Thundercat Talks Surprise Album, Playing Jazz For Kendrick & Why Drake Is the Best
Thundercat's virtuosic bass playing has cropped up in a diverse array of projects: metal band Suicidal Tendencies, Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly -- but that's only the beginning of the story. He's expanded his talents on two critically-acclaimed solo albums, showing off his clean falsetto and deceptively catchy songwriting, as well as deepening his work alongside prolific producer Flying Lotus.
Here he describes how his brand-new mini-album, The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam (out today, and streaming in full below), came to be -- as well as the roots of his partnership with Flying Lotus, playing jazz for Kendrick Lamar, and why he loves Kenny Loggins.
When did you start recording The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam?
I feel like it's been a never ending process since You're Dead!. I would be working on Kendrick's album [To Pimp A Butterfly] and [Flying] Lotus's album [You're Dead!] almost at the same time, and it was kind of like a by-product of everything that would be happening. I'd be exuding so much energy on Lotus's album and Kendrick's album -- there was so much more output coming from me.
Not to make it so specific, because a few of the songs I've had for years. It's like, you never know how things are going to form sometimes. It feels like it found its shape throughout the course of You're Dead! and To Pimp A Butterfly.
I feel like the music hadn't stopped at all -- the seamlessness of it. I would always be writing music and sending stuff to like Lotus and Kendrick. Everybody'd be working on the album -- I tried to send people music all the time and let them know what I'm thinking, right out front. It affected [the album] in that way, where I just kind of opened my hands a bit.
Did working on TPAB change your own music at all?
Oh absolutely. I'm so happy it did. I'm happy to have been around greatness like Kendrick Lamar. It takes a person that's that open-minded and fearless, to be able to carry something that's that heavy with them, I feel. Kendrick was like a pure ball of energy. He wanted to know what you were listening to -- "Whatchu listening to? Whatchu up to? What's that you're playing right now? Why'd you stop playing it? Play it again." He's like, "What are you humming? What are you thinking?" You're blinking a little too much and he's like, "What are you thinking?" He was in your brain with you.
I remember a really awesome moment where I went from playing him Joe Henderson's "A Shade Of Jade" to Miles Davis' "Little Church," and he just stood there twisting his hair. He's totally ticking. He's ticking about it. He's just sitting there, like "Whoa." But his mindset would be that open to it. I'd always try to be playing him music to spark his interest.
Not just that -- even sitting next to [TDE producer] Sounwave and working, you know? The genuine building of a bond with an amazing producer and songwriter. We're sitting there and exploring sound and frequencies -- it was awesome! I found myself doing a couple of songs that were like, totally different from how I sing and sound and everything. It was a bit formless for a long time -- sometimes I prefer that, because there is a thing of like, the unknown part of it. That's what jazz is -- "Well, what about this?" That kind of mentality. I hope everybody likes it!
How did you meet Flying Lotus?
We met at SXSW. I forget what year it was, but I was introduced to him by Brook D'Leau, of J Davey, and it was extremely hot. It was one of those things where we knew of each other a bit -- he knew my work Sa-Ra and J Davey and different people. He was kind of like, "Yeah, man, we should definitely see if we can try to create something cool." I think that was right after the Los Angeles album.
The feeling was mutual. It was like, "We should do that." We didn't for a while, because people in L.A. are just crazy -- "have your people call my people" -- for a while we didn't talk. But then the first thing I remember ever working on was "Zodiac Shit." He sent it to me in an email, not having a clue as to how I would apply -- just seeing what it was worth. I feel like that was one of the most magical moments I can remember, literally. You guys always see me dressed up on stage, but there was a time when I was like running around my apartment with Indian feathers, throwing stuff -- and I remember dancing around to that song, dancing and recording it.
From then on, we started working on what would come to be Cosmogramma, amongst other albums. It kind of became symbiotic a bit, same mind. I remember small things like, where he would play a beat, in the beginning of working [in the studio] on Cosmogramma, and try to bend and stretch space and time creatively. He'd be doing stuff, slowing down and speeding up as he's doing it, and then he noticed that I would keep playing at whatever speed he was changing the song to. He was literally like, "So we can go faster?" I was like, "Yeah, we can go way faster." I was like, "Let's do it." Full on "to infinity and beyond" shit, it was like "Yeah!" That's how that began.
Is there anyone you'd like to collaborate with who you haven't yet?
Yeah, I'd like to collaborate with God. Do a collaboration with God! That's like the end of the interview.
That's like the Kanye quote.
[laughs] "You know I'd like to do a collaboration with Jesus, like for real? Maybe a shoe collab?" Nah, I'm just kidding. But that would have been a great line to end on. Just completely swan dive out of a window. Seriously, I really would love to work with Kenny Loggins...and like, Drake.
That would probably be like the most emotional band -- oh my God, like Drake and Kenny Loggins? My sad ass playing bass? Like, "Yeah!" The most damaged music in America [laughs].
I listen to Kenny Loggins like -- I want to be Kenny Loggins. Seriously -- Michael McDonald's beard and the sandwiches that he's been eating on all the records that he's been singing, and Kenny Loggins...that's why I will not cut my beard. Because of Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, man! It's a real thing, actually [laughs].
You know what? Drake is one of my favorite artists, not just because it's like the cool thing to say. I remember, there's one specific moment for me personally that I really was like, "Man, Drake is that guy." It was the song "Successful" with Trey Songz.
I was listening, and I remember sitting there -- it sank into me. I really felt like that, not knowing how things were going, and to have a dude able to be that vulnerable on the track, and be able to be so literally raw with how he presents it -- it takes another kind of dude to do that. With everybody always meme-ing, and making fun of everything nowadays. To literally be giving your all to a lot of stuff, I appreciate the dude. Not to mention that his uncle is Larry Graham from Graham Central Station. It's the best thing ever.
The kind of guy that can kiss Madonna and look like she burped in his mouth, you know? I was like, did you just like, not like Madonna's kiss? I wish I didn't have to kiss like...pavement. I can't relate, man. Those problems, man -- like, "Madonna just tried to kiss me!" Drake is awesome.
The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam is available now on iTunes.