Thundercat is everywhere. If you have even a passing interest in boundary-pushing rap and R&B, you’ve probably found yourself floating through his orbit. Born Stephen Bruner, he is the son of Ronald Bruner, Sr., a drummer who played with Diana Ross and the Temptations. Bruner’s career has featured him writing, performing and recording with a diverse group of notable musicians including Herbie Hancock, Erykah Badu, George Clinton, and Suicidal Tendencies.
More than a hired gun, he’s developed his own sonic persona, starting with his collaborations with Flying Lotus and then coming into full view on his two blistering solo slabs of jazz fusion: 2011’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse and 2013’s Apocalypse. He returned this year with a surprisingly deep mini-album called The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam.
Bruner’s sonic DNA is intrinsic to the fabric of Kendrick Lamar’s iconoclastic statement To Pimp A Butterfly. His ebullient bass playing is prominently featured across the album, along with production credits on “Wesley’s Theory”, “Hood Politics” and “Complexion (A Zulu Love)”. His extensive involvement also put him in a position to see one of today’s greatest artists at the height of his powers from close-up.
“Kendrick is such a dynamic person, man. There’s more to what Kendrick does than [just] rapping,” says Bruner. “It translates in the words so heavily – it feels like an understatement to call him a rapper. Watching his process, watching how open he is to stuff, and when he’s open, he’s fully open. He executes everything that he thinks and it was an amazing process to see.”
Bruner’s influence on the album extends to letting Kendrick in on his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz as well as introducing Lamar to producer Taz Arnold of Sa-Ra, a former collaborator who presaged hip-hop’s current obsession with minimal funk. But his strangest impact on the album hinged on Kendrick Lamar’s preternatural sense of emotional perceptiveness.
“[While composing music for] ‘Mortal Man’, I had been going through a certain set of circumstances emotionally, you know? And I played it for Kendrick and with Kendrick not having seen me, as soon as he heard it, he said, ‘That sounds like something like this happened.” It was like on a whim that he got exactly where the music was coming from: from me. And it freaked me out.”
“He described whatever was going on with me to a T within five seconds and then walked out the room. It put a little bit of HD on everything, like high definition. It was like, ‘This guy’s on it!'”
With events like the Afropunk Festival and albums like To Pimp A Butterfly and D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah serving as contemporary mainstream responses to the unjust treatment of black people in America, there are striking parallels between the black music of today and that of the 1970s, another period of time where social upheaval made for timeless revolutionary music.
“Music has always been the soundtrack to life in a genuine way and art being an imitator of life, this is just the sights and sounds of what’s going on right now. Call it politically, economically, emotionally dealing with the same issues at different levels. This is the soundtrack to that.”
“I don’t wanna specifically call it black, even though it’s one of those things where it’s inevitable that it’ll be considered that to some degree but I feel like the reason that it resonates so hard is that everybody can feel it.”
“Whenever you talk to somebody that lived during the ’70s, they have this certain sense of peace about them. There was a bit of happiness amongst a bunch of darkness. These are those moments like that. Not knowing what’s gonna happen to our country, so to speak. Like, are we still dealing with racism? Is it still like a circus? Am I crazy or are they crazy? Maybe I’m crazy. This is the sound that comes with that.”
The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam finds Thundercat further exploring the vast landscape of his creative talents, a realm that has come to contain echoes of grunge, hard funk and R&B. The languid, relaxed tone of these songs belies the dark lyrics in a way that mirrors Bruner’s inward approach to dealing with problems in real life.
“Whenever stuff gets crazy, I really calm down. I’m the worst person to react to anything. I have catlike reflexes on accident but in real time, if somebody was gonna swing at me, I would get hit but hopefully it wouldn’t knock me out. That calmness comes from the genuine feeling of everything being completely out to lunch.”
In the ten years since Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg started First Aid Kit, they have been going non-stop. The indie-folk duo got their start when their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” went viral, and have since released four albums, won five Swedish Grammis awards, and brought two of their idols to tears on live television. Following a brief hiatus, and four years after their last record, Stay Gold, First Aid Kit is back with Ruins, a raw account of losing love and finding yourself. In the middle of a North American tour, Georgie talked to Klara and Johanna about the new album and what brought them to Ruins. G—You’ve said in past interviews that Stay Gold was a more put-together, polished kind of album, and Ruins is a lot rawer. What caused that shift? JS—The production of Stay Gold is very lush and elegant, and I think that’s what we wanted at the time. But we started longing for this rawness, this almost lo-fi aspect that we had on our first records. [For Ruins]…our attitude was that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. If we sing a bum note or there’s a little crack
Charlotte Cardin is on track to having her biggest year yet. The electro jazz-pop singer has been nominated for Songwriter of the Year and Breakthrough Artist of the Year at next month’s Juno Awards. Along the way, she has performed at Osheaga—an experience she calls “surreal”, having attended for years growing up in Montréal—and Festival d’été de Québec where she opened for Sting and Peter Gabriel. More recently, she has been touring behind her EPs Big Boy (Cult Nation Records, 2016) and Main Girl (Sony Music, 2017). Through this past September and October, she supported Nick Murphy (formerly Chet Faker), and she’s been on tour with BØRNS since January. This spring, Cardin will headline her own dates. Prior to her full-time career in music, Cardin modelled in fashion which afforded her pocket money and freedom to work on her art. She also competed on the first season of La Voix, a francophone Canadian version of The Voice. But being on television, like modelling, was never her passion. “I never really felt that much pressure when I was on TV. For me, there’s something a lot more real about what I’m doing right now.” She feels more pressure performing her own
Garland Jeffreys’ album, 14 Steps to Harlem, grew out of a soulful period of retrospection late in the artist’s life and career. As a veteran songwriter, Jeffreys started writing provocative, ahead-of-its- time, genre-bending songs in the early 1970s, with lyrics focused on everything from relationships to racial diversity to political turmoil. Now in his seventies, the New York musician is looking back on his life with an album that takes on bold topics and includes a title track inspired by his turbulent relationship with his father. Jefferys spoke with Georgie about his latest release, his relationship with Lou Reed and his somewhat unconventional approach to songwriting. Georgie—14 Steps to Harlem is a great album. Garland Jeffreys—Thank you. I’m very proud of the record. I took some chances in recording it but had confidence that it could be something special. You don’t know a record is good or bad until it’s done – then you know. I worked on the album with my co-producer, James Maddock, who’s a great artist in his own right. G—The title track, “14 Steps to Harlem”, stood out to me. I read that it was written with your father in mind. Did the experience of writing about your dad