Thundercat's Golden Age of the Apcalypse is turning heads and dropping brand new flavors from familiar frontiers in our ears. We talked recently about the new album, the collaborators, the source of Drake's familial musical wealth and jazz futurism.
Let me ask you, how the name Thundercat became the embodiment of this project?
Well, Thundercat is my name and it really took on its own life from there.
How many months and years in the making was Golden Age of the Apocalypse?
That’s a good question… since I learned how to write music, years.
Are you as big of a baseball card collector as you are of the funk, like with having a track titled “Fleer Ultra?”
Well you know Fleer made Marvel cards too and I was a Marvel kid.
Did you ever get into the baseball Upper Deck, Topps and all that?
I did at one point but I was always into Fleer, Ultra and Upper Decks but yeah I was way into the Marvel thing.
How do you move from playing thrasher bass in the Suicidal Tendencies to being a bass player ace studio musician and now to creating a whole new sound?
Well it kind of feels natural, but now part of me is kind of nervous because it’s a whole new frontier for me. But at the same time it feels so familiar.
Well, you cook up a lot of familiar sounds in a whole other kind of futuristic mix. I have heard you talk before about your strong kinship with Flying Lotus and I was wondering how that synergy translates to you two in the studio?
Well, Lotus is like my best friend, some people use the term loosely but yeah I’ve known him for forever.
You did some work on his album Cosmogramma last year too, had you guys been collaborating on any projects prior to that?
Mmm not really.
Well it's fascinating stuff you guys do like “Is it Love” has that hynpogogic quality with the “suddenly you came on to me” chorus that comes around again and fades out at that end with this dream-like quality. How did lyrics and composition of that song come about?
Okay, well the composition came first. The way that song came out was a composition I didn’t think too much about it at the time and after that was done I listened to it and I realized that this song has a real melody to it like a hit so I went to my brothers with Sa-Ra and then we put the vocal on it and it just transpired right in front of us. Bam, the vocals just came out.
And with all the fusions that you have with tracks like “Boat Cruise” it reminded me of those early Sa-Ra Creative Partners E-+Ps with songs like “My Lady.” How long have you had a creative partnership with Sa-Ra?
For a while now. The first person I met from Sa-Ra was Taz (Arnold) and that was years ago and I remember I had a white wig on, and I had all white on and he was like “you should hang out.” When I first walked into the house I met Shafiq who is like a motor. He is a power house with this massive amount of energy and everything just caught on his fire when I walked into the house, everything just caught on fire, ha ha!
Now when you’re collaborating with so many musicians on Golden Age how do you all come together as part of shared vision, how does that all work? You have so many different artists with different backgrounds like speaking in terms of musical colors with Erykah Badu, working with Flying Lotus and Sa-Ra; how do you find cohesion with so many eclectic artists working with you?
Just open your mind and your heart and don’t be so controlling. The boat doesn’t always have to have a captain! Heh, allow things to be what they are. A lot of songs like “Boat Cruise” weren’t made to be part of the album, they came from sessions just to create. That song was a random day occurrence. Like with Erykah who is a different person entirely, a creative individual, I don’t know how to explain it and it’s not so much that we went in there and was like okay, let’s do an album! Call up Erykah! Sa-Ra, let’s do an album! It just happened over time.
It sounds so much like the accumulation of so many careers over the course of three decades in the making but the sound is very much pointed forward. What are your thoughts on the importance of the art of singing, I’ve heard you talk before about its endangerment with autotune and digital manipulations and so forth within the current industry?
I don’t hate too much on (autotune), it’s just what it is. I just think that people a lot of time are all about that production, a lot of times it’s the funniest thing that people are going to slow their voice down or speed it up but and I’m just trying to take my thing as far as I can. Like something as small as the fact that Drake, one of the world’s biggest rappers right now is Larry Graham’s nephew. Graham Central Station, Larry Graham’s nephew! So we’re wondering where all that money was coming from, you know? I mean Drake, Drake, Lil Wayne, Drake, Drake; he was born for this man!
Right, groomed for it.
He was Groomed for it! (laughs) I mean,that’s not even…(laughs) wooo! Larry Graham is Drake’s uncle man! That is cold as ice man!
Sounds like I’m going to have to go on a Wikipedia treasure hunt.
Yeah dude, Drake’s real name is Aubrey Graham. Larry Graham, Aubrey Graham. Cold as ice man, it’s like you know it’s one of those things where it’s like, that one fact can change somebody’s mind. Who in the hell is Larry Graham? If you would listen to his record you would be like, who the hell is this? That is mind blowing stuff! Like whoa! It goes to show, but I just hope when people listen to my album they’re noticing the creativity and collages of sounds.
I love too that there’s jazz everywhere from “Golden Boy” to the pimp “Walkin’.” How do you make this kind of music after all the 20th century jazz movements within the 21st paradigm?
Nice! (laughs) That’s a good question! It’s funny because a lot of the times you’re always thinking that jazz is one of those things where you think of something that’s very fine tuned and very clean, very astute. One of the deals is like I don’t want to listen to something that demands so much of me. Your patience, you’re listening, your heart, it pulls on your emotions sometimes; you don’t know where the jazz will mess you up. I’m not saying that I’m a jazz major or nothing like that but a lot of times like with hip-hop where the beat is just a chop from something that was so much bigger and better. It’s like it represents a certain amount of greatness with jazz and now it’s time for rap music to say more and change the game like with Tyler (the Creator) showing that it’s not just the rap it’s the perspective of where the mind is going like look with Lil B, (laughs) with the stream of consciousness in rap. That stream of consciousness is showing where that person is at and now the rap artists are turning back into the jazz artists, people trying to sing more in their songs, everyone is turning back to the crooners. It’s like a big wheel man and its turning. And for me it’s like for everything I’ve spent my time doing it’s like a light has been shed on me and people are like, oh you played for Suicidal Tendencies and uhhh, ha, I’m just a simple cat playing jazz my whole life.
Tracks like “Return to the Journey” takes your sound to the higher limits, is that a manifesto of sorts for jazz futurism?
I would hope so, that would be nice! Ha ha, but I would hope so. Making the future of jazz? That would be amazing.
And I’m wondering who the other Thundercats are out there that are making this kind of music?
Me and my brother (Ron Bruner Jr.) have an album coming out as the Bruner Brothers, Georgia Ann Muldrow, that woman is a monstrosity to music, like a beast from a whole other planet. There are people out there that are into the same type of platform; we’re a breed of people and that’s just where I come from. I only hope to go further man.