it: it was the first in­stru­ment I got and it stuck with me.”

Bruner was up and run­ning as a job­bing mu­si­cian be­fore his

You can learn some­thing from ev­ery­one you work with if you’re open to it. It’s not just about tak­ing from other peo­ple, you’ve also got a con­tri­bu­tion to make. You find your voice. The ideas never stop com­ing and it’s your job to know when to tap into them and when to let them pass

school days were over. The teenager re­placed Josh Paul in LA thrash king­pins Sui­ci­dal Ten­den­cies and toured with them, along­side his brother, in 2003.

“I re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing from that tour. It was such a buzz to go on tour with your friends at that age and play all th­ese cool clubs and fes­ti­vals. They taught me so much about be­ing open and be­ing cre­ative.

“So many sto­ries come to mind. I re­mem­ber play­ing enor­mous fes­ti­vals in South Amer­ica where it seemed like the whole city had turned out for the show and this was at nine o’clock in the morn­ing. Thou­sands out at that time for a thrash metal group! They were freak­ing out, we were freak­ing out. Those years really con­trib­uted to my weird­ness as a mu­si­cian, I think.”

Bruner men­tions “weird­ness” a few times as it’s some­thing he feels con­trib­utes to his suc­cess with col­lab­o­ra­tions. “I do goof around when I am work­ing, though it de­pends on the per­son and if they’ve a sense of hu­mour. Some peo­ple don’t have a good sense of hu­mour and are not able to laugh at them­selves. It’s some­thing which has de­vel­oped with me through years of work­ing and tour­ing. It’s prob­a­bly a safety valve, you know, bet­ter to be laugh­ing than cry­ing.”

He’s a big com­edy fan and sounds as if he’d swap mu­sic for laughs at the drop of a hat in an ef­fort to emu­late his pal, the stand-up comic Hannibal Buress.

Karma co­me­dian

“There’s al­ways been a great con­nect be­tween com­edy and mu­sic. I think many co­me­di­ans wish they were mu­si­cians and many mu­si­cians think they’re co­me­di­ans. There’s some­thing about how hon­est those art forms can be which at­tracts peo­ple. From eat­ing from both sides of the sand­wich, there are lots of sim­i­lar­i­ties when you write them down on pa­per.

“Hannibal is a real ob­ser­va­tional comic. When I started hang­ing out with him, my first in­stinct was to try to make him laugh. I know I can make a co­me­dian laugh, but Hannibal was just star­ing back at me with this blank face. I’m giv­ing him Grade A knock-em-out ma­te­rial and noth­ing.

“Then I fell down the stairs back­wards with pizza all over me and that got him go­ing be­cause he was ob­serv­ing me. There have been so many times when he comes up with th­ese great lines from just ob­serv­ing me or other peo­ple and talk­ing about that. That’s his spe­cial sauce.”

Lo­tus power

Bruner is a dab hand at ob­ser­va­tions him­self. Here he is on Fly­ing Lo­tus, a pro­ducer he’s worked with over the years: “He’s never pre­pared to ac­cept lim­i­ta­tions, he’s a pow­er­house of cre­ativ­ity. He al­ways gets on my case on ev­ery level. When I get weird, he’s al­ways ‘fo­cus, fo­cus, fo­cus’. I wouldn’t be the singer and song­writer I am to­day if it wasn’t for him. He saw that in me, I didn’t.

“We work well to­gether be­cause he chal­lenges me. It’s fine some­times to know where you’re go­ing, but it’s far more valu­able to be able to step out of your com­fort zone and look around. It’s great to ex­per­i­ment, it’s cer­tainly bet­ter than do­ing the same thing over and over again.”

Bruner played a big part in shap­ing and sculpt­ing one of 2015’s finest records and it’s clear that he got a lot from work­ing with Ken­drick La­mar on To Pimp A But­ter­fly.

“I felt very much in awe of Ken­drick’s tal­ent the whole time I was work­ing with him,” he says. “He cre­ated the en­ergy and at­mos­phere and he moved so fast. You didn’t have the time to think ‘that’s go­ing to be a hit’ or ‘that’s pretty freaky’ be­cause he was straight on to the next thing.

“The truth is you try to love ev­ery­thing you do; you try to do things you are mar­ried to. With To Pimp A But­ter­fly, I was really in­spired through­out the en­tire record­ing. Ev­ery time I walked into the stu­dio, this amaz­ing feel­ing which I find really hard to ex­plain would come over me when I heard what Ken­drick was do­ing with a track.

“It’s so great that the al­bum has con­nected with peo­ple in the same way as it did with us in the stu­dio. That con­nec­tion was gen­uine and it worked both ways; there were times when Ken­drick would want to know why a cer­tain song worked for you. He wanted to feel what you were feel­ing and to understand what you were get­ting from the mu­sic which made you turned on.

“Ev­ery day, he would blow my mind.”

Thun­der­cat plays Dublin’s Sugar Club on Sun­day Nov 29th and Mon­day Nov 30th

Thou­sands out at that time for a thrash metal group! They were freak­ing out, we were freak­ing out. Those years really con­trib­uted to my weird­ness as a mu­si­cian, I think

Stephen Bruner

“You try to love very­thing you do.” Above right: on­stage th Mike Muir from Sui­ci­dal Ten­den­cies

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