INTERVIEW: Thundercat | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Arguably the industry’s most revered bass virtuoso, Stephen Lee Bruner, aka the Grammy award-winning Thundercat, embarks on a brand new tour this month which visits Northumbria University Students’ Union on Wednesday 30th March.

Thundercat’s wild improvisation and spontaneous storytelling elevate his gigs, as his songs evolve into their own unique experience each night. “You can definitely feel the energies change from show to show.” He reveals. “It all lies within how people process different ideals, and that sure can be regional. You learn the most about people through seeing them at their happiest or their most broken. Back in the day, I used to say if I didn’t have sex in the town I gigged in, I didn’t know the town!”

Touring as a three-piece, Thundercat and his band stretch out their templates, spinning their melodies into nuanced, textured pieces of improvisation which draw from a rich tapestry of jazz and funk influences. Talking about the live experience, Thundercat explains: “Music is a great vehicle for emotion. The thing with musicians is that we might create it, but it’s not ours. It’s finite, it’s just our job to wield it. It’s multiple conversations, it’s technical stuff but then it’s the verbal and it’s the navigating the crowd and it’s the personal things – we try and put everything out there, because that’s human. But you just have to feel it out every night, like a stand-up comic would, it’s reading the room and reacting to it.”

With comedy being a quintessential part of Thundercat’s personality, there’s no denying that it bleeds into his music, with silky neo-soul grooves sporting lyrics about cat hair, masturbation and having fun. “Every great comedian wants to be a musician, and every great musician wants to be a comedian.” Thundercat elaborates: “When you think about the bullets Dave Chappelle or Cardi B take nightly to speak their truth, it’s absurd. Dave showed me the lighthearted and the heaviness of every situation; Chappelle changed my sound like nobody else.”

An active presence on social media, Thundercat’s become synonymous with his widespread obsession with pop culture. From anime to memes, he’s a proud advocate for it all. “As crazy as it sounds, I’m so happy memes exist. Humour is power and intelligence, and memes are giving that to everyone. It’s art in its most primitive form, it’s falling in love with colours and images and sounds. How did we first know about other civilisations? Writings on the wall. When we all die off, people will see our writings on the wall and they’ll assume Pepe The Frog was a deity.”

Probing further into his tenacious appetite for culture, we discuss the correlations between the jazz alumni, such as Jaco Pastorius and John McLaughlin, that he was raised on, and the video games that have stylised and inspired his sound. When asked for a starter kit for the uninitiated, Thundercat instantly has a recommendation prepared. “I know exactly where I’d start people. All you need is In The Bar from Streets Of Rage 2. Once a person sits with that, they’ll get it. The progressions in that piece shaped me no end.”

Moving onto another obsession of the artist, Thundercat’s authentic excitement is unmistakable as we discuss Newcastle’s prominent comic book scene. Having already mentioned how he makes a point of attending Forbidden Planet on every London visit, the comic book enthusiast expands on what it is about the art form that has ignited a spark in his heart. “It’s imagination. Imagination, creation and power. The thing is, if art imitates life, what does life imitate? The world is perpetually a snake eating its own tail. Comics shape an artist because comics are art, but they’re also life. You can see yourself reflected back at you. Look at DOOM, he didn’t want to be a hero, he got that mask and saw himself as the villain – and when he was on stage, he was. Dude was spitting dictionaries on every track, he inspired the world and people since have been imitating him, and there’s that perpetual snake again.”

The process of art is the process of emotions, it’s how we discuss grief. It’s how we communicate and have a dialogue with ourselves. It’s beautiful

It Is What It Is, Thundercat’s 2020 release, draws upon both his abstract obsessions and pursuit of humanity and understanding, flicking between euphoric, hilarious and poignant ruminations on life, death and loneliness. Drawing his anecdotes, themes and heartbreaks from places of honesty and truth has always allowed his releases to feel magnetic, affecting and real. Through the well-documented struggles of his life, there is a deliberate balance between his mischievous, childlike persona and a much more meditated, reflective depth that considers each word, each process and each emotion.

The need to grieve and process is a prevalent theme on the 2020 release, as Thundercat talks candidly across the record about losing his friend and wanting to grow. “It attracted some attention because I talked about losing Mac [Miller]. I loved him. I’m no stranger to losing friends to those kind of things, but this was different. Mac wasn’t just my best friend, he was the world’s best friend. He was our generation’s James Dean. The process of art is the process of emotions, it’s how we discuss grief. It’s how we communicate and have a dialogue with ourselves. It’s beautiful. The want to understand yourself outweighs the simplicity of just writing a chorus and a hook. One of my favourite songs is Steve Kuhn’s The Meaning Of Love. It’s fucking hopeless. The whole song is so crushing because he’s trying to learn but everything just feels so unattainable. Every song comes from a place.”

It’s apparent that everything that draws people to Thundercat’s music is truly an extension of the man himself. From his giddy humour and aloof references to the considered and earnest humanity, the person behind the music is identical to the person within the music. Oozing with warmth, charm and integrity, the Thundercat experience is as raw and true as any fan could hope for.

Thundercat performs at Northumbria University Students’ Union on Wednesday 30th March.


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