It’s hard not to be impressed by the career of Stephen Bruner. Better known by his stage name Thundercat, the US bass player has contributed to the albums of some of music’s biggest stars, including Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, Childish Gambino, N.E.R.D., Travis Scott, and Kamasi Washington.
However, it wasn’t until his third solo album, Drunk, in 2017 that Bruner – as Thundercat – broke out as a star in his own right. Eccentric, frenetic, and oozing with groovy basslines, the album exemplified his creativity and unique world view with its genre-shifting and soulful songs that drew inspiration from world events, mental health, his friendships, and love for his pet cat, Turbo Tron. Bruner will be in Hong Kong for the Sonar music festival next Saturday, so we gave him a call before he arrives to catch up.
What will your Sonar performance involve?
I plan on bringing some nice, weird songs about petting cats and my personal problems, and sharing them. I’m looking forward to unloading a lot of emotional baggage on everybody. I try not to think too much about anything except just being in the moment when I’m onstage.
Any special plans while you’re in Hong Kong?
I’m looking forward to just hanging out with the people, man. That’s the best way to get to know somewhere. It’s nice to see monuments, but I’m about hanging out with people and getting to see some art.
How have you adapted to becoming a frontman? Has it taken a while for you to feel comfortable as the centre of attention on stage?
I still find myself feeling weird about that sometimes. I have moments on stage where I’m like, “What am I doing again? Oh yeah! This is my band. I better say something into the mic.” Sometimes, I have nothing to say [in between songs] so I’m happy there’s music there so I don’t just melt into laughing on stage.
What memories stand out from when you were writing Drunk?
I remember it being very intense. A lot of emotion came out. A lot of places I felt comfortable, some I didn’t. But it was all very honest. It came out exactly the way it should have. People ask why certain songs are only a minute long and I’m like, well that’s all I had to say. It was a different point in my life, emotionally and physically. It’s become different again now.
How are you different now to when recording the album?
The act of working and creating is always a growing process. That I’m writing and creating music is a sign of the growth. A major part of growing is changing. It goes hand in hand, and I’m always excited to see what’s coming next.
How does writing music help you process these emotions?
Music can be therapeutic and helpful. If you put in the work, it has its own rewards. It helps you comprehend something by putting the pieces together or breaking things apart. Ultimately, I think [emotions are] always there to help, not harm.
There are sincere moments on Drunk, but your sense of humour comes through, too. Were there any tracks that made you laugh while working on them?
There are some that have a dark humour to them – The Turn Down [featuring Pharrell Williams] is a really funny one because sometimes things can be so messed up that they’re funny. It’s important to laugh at yourself. I like poking fun at myself.
In 2017, you revealed that Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon was trying to get you on the cartoon. In 2019, are we any closer to hearing your voice on the show?
I would hope one day that it could happen. Rick and Morty is such a special place. It’s so dope and amazing that even [Harmon] is very cautious what he’s doing with it. I’m always open to it. It’ll happen at the right time and place. I’d love to get a chance: hopefully it’ll present itself soon.
As a fan of video games, what are your favourite game soundtracks?
A lot are older references, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter, and Gunstar Heroes. I still listen to these soundtracks for inspiration. The standard of soundtracking for games was a lot higher back in the day. A lot of the newer games go for a cinematic thing. One franchise that still goes for the crazy sounds is Mario. Mario is so dope.
What music are you currently working on?
I’m definitely working on my next album. One thing Erykah Badu told me is that it’s not a race. I’m being free-spirited about it and working towards it, but can’t put a timeline on it. It doesn’t feel right. I enjoy the act of working, which is where my mind is usually at.
For more information about the festival, visit the Sonar Hong Kong website.