Thundercat is an American cross-genre bass guitarist, producer and singer from California. He's released three solo albums and is most recognised for his work with producer Flying Lotus. The two made major contributions to Kendrick Lamar's critically acclaimed 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. On Friday he released a new album titled 'Drunk', and you can stream it below - along with excerpts from a recent Billboard interview that he gave explaining his inspirations behind the album.
What journey are you taking this listener on with Drunk?
I’m observing and reporting what my experience as a musician has been 'til now. It’s such a weird thing to be a musician nowadays. If you’re not in a rock band, music doesn’t exist for a musician. You’re just a "session" musician. Nobody tells you that. So you wind up figuring it out. Somewhere between those lines, there’s this existence where you end up drinking. That goes for everyone that I’ve worked with. It’s part of the business. It’s something to talk about. It’s me telling a story from that perspective.
I try not to think too hard about music. I like to see where it goes. I try not to give it a direction. I figure out what it is as it’s forming. I don’t have any goal in mind other than to make the best music I can. I always start with the bass [guitar]. Things get added, but it always starts with the bass.
How did you get comfortable as a vocalist? You essentially didn’t become an active singer until your late 20s.
I’m looking at people like Beyonce and Trey Songz and Jamie Foxx—people that sing like they’ve got chicken all in their throat. I didn’t know where I was supposed to make sense. I would feel around it a bit. I would sing on other people’s albums, their backgrounds. And I’d ask, “Was it cool?” By the time we got to [sophomore album] Apocalypse, it was a weird moment for me. I was like, “I have to sing?” I had references and different things that made me feel comfortable, like, “I know I can do it.” But I didn’t know to what extent I could. I had to deal with people laughing at me. I had to deal with my friends telling me, “You can't sing.”
Of course. I’m not going to name any names, but that was the honest criticism. And I could take it. But it wasn’t going to stop me. There was one time when I was in the studio and I’m recording vocals for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly track, “These Walls”, and a few of my friends had never seen me sing before. I literally had to kick everyone out of the room, because it was weird. Someone told me I had to put Auto-Tune on my voice and I told them, “I am not that guy.” I had to find my comfort zone. Kendrick was comfortable. I usually just sing at home by myself with my bass. It was a process of having to open up.
You have a great working relationship with Kendrick and he’s on “Walk on By.” What’s your favorite part of his verse?
There’s one line where he says, “Immature and retarded is what you call me.” It was one of the things where when he said that, you felt that you understood the inner-workings of what we feel a lot of the time. You have these internal moments where you’re trying to figure it out. And Kendrick always has those moments in his verses where he’s speaking to a guy like me.
On his Unmastered, Untitled album, there’s a line where he asks, “Why you wanna see a good man with a broken heart?” It hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m thinking, “Yeah, why would that be your goal?” I love his ability to connect with that deeper part through music. And when he laid his verse to “Walk on By,” it immediately became this portrait. I was in shock and awe that he could see it.
Do you ever wear clothing to speak about the world’s issues—politics or humanity?
Yeah, man! I’m not very political. It’s nice to make a statement with something like a “Not My President” tee or something like that. It’s a way to identify with other people. But I’ve mostly been identifying with the earth through color tones. The things that you see in the world from that point. I look at animals and think, “Wow, that’s not fair! I just have one color and a bunch of moles.” And you see butterflies or cats and you’re like, “What the hell?” I’m identifying with them.