As intricate as most instrumentalists are, nothing will ever force any artist to dig deeper into their personalization than a loss. We all know the difference between singing and “sanging”–it’s the personal factor, the inspiration or line of events. This particular bassist has used a personal tragic event to further connect with his already deep, genre-bending music with an aim to expand his role as a singer/songwriter. Thundercat sheds a little light on his new album Apocalypse, as well as other bass players he looks up to and bass faces.
SoulTrain.com: As far as those who play bass, who do you look up to?
Thundercat: It’s all about Wesley Willis. That’s who I look up to. No, just kidding. I’m a big Stanley Clarke fan of course. Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Adrian Ferrer, Paul Jackson, James Jamerson, Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, I look up to all of them. Those are my heroes. There’s of course Sting, Charlie Mingus, Paul Chambers. Yep, I think that’s everybody.
SoulTrain.com: What newer bass players do you listen to now?
Thundercat: Adrian Ferrer, Matthew Harrison–there are a lot of us out there doing our thing. Bill Dickens, other cats who are really into their thing.
SoulTrain.com: Let’s talk about you. When did you start playing bass to a point where you wanted to make it your own thing where you’re creating your own music?
Thundercat: Through the high school years. I’ve always played bass and listened to bass players, but the connection for me was always as a sideman when I was younger because I needed to get my feet wet. Nothing took flight until I started playing with my cousin. We used to sit and write music all the time. And this was back when Napster was popping, so we would just write music, download stuff and go eat. That’s it. And then try to sneak in the clubs because we were underage. The finer things in life, the Internet! But we would write music, create, then listen to it in the car. It would be really loud, too, but no one knew what we were playing but us. We were our own biggest fans like, “Yeah! We made these beats!” Folks would yell, “Cut that mess down!” My first collaboration was with Steve Spacek. I was a big fan of their music because of the “Eve” remix by J Dilla. I ended up meeting Matthew Sprirer and he told me to send Spacek some music. I sent a bunch of music to him, and next thing you know I did some music with Spacek the group. And I wasn’t just making beats I was writing music.
SoulTrain.com: That’s pretty impressive. How did it go? Wasn’t the band from overseas?
Thundercat: Yeah, they were in Los Angeles when we did it. They invited me over, we smoked a spliff, they played some beats, I hopped in, and we kept going until we got something.
SoulTrain.com: I was at your show in Atlanta featuring you, Flying Lotus and Teebs. Amazing show! One thing that had me laughing was while you played you would make these crazy faces. Like, scrunching the face up, mouth looking all crooked, y’all look like Blankman after his first kiss. Have you ever been aware of that and do you try to stop yourself from doing it?
Thundercat: One thing I was told when I was younger was that everything that was going on would show on my face. I haven’t heard someone say that in a while. Actually, I used to play at weddings–and it’s just some jazz standards–and I would see somebody and think, ‘What the hell are they doing?!’ and I would look like that. Somebody would nudge me like, “Stop it, Stephen!” I just kinda zoned out. With the stuff I do now, I’m sure it’s like ten times worse.
SoulTrain.com: How concerned are you now with presenting yourself as you play?
Thundercat: I’m ok with it. It’s like a mole on your neck–not going anywhere.
SoulTrain.com: There are traditional sounds and music that come with bass, but you have a totally different thing going on. It’s very futuristic but somewhat traditional in the sense of execution. At what point did you decide to steer off into where you are now with blending these sounds?
Thundercat: There were different points in my life. When I played for Sa-Ra Creative Partners and J*DaVeY I never really separated myself because I never really knew to. So there was hardly a distinction between writing for Sa-Ra, writing for J*DaVeY or just playing bass in general, and for anyone else. Sometimes someone would think I’m playing bass when I’m writing, or that I’m writing when I’m just playing bass. It always felt like a big melting pot for me.
SoulTrain.com: Going into your next album and your development, how do you keep yourself current and fresh?
Thundercat: Practice. I listen to a lot of stuff, and not just bass players. I recently got a chance to meet James Blake and I’ve been listening to a lot of his music lately. I especially keep up on different songwriters and music that inspires melody. Whenever I’m home, I play at jam sessions with my friends.
SoulTrain.com: Ok, so about this title. Why is it called Apocalypse when your previous album was The Golden Age of The Apocalypse?
Thundercat: It’s me making fun of myself. It also represents the end of an era for me and what has been happening lately with the confusion of watching my best friend Austin Peralta die, and then watching my cat and my daughter grow up. It’s me making light of the fact that it is such a serious album for me. It’s like Friday The 13th: Part 2. I don’t know. It’s just me being stupid.
SoulTrain.com: Don’t worry, the fans will make it make sense. As far as your content, I like the direction of what has come out, especially its upbeat-ness. Will the whole thing follow suit?
Thundercat: I don’t wanna give away too much. To some degree it is, I guess. The two songs I’ve released are fun and playful, but it has been a very emotional process for me.
SoulTrain.com: Ok, would you care to elaborate on the lyrical content of Apocalypse?
Thundercat: It’ll be my life. That’s it. And, it’ll be cool.
Keep up with Thundercat on Twitter @Thundercatbass.
Starletta Watson has been writing for over five years and has contributed to AOL, Frank 151, Examiner and more. Born in Ohio, now based in Atlanta, she continues the journey as a writer and working with other journalistic multimedia. She doesn’t like talking about herself much, but she tweets a lot @_starburst88.