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.”
A few years ago, Danielle McTaggart was ready to throw in the towel on her music career. Now she and her husband, Drew, make up the powerhouse duo known as Dear Rouge and have two full-length albums and a Juno to their name. Known for their hook-driven tracks—and being “the nicest couple in Canadian music”—Dear Rouge just dropped their sophomore LP, Phases. The record recounts a season of emotional extremes for the couple, including winning the 2016 Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year, and losing a loved one. We caught up with Danielle over the phone to talk about finding joy in music again, and the personal and public significance of Phases. G—On your website, you describe your style as “sinewy, hook-driven indie rock”. Where did that particular style evolve from? DM—I was always very into hook-y music with beautiful melodies. I grew up listening to The Carpenters and they have beautiful melodic parts, but I also always loved harder music and really rock-driven music. Bands like Metric or Yeah Yeah Yeahs or St. Vincent were hugely motivating for me, and I loved that these frontwomen were powerhouses. They’re very confident and trying to push the boundaries while
What do you get when you combine the start of a worldwide tour and the release of a highly-anticipated album on the same day? Ask Lord Huron’s founder and frontman, Ben Schneider, and he’ll say a pretty damn exciting journey ahead. The band’s third album, Vide Noir, released April 20, is already receiving accolades for its raw, lyrical storytelling from songs like “Wait by the River” and “When the Night is Over”. To engage fans at a deeper level, the band plans on creating immersive experiences that elevate the album’s narratives. Lord Huron’s tour includes a stop at Toronto’s Sony Centre on July 25, and at Osheaga in Montreal on August 4. Schneider spoke to us about his love of storytelling, Raymond Chandler influences, and what it was like working with Flaming Lips’ producer David Fridmann. G—You grew up in Michigan. Is that where your interest in music began? BS—There was always music on at our house, and I remember imagining the people the songs were about. The storytelling of songs is what’s always captured me most. As time went on, I was able to convince my parents to let me play bass in the orchestra, which led to me
Morgan Saint was born into a creative life. Upon growing up in Mattituck, NY with a family of musicians on her mother’s side and parents who worked in interior design, Saint graduated from Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, where she has lived for the past six years. With a major in illustration and a focus on photography and graphic design, Saint has executed a clear vision of her musical artistry. In 2017, at the age of 23, Saint released her debut EP, 17 Hero, on Epic Records. She is a storyteller at heart, combining all of her talents to reveal her narrative as truthfully as possible, one vignette at a time, as seen in all three of the EP’s videos, “Glass House”, “You”, and “Just Friends”. She co-produced each glossy, beautifully choreographed, and high-definition clip with Nathan Crooker, but the lyrics are all hers. They come from personal places yet are vague enough to be relatable. Her electronic pop is lo-fi, but you’ll most likely find yourself snapping your fingers to it. As Saint prepared for a sold-out show supporting Missio in Austin, Texas, Georgie connected with her to discuss coming into her own as a songwriter and