Thundercat is a musical polymath. The bassist's current project is his solo album, Drunk, which features collaborations with artists as varied as Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald and Flying Lotus. But Thundercat, born Stephen Bruner, began his musical career in the spotlight as a member of thrash band Suicidal Tendencies, which also featured his brother Ronald on the drums for a number of years.
"I tend to bleed the lines of stuff and just because it's fast and loud it doesn't mean it's punk a lot of the time," says Thundercat. "And a lot of the time it's just about the attitude behind the music. And the spirit with it."
Whether it's punk or funk, Thundercat is taking his genre-meshing approach forward, not only with his own jazz-fuelled jaunts on his solo material, but also his crucial contributions to hip-hop projects like Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly,for which he won a Grammy. Future projects include contributions to jazz legend Herbie Hancock's upcoming album.
Given the eclectic nature of his musical career, CBC Music sat down with Thundercat to explore some of the music that influenced his apprenticeship, early career and landmark projects.
Bernie Worrell, 'Insurance Man for the Funk'
"Honestly, right now I feel that one person who has influenced me that was not so much a bassist but a keyboard and synthesiser player and that would be Bernie Worrell. He definitely changed the way I play bass a lot. 'Cause I wanted to sound like him. I did. And it altered the way I would feel things so, I would say Bernie Worrell. I mean specifically his work with Parliament and Funkadelic and stuff and I want to say there’s one solo album I picked up, All the Woo in the World. I remember hearing that and seeing the role that a synth player would have with just having synths and stuff. Being able to go from bass to strings to different things like that."
Stanley Clarke, 'Journey to Love'
"It’s bigger than the bass playing to me. It’s the composition and the singing and the importance of the overall picture of the music. 'Journey to Love' is still one of my favourite tunes. Actually at the end of [my solo album] The Golden Age of the Apocalypse, I kinda mimic it a bit on the [last song on the album], the ‘Return to the Journey.’"
Rage Against the Machine, 'Bulls on Parade'
"I remember one thing specifically being a driving force behind my mindset especially being in the band [Suicidal Tendencies] and that would be Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire. That is, still to this day one of the hardest albums that you could ever own. Of course everything from 'People of the Sun' to 'Bulls on Parade,' the whole album is a full-on massive assault. So I would definitely have to say Evil Empire and 'People of the Sun' or what’s the one right after 'Bulls on Parade'? It doesn’t matter. For the sake of argument, I’ll just say 'Bulls on Parade.'"
Miles Davis, ‘Little Church;' Joe Henderson, ‘Shade of Jade’
"There’s one moment I love to talk about [in the To Pimp a Butterfly sessions] and it was a moment where I played Kendrick [Lamar] Joe Henderson and Miles Davis. Joe Henderson is one of my most favourite saxophone players, hands down. I have a ton of people I love. I love Cannonball [Adderley], Pharoah [Sanders] , but Joe Henderson is like the dissonance and the chords he would write with it was so intense to me that I was just like, that’s it. And I remember the day playing him 'Shade of Jade' by Joe Henderson off the album Mode of Joe. And I also remember playing him 'Little Church' by Miles Davis off of Live-Evil. It just stopped him dead in his tracks. I remember being like, ‘Woah!’ 'Cause this guy would be like on full steam running around the studios and stuff and I played him 'Little Church' as the night ended, he just froze. He’s like ‘What is that?’ And I’m like, ‘That’s Miles Davis, man.’"
BONUS: Herbie Hancock, 'Trust Me'
"I need to speak with both hands when I talk about Herbie [puts thumbs and forefingers of both hands together]. Oh my God, Oh my God. ['Trust Me.'] That is one of the most intense Herbie songs ever. But if I wanted to go back a little bit, there's "Oliloqui Valley' off Empyrean Isles. That. Goodness gracious. The Death Wish soundtrack. Oh my God. The Spook Who Sat By the Door soundtrack. Oh my God. The fact that you got an album called The Spook Who Sat by the Door. What? [Laughs] That’s the era of when he was doing Thrust and stuff so, you know, all those, 'Spiralling Prism,' 'Textures.' Good lord! 'Textures' off Mr. Hands. I’d say 'Textures' and '4am' with Jaco. Or even 'Trust Me' off 'Feet Don’t Feel Me Now.'
More to explore: