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Thundercat has climbed up the ranks of jazz-adjacent music over the past decade, growing from a local Los Angeles bassist into an act that can stun crowds at pop and jazz festivals alike. Over the years, he has collaborated with the likes of Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus, but also Kendrick Lamar and the late Mac Miller.
His versatility is one of his greatest assets, not only as a collaborator but also as a song-writer. His latest album, It Is What It Is, brings together Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Ty Dolla $ign, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole and more to collaborate on sounds of jazz, soul, R&B, funk and beyond.
We caught up with Thundercat over the phone on March 13, directly following the cancelations of virtually every live music event worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, ‘Cat embodied that LA vibe: sunny and cool.
[caption id="attachment_28338" align="alignleft" width="1024"] Thundercat (Photo by the1point8) [/caption]
Thundercat! Thanks so much for taking some time to chat with us. Let’s start off with the new record, tell me about it. How did it come about, and who played on it?
The album is called It Is What It Is, and it just came about the way that albums normally come about. You know, work on them for a while and then they come to fruition how you see fit and then you put them out. It has a few different friends of mine featured on it like Ty Dolla Sign, Lil B, Donald Glover to name a few.
It feels like the features have become bigger and bigger names compared to the early albums.
There were no features on our first couple of albums. That didn't happen until the third album, and a lot of the collaborators are people that I’ve spent time with in real life. People that I know. It’s kind of one of those things that keeps the collaborative process natural. It’s not such a contrived thing. I’ve spent a lot of time in life with Ty Dolla Sign and me and Lil B have known each other for quite some time. And Donald also.
Ty Dolla Sign is an interesting guy to watch. He’s diverse.
Yeah, I would call Ty the king of R&B hands down, but it’s one of those things where that’s just kind of what it is, it’s where we come from, Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has really been at the top of a certain sound and style for quite some time now. It feels like everyone from your scene has received recognition and at least some success.
It's a trip! it's a trip, you know. That’s not something that would have never expected. I didn't know what to expect. It's one of those things where it's kind of like I get blown away on a consistent basis. I want to see it keep going further, naturally. I want to see it grow, you know? I’m happy that jazz is a part of the conversation again, you know?
Of course, us too! I saw you had a bigger band on Jimmy Kimmel recently, but normally when you tour you keep a trio. Are there plans to expand on that for upcoming live shows?
Umm, I don’t know, I feel like I’ll do as I see fit. There’s a big communication line between us as a trio that is really one of my favorite things about getting to play live. On several occasions, I’ve done different things, bring different people on. It’s not something that I consider so weird.
I didn’t think it was weird as much as I thought it was cool to see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any touring is going down for the foreseeable future though. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m not afraid of that, man. You know, we do this because we love it. When something changes, you adapt. You know what I’m saying? I don’t make music just because of the idea of success. I make music because I enjoy it, so I’ll probably just make music.
Yeah, it’s totally time to hunker down in the studio and get creative, even if it means the checks stop coming in for a bit.
I always think about it like any version of this is a blessing, any version where you get a person who pays attention to your crusty-ass doing something. Kamasi used to say this to me when we were younger: “Any day you get a chance to play is a good day.” I remember he would say that to me no matter if I felt like I had a horrible show, he would always tell me, “man it was killin’!” I was like, “but I feel like shit!” And he was like, “Nah man, it was a good show!” He kind of instilled that in me at a young age. I can’t be scared of what is to come with this stupid fucking virus that our president ever-so cautiously let slip under his fucking nose. I’m excited for whatever the changes are.
Yeah, excited is definitely one way to put it. The video for “Dragonball Durag” was just released recently, and it’s a bit of an unorthodox music video. How’d that one come together?
Well, that was just me and my friend doing what we do, being stupid and shit, you know? Me and [director] Zach Fox always picking at each other’s brains in different ways.
I just liked how it was sort of low-budget and DIY. I think getting content out there is so important these days, you know?
Yeah, there’s no wrong way to do it, you know? It’s art, and art takes time, or it doesn’t take any time. It’s not a race, that’s something that Erykah Badu taught me: it’s not a race. You saw what just happened with Jay Electronica. It really isn’t a race, you know?
For sure. I just think with the amount of content that we’re given on a daily basis, that it’s one strategy to always stay in the conversation.
[caption id="attachment_28343" align="alignleft" width="1024"] Photo by Eddie Alcazar[/caption]
This day and age somewhere between the age of information and the age of spirit. All this stuff, we have Twitter and social media and all that, and that’s cool, but it’s one of those things where, like I said, the reason why I do this is because I love it. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything other than that. The timing and everything, that’s the business side of it, but that’s a byproduct of what it is.
Since upcoming tours and festivals have all been postponed. What’s next? Any special studio sessions planned?
Nah not really. When you plan on going on tour that kind of goes away (laughs). I’m with the spontaneity. It’s one of those things where you have to let this thing do what it does, and we’ll figure out what comes next as it comes.
That’s about all we can do. I wanted to ask you about who you’re listening to? Anyone we should put on our radar?
Yeah absolutely! There’s a young cat by the name of Jamael Dean, from Los Angeles, he’s an amazing pianist. Definitely an up-and-coming cat for real, that’s on the piano side. Jeff Parker & the New Breed is something I’ve been listening to a bit. Some other cats that I’ve been listening to are Logan Kane, Henry Soloman, Jacob Mann…a few friends.
I’ve been loving that latest Jeff Parker record also. I’m not going to take up too much more of your time here, so just wanted to see if there’s anything else you’d like to leave our readers with?
Umm, I don’t know what to say…Wash your hands before touching your penis or your mouth!