FASTER THUNDERCAT THRILL THRILL
The bass player extraordinaire on locking down grooves for the likes of Lamar and Lotus
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.
“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.
“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.”
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
“You try to love verything you do.” Above right: onstage th Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies