Interview: Thundercat Talks The People & Process Behind “Drunk”

If you’re a fan of music, particularly hip-hop and jazz, chances are whether you know it or not you’ve heard Thundercat‘s music. Prominently featuring on hugely acclaimed projects by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, and Erykah Badu just to name a select few, it’s safe to say he’s one of the most sought after collaborators in the game.

While he made his start as a session musician, his real rise to fame came when he launched his own solo career and, as we near closer to his fourth studio length album Drunk, we managed to catch up with the man himself to talk about his mysterious new project.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear your new album Drunk, it’s so diverse and I already love it. One of the first things that struck me was the humour and wittiness that comes through alongside the musical works, was this something you always intended?

Yeah, I’ve always been into the details of things, and I felt like it was very important to connect art in the manner that I did. Everything down to the album art, I feel like it was very important for people to see what it was all about.

There’s certainly some serious notes throughout too though, were there any moments where recording the track actually became a challenge, perhaps like A Message For Austin, because of your closeness to the topic?

I think this was more of an overall challenge rather than a specific moment. Trying to say how I feel, sing how I feel, harmonise how I feel, that was the major challenge and I just had to attack that the best I could.

This is going to be your fourth studio album, are you finding it easier to be more open now?  

I’m definitely still finding it an interesting experience to open up, especially because of technology and the times we live in.

You yourself have been collaborating with artists for over a decade, yet this is your first studio that has its own outside features in terms of rappers and singers, was that a conscious decision or did it just fall together naturally?

A bit of both, I just had to not be afraid when they showed up, yet at the same time present the ideas and get the emotion. The funny thing would be me and Wiz Khalifa trying to find trying a way to connect to each other. Creatively he was from a different space, but he wanted to find it, so we would talk about life and our experiences. It’s moments that like which defined the album. It’s like a dance which happened over a period of time, creatively between friends.

One of those collaborators is Flying Lotus, who you’ve been working with since the beginning of your solo career. Did you two approach Drunk in any other way compared to past albums?

Not really, we approached it in the same manner, using as much care as we could. Not losing what we felt needed to be there, but not being afraid to cut details we felt should be cut out. Speeding things up, slowing things down, it’s all in our region.

Is Flying Lotus side-by-side the whole creative process then too?

Yeah, me and FlyLo have worked together for almost a decade and we’ve been side-by-side the whole time.

Apart from FlyLo you’ve got some other heavyweight names, Pharrell Williams, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Wiz Khalifa, along with Kendrick Lamar, many of who reached out to you thanks to some serious name-dropping in past interviews. Can we expect to hear that Drake collab that you were aspiring for anytime soon?

Not yet, but I could see it and I still would love to. I know how funky that dude is. I love listening to him and what he does. The funny thing is when you become a rapper you open yourself up for the world to judge you? I feel like that’s a very hard place to be in creatively, he’s put himself in a very hard position, which is not a situation a lot of people can handle.

Still, the fact that he’s persevered and became the rapper that he is says a lot about him creatively. I see greatness and I would love to get a chance to work with him. Maybe he’ll do something different that will freak people out.

You’ve essentially managed to weave your way into music history collaborating with the likes of Kamasi, Erykah Badu, George Clinton, Kendrick to name a few. Do you prefer recording your own music or is working on others’ projects equally rewarding?

It’s just as rewarding especially when you want to be involved. A lot of the time people pull on you to different directions because they think you’ll be a good addition, they can see you somewhere but you still have to find it, because you don’t just walk into rooms like this all the time. Make the most of it, get excited about what could be and then jump right in.

How does your approach differ from solo to collab? 

It really depends on what the person would be asking of me. I try to find where they’re at, but try not to lose myself entirely. It’s a creative conversation, so you have to communicate nonetheless, so I treat it like that. I don’t treat anybody like they know where I’m coming from, and I try my hardest to meet them where they’re at.

You’re known to traverse through a range of genres in your career, from metal, R&B to hip-hop and jazz, was there one that came first that spurred you to learn bass or did it all come at once?

It all happened around the same time but I’ve always been influenced by jazz. Growing up with Kamasi, my brother Ronald Bruner Jr.Terrace Martin, getting attached to Billy Higgins, Gerald Wilson, all these people were very deep in my character as a child.

Growing up to play jazz, recording jazz albums, going to singing, I feel like jazz will always be the route of what I came from. Jazz not just being the genre, but the open mindset. It’s interwoven in all music, sometimes you find it in places you’d never expect it.

How do you feel now that the spotlight is back on the genre once again, do you feel like it’s a revival in a sense?

I hate words like revival, it’s never been dead, it’s just been in a different part of the brain. It’s very nice that people are connecting to it, but it’s never left or changed.

As far as pop culture goes, things go full circle a lot of the time so I look at it as though it never left. I don’t look at it like, ‘now it’s jazz’s time!’, it’s always been jazz, it’s always been classical, it’s always been rap. And then when there’s an inflection of something which denotes to being influenced, it’s something that people can recognise and then follow, that’s what I think it is. I compare it to “trending”.

You were last out here in Australia last year for the Laneway Festival, is there any chance we’ll be seeing you again this year in support of the album?

I hope so, I’d love to be back in Australia. Get in some sand, get all nice and uh, bogan. Hang out on the streets, see what’s going on, use my phone in the streets in Australia (laughs).  

Thundercat’s Drunk is out today.

For further reading, check out our last interview with Thundercat here!

Image: Huck Mag