Los Angeles bassist Thundercat says that he hasn’t changed since childhood — after all, he named himself after his favorite ’80s cartoon. In a broad sense he takes after his mother. “[She] still has blue and purple hair, even though she’s in her late 50s,” he says.
After one listen through his 2011 debut — “[a] Sun Ra-meets-Jaco Pastorius-meets-Roy Ayers psychedelic jazz head trip,” Hive said — his mother helped name it The Golden Age of the Apocalypse. Last month, while performing in Atlanta, Thundercat revealed that another loved one — a close friend who recently passed away — also helped him make sense of his next record.
Co-written and co-produced by Brainfeeder affiliates Flying Lotus and Mono/Poly, Apocalypse’s current singles show that Thundercat’s loss has changed him, but hasn’t weighed him down. While “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” is a propulsive R&B plea, funky Off the Wall update “Oh Sheit It’s X” inspires him to slip into a falsetto croon and sing, “Oh shit, I fucked up” — even though he doesn’t.
Thundercat chatted with Hive about his new album, his cat and why his trip to Atlanta nearly made him cry. Hint: It’s cartoon-related.
You must be a pop culture junkie. What are some of your recent obsessions?
What I’ve been into lately has been Adult Swim and Cartoon Network. I’m kind of a simple guy. The best way you can describe it is, I’m the same person I was when I was a kid. Everyone’s like, “Of course you are,” but I’m like, “No, seriously.” I liked ThunderCats when I was a kid; I call myself Thundercat now. I was playing bass when I was a kid; I play bass now. I used to draw pictures when I was a kid, and I draw pictures now. I talked backwards and weird when I was a kid, and I talk backwards now.
I’ve listened to a lot of my friends and others who are around, definitely Mac Miller and Iggy Azalea. Azealia Banks — love what she’s doing. And for the most part, I’m really influenced by cartoons. A lot of the creativity goes into these new cartoons, and that’s basically where I’m at now, because as you get older things translate differently to a certain degree. I don’t play with toys anymore. I mean, I do play with toys, but not like when I was a kid. I don’t crash cars into each other, but now I collect certain toys. As far as pop culture goes, I try to see how it applies my reality now, as opposed to me being a big kid all the time, even though I am a complete, giant kid.
Have you picked up any cool toys lately?
Well, yeah. A few ThunderCats toys. I’ve been really eying a couple of these humongous statues like Silver Surfer, ones that look like these massive statues that could be put in your house as installation art, almost. Other than that, video games all day.
“I’ll share this with you, even though I like to keep some sort of mystery around this stuff: ’Tron Song’ is actually about my cat, not about the movie. I love my cat a lot.”
I heard that you stopped by the Adult Swim office [Atlanta’s Williams Street].
Oh, I was a kid in a candy store. I almost cried. I was, like, touching stuff and being like, “Is it okay to touch this?” and they were like, “Yeah, go ahead,” and we were like, “Yeah.” I’m looking at all of these paintings, and even if there was a booger I was like, “It’s an Adult Swim booger.” “What’s up with this paint chip?” “Yeah, dudes forgot to take this paint chip.” “That’s an Adult Swim paint chip.” It was overwhelming.
They’ve inspired me so much throughout the years. The funniest moment ever was hearing Lotus’ music on Adult Swim and not knowing it was him. Me and Lotus have been working forever, and I was like, “Man, this Adult Swim song is the shit,” and sure enough Lotus is like, “Oh yeah, that’s me.” I’m like, “Dude.”
He recorded a new song for Aqua Teen Hunger Force, right?
Yeah, actually I did that with him. I’m singing, he’s rapping and doing his thing. It’s the same creative process that we’ve always used. It was just like, Aqua Teen Hunger Force is such a great cartoon and we had a really great time, you know?
Apocalypse has a song titled “The Life Aquatic” and another called “Tron Song.” Were they inspired by the films?
I’ll share this with you, even though I like to keep some sort of mystery around this stuff: “Tron Song” is actually about my cat, not about the movie. I love my cat a lot. I’m thinking about getting a little partner, like a little Teacup Yorkshire or something, so that she can beat dogs up all day. Tron’s an amazing cat, very smart and all that.
“The Life Aquatic” — that’s definitely a reference to the movie. That’s one of the funniest movies ever made. One of my favorite directors, a great cast — everything is just perfect and every time I watch it, I laugh. When I heard the song, it reminded me of moments with Bill Murray and the surreal character he’s playing. Every time I would listen to that song, I would hear him.
[Apocalypse] also features a relatively new addition to Brainfeeder, Mono/Poly.
Mono/Poly, the young scientist. He’s a great friend, and I’m very thankful that he allowed me to utilize some of his stuff for this album. He’s actually a big influence on me. The dude is funky as hell, and everything he attaches himself to is — literally, you’re going to move your head. There was a song that I took to — I asked permission to use it, of course — but it was one of those things where I didn’t have any lyrics to it at the time. I had just played on it, but he loved it. He was like, “That’s it. That’s what’s supposed to go on it.” So I said, “Send me some stuff that you feel would make sense, along these lines.” Sure enough, we did [“Oh Sheit It’s X”] and it was awesome.
The album explores themes of loss and rebuilding. Did you also detect this after the fact?
A lot of it didn’t get created until after — a lot of the music didn’t come together until after one of my closest friends died. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t have a direction for what I was working on, but [the loss] kind of represented itself in the process, you know? That’s the only way that I could really describe it. There would be times when I was literally trying to sit down and write something, and I would come up with something that, where I’m from, is pretty funny — “Oh Sheit It’s X.” But the overall theme, literally, was shaped right at the very end. Before we knew it, it was like, “This is it.”
My brother lost one of his best friends, and I feel like that describes that sort of existence perfectly.
You see it, but you’re also reacting to it emotionally, and it’s also reality. It’s about how it affects everything.
A fan walks up to the merch table and asks about Apocalypse. What would you say?
Don’t think too much. Just go and listen to it with open ears, and see how it sits with you. Even if it sounds similar to Golden Age it has its own life, and I would hope that they’d be able to experience it to the fullest and listen from the perspective of how they’re hearing and feeling it on their own. Just enjoy the album, you know? You may not be in the same state, you may not have experienced something in that manner, but I hope that my experiences would be able to help you feel or be able to understand their own experiences, you know?
Thundercat’s Apocalypse is out digitally June 4 via Brainfeeder.