Stephen Bruner harbors one of these rare souls who instantly ooze familiarity to the degree that it will eventually become tough to determine when you actually encountered him for the first time.
Was it somewhere in the background on one of those rare Sa-Ra live shows back in the day? Some backstage, somewhere, rocking a golden Saurian suit? On stage with Suicidal Tendencies? On the grounds of a festival in some desert, towering calmly in his Native American war bonnet, watching mayhem unleash?
Laying the bass foundations to Erykah Badu’s deep space explorations? Lurking behind a pachinko machine, distracting his comrade Flying Lotus trying to reinvent combo-attacks on Street Fighter XIV, burping sake? Towering over a herd of talent on stage with Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar? Any stage worth its salt, anywhere?
Wherever it may have been, it’s the Alice in Wonderland cat’s brother smirking, subtly reorganizing gravity in a way that none of the other subjects around it would ever realize.
That six-string bass will keep on playing, those dimples smirking, the gaming consoles whirring in the background. With the long-awaited (third) album propelling him further into songwriter and producer realms, it was time to sit down and talk shop. As like any cat, this thunderous character has at least nine lives, and he’s opening up to questions you’ll rarely read a musician, especially of his caliber, expose himself to.
We enter the recording of this five-hour conversation on the last weekend before the US presidential election, in the neutral safe haven of a nondescript Marina del Rey hotel, as there’s tons of rather delicious fine baked goods devoured to the crumbling noise of them disappearing at the speed of light. Thundercat graciously agreed to walk us through each and every song on his (then) upcoming album, Drunk, so here we go...
So, why “Drunk”? Why so blatant? Did you just want to use a five-letter word?
I’ve always tried to hold true to what Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus told me: It has to come from an honest place. I feel like it’s a place that I’ve been in different ways. Seen different angles of and it’s been a bit inspirational, the drinking. It has its ups and downs and everything, but I felt like it showed the human side of what goes on behind things. Something that I see with all of my friends. I felt like it was kind of interweaved in the music culture. And it’s something that’s never talked about.
It’s more like a picture of a time and a period: My experience with the specific drunkness or just how I’ve observed it in people I’m around. Because I didn’t grow up in a household with drinking at all, but at some point I feel like it goes hand-in-hand with other things and many other types of drugs and vices and stuff. It swirls around like gnats. They swirl around like gnats around the music. The music being the shit.
Let’s play the intro. Are you jaded there?
No. I don’t know. Does it sound like that?
“That’s okay, I’m bored. I’m kind of bored.”
Yeah, there’s that point in the day, I think, where somebody would reach the point where it’s, “What else is there to do?” It’s like that one scene in Clerks 2 where they’re standing outside the food spot and Silent Bob gets the radio and then it’s like, “Oh!” Jay starts putting on the lip gloss and he’s like, “Would you fuck me?” It’s me being open-ended about not being bored with everybody but just, “What time is it? Two o’clock?” It’s like, “Hmm. What else is there to do right now?”
You mean 2:00 AM?
2:00 PM or 2:00 AM?
That could be read either way. That’s one of those things. That’s a good question right there. There is where it gets weird. Because which one is too early to drink? At which point is it, I’m fucking up at 2:00 AM or am I fucking up at 2:00 PM? Which one is everybody awake for? 2:00 PM is wrong, 2:00 AM is acceptable?
There’s two interesting things in there: “Acceptable” and “when is it getting too fucked up”?
Yeah, so 2:00 AM is fucked up. No, wait, 2:00 PM is fucked up. It’s more a play on the idea of what it is. I wouldn’t say so much as jaded, it’s just again, me opening up about how I felt and where that comes from.
There’s still the rabbit hole, and which kid doesn’t want to go into the rabbit hole?
Yeah, it’s like, “Let’s see what’s going to happen.” A really fucked up experiment on yourself.
What are the bass sounds in here?
Most of the chord progression, everything. Other than the guitar soloing on top, which is my friend Zane Carney. He came over and we had a couple of nights of sitting there watching Fist of the North Star. Zane is a massive guitar player and I really appreciate that he would even take the time to come over and add to things. He immediately got what I meant, I guess. He went for it, and every time I hear it, his parts are so prominent. As subtle as it feels, this guy is doing some old Ren & Stimpy, he’s going! Those chord progressions are pretty, they’re moving and he just was like, “Oh, let’s go!” I’m like, “Yeah, dude!” Other than that, it’s all bass.
You’re engineering your own bass sounds, or how do you get the different sounds and tones?
It changes. Sometimes it’s post-effects, sometimes it’s pre-, or post-recording. I don’t know. It’s just messing around with the instrument. There’s also Flying Lotus sitting there. Trying to take on different roles with the instrument again. Trying to convey the idea the way you mean it to be from this instrument. It takes on many different frequencies and many different forms and stuff.
Why did you settle on the six string?
The six string became the tool that I would write from more. As I would write from it more, I’d feel comfortable playing it live because some of those parts are really, these thick harmonies and stuff where my hands are coarse, stretched out all weird and stuff. At the same time, that’s what I write with, so that’s how I play it live. There was one point where I was like, “I got to have two bass players.”
It worked to some degree, but then when I started to look at it as I have to play both roles, I stopped being so afraid and then tried to go with it.
I had to not be afraid of that. I also have a friend of mine that is an outstanding piano player by the name of Dennis Hamm, whose brain is just twice as fast. He would play bass every now and again on keys.
Do you feel your brain is slower when you’re drunk?
Is that why you say you can’t play when...
Yeah. I never tried to, my whole entire life. I’ve never tried to play drunk. Maybe one time. I’ve never tried to mix those two. Other than a couple of times, maybe.
It’s the after-party?
Yeah, it’s the part where everybody wants to TALK and everybody wants to... socialize.
You don’t like the talking, social bit?
There’s levels. There’s a part where I can keep up. I’ve toured for years with people where that’s just part of what comes with it. Then there’s the part where you win a Grammy and then everybody wants to talk to you longer. You’re just kind of like, “What’s going on right now?”
Would you enjoy being a musician more if it wasn’t for the shit after?
No, I think the whole idea is that it’s all part of it – it’s embodied in what this idea of a musician is. It comes with what we do, it’s a beautifully distorted thing. It’s just saying that it can play a role in what you do. Would I enjoy being a musician more if I didn’t drink? I enjoy being a musician thoroughly. It’s not a thing of me enjoying it or not.
It’s just a part where it has its ups and downs and twists and turns, inside of the drinking. There’s life lived that you can’t make up for. It has its own merit I think, even if there’s denotation to other things when you get drunk. That’s a whole other person. You’re not talking to the guy that can level and reason. You’re talking to a person whose reasoning has been altered.
What was the night with the hot sauce?
Oh my God. Everybody every now and again sees me and this guy on the internet hanging out. He’s the only guy I talk to on the internet. He’s named Zack Fox, some people may know him as Bootymath. He’s been working on the album artwork with me. Also, he’s just a real genuine friend that I’ve known for a couple years now. So, this is the hot sauce story: Me and him had been watching a series that’s on YouTube, called “Hot Ones,” and I’m sure lots of people have seen it.
They’ll do anything from T-Pain, Eric Andre, to Action Bronson, they have all these different people in it. We watch it and it’s very funny because once they get to the fifth hot wing, they’re in genuine pain, physical pain. Coolio went on the show and had to go to the hospital or something.
We were watching the show, so Bootymath goes, “You know they make other hot sauces that are hotter?” I was like, “Oh really?” At this time we had already gone and tasted the hottest sauce at a restaurant. We had this full-on psychedelic experience with this hot sauce. So we go on Amazon and get this hot sauce, and we’re sitting here having our own Hot Ones challenge with just full-on physical damage happening, straight up. Zack’s falling all over the place. I’m partially – I can’t – my body’s convulsing because it’s intensely hot. I’m trying to act like I’m chilling but this thing is… you know.
We’re like, “Oh cool.” Then I was like, “Let’s do it again.” We keep doing it, so later that night I’m just, I’m completely checked out. He couldn’t leave the house. He was supposed to come to the show with me and he was just like, “I can’t go man.” He’s like, “I can’t go.” He’s out of commission. I was like, “It’s cool. I’m going to go.” There’s still more to the story, there’s the part where I accidentally wipe it on my butthole. Then there’s the part where I accidentally rub it in my eyes the next day. I’ve always been one that enjoys shenanigans. It’s all fun and games until somebody’s eye actually gets poked out I guess. Thank God, I still have both my eyes, basically.
Bus In The Streets
Who’s playing the drums there?
That’s Louis Cole.
He played drums on a couple of tracks?
Yes. Not only did he play drums, he wrote the music for those tracks as well. Throughout the course of this album, timeline-wise, me and Louis had been writing together a bit. I love that song. Louis sent it to me. I immediately felt like, “Oh man, this is a gem.”
It’s interesting when you listen to it, especially stuff you’ve written in more recent times that... even with all your jazz background and so on, it seems like it’s a lot more drawing on a Laurel Canyon-y, Todd Rundgren-y sort of world.
Yeah. Again, that’s part of where I come from, too. That’s why I didn’t feel weird when I was singing on it. I connect very heavily with Louis’s writing.
You wrote the melody and the lyrics. A lot of what you’re doing is still you. I was wondering what it’s like when you’re interpreting other people’s things with your voice or something that is so personalized?
Well, I don’t know. I still try to play the role of not getting in the way of the music, I guess. Try to. I try to... because I know I can’t do everything. Things that I feel like I can do, I go for it. By the time that this song happened, me and Louis had been working together on many different things, too. I felt totally comfortable singing over something like this.
Let’s go back. How long were you in Suicidal Tendencies?
I was there for about 13 years. Just about. I joined in high school. When I first started high school, I joined Suicidal. I went from No Curfew, a little pop band, to doing Suicidal Tendencies.
How much older were these guys?
Shoot, I want to say anywhere from 10 to 15 years?
You’re a bit younger than me, but I remember being 12 and looking at those covers when they’re posing in between the columns and stuff.
I was like, “Oh God, I’m never going to be this manly.”
[laughs] Hey, man, it’s a different dynamic. They were young, man.
How does a kid from a jazz family end up with these rascals?
My older brother was playing with them. My older brother was in the band for about a year before I joined.
Drums. I guess they’d gone through the cycle, after Robert and the other bass player. My older brother was like, “See if my little brother can do it.” It was funny, because I remember Mike Muir putting on a song on. He’d be like, “Let’s see you play this.” I would play it, and he’d be like, “Let’s try another one.” I partially knew the music, so I don’t know if that weirded him out. From then, it just stuck.
Did you ever skate?
I did for a month. I think I fell once on my hand and I was like, “HA! Fool me once.” [laughs] Not doing that again. I’m not even giving kudos to the guys who do it now. It’s like, “You guys are just...” Tony Hawk is as light as a pigeon, I’d imagine, because as many bones as he’s had to break in his life. Skateboarding is rough, if you’re really doing it. I did. I was a little skater kid like, “Yeah, I’m going to skate. Wear my JNCO jeans and listen to Korn, get my girl, skateboard, roll down the street, skateboard.” Then you fall, and it takes you about three to four days to five days to literally get the functions back of whatever it was. I was like, “Oh my God. I’ll never do this again.” And I never did. I still have a couple of skateboards, but no way. I’ll be covered in football gear and bubble wrap before I skateboard again, man.
That sort of music was still a part of your everyday life, when you grew up surrounded by California skater kids.
Yeah, skaters. I was really into Rage Against the Machine and Korn and Slipknot. Fear Factory. [growls] That became part of my upbringing.
Back before the internet existed, in ’84 or ’86 or ’88, it was confusing that there was a punk rock/trash metal band that dressed like...
Gangbangers. I feel like it was a product of the environment mixed with the sincerity of what he was trying to convey. Mike Muir was a beast, and still is. That’s all I can say about Mike. I still talk to him every day. He’s the man.
Did you learn anything from him?
Yeah, I learned a lot from Mike. Mike was the guy that made me stand in front. He’d give me a bass solo, and he would just walk off stage. If I got hit with a boot or a shoe or a beer bottle, I knew I could do better from that confidence on stage. I’d be singing in the mic all the time, getting the confidence and the experience. I had to watch out for him on stage. He would run full-on into me like a football player, like boom, and it was like, “That happened. Pay attention.”
It made me cognizant of the performing environment of being on stage, along with when it came time to play lines that everybody already knows, they’re looking for that one thing where it’s like, “If you fuck it up, you’re getting hit with a beer bottle.” From that to, “How do I add more of who I am and what I do to this moment, to where it doesn’t make things weird?” You’re playing the intro to “Possessed to Skate,” where it’s got these progressions, and it’s like, “Yeah.” Then the song kicks off, and then, “How can I fit these 16 notes into this one area?” If I do it, and I try to execute it right, it will come across right. That’s the way I learned Suicidal stuff. Mike didn’t discourage me from trying to create on the spot. He wanted me to do it more.
As a bass player, what makes another bass player good for you?
I don’t know. There’s lots of different aspects to it. It’s the ability to jump between roles, I think. A lot of the time, it is, overall, what they bring to the music. What I look for is a person’s ability to take the music different places. I’m not saying I need a showman. I don’t need a guy who’s going to do backflips. That has nothing to do with the bass. The frequency is the job of the bass. There’s different tonality to it.
Ultimately, for a bass player it is so much more than just the bass playing. You can take this road or you can take that road. You can be the guy that lays back, or you can be the guy that attacks the music. There’s a world in between, and that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I look for in a bass player.
Two of my favorite people that play key bass are Bernie Worrell and Gino Vannelli’s brother... I forget his name, of course, because you say Gino Vannelli so much you just tend to forget the other Vannelli. The basslines that his brother would play, it was like listening to this guy who was so in tune with the music. Bernie, he goes without saying.
Thinking so highly of Bernie, that never made you want to play keyboards?
No. It just made feel like I had to work harder on my instrument. If the keyboard player could play bass better than a bass player, that’s pretty fucked up. It really made me feel like I want to get better at playing bass.
I love that dude and what he did so much. It was literally... Was it psycho... How does it go? Aqua doodoo? (Aquaboogie?) You know what I’m talking about? It was that bassline specifically.
I don’t want to fuck our audience up, but yeah.
Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop. You know what I’m talking about? The bassline on that was just like, “What?” [laughs] That bassline messed me up. That wasn’t a bass. It wasn’t electric bass. It was key bass. From there, you always have your greatest hits like “Flashlight” and the shit that everybody loves on top, but it’s the little nuances. Then I would listen to his albums, All the Woo in the World and stuff, I was like, “Man, he’s just synthing it out. He’s got everything from this end.” Everything from the synth.
You were never tempted to play chords or acoustic guitar or something like that?
My hands over time were just not allowing... it’s weird. It’s like an eagle trying to pick up a titmouse. He may break his nail trying to get in the grass. Anytime I pick up a guitar, the notes get bent extra hard for no reason. I was like, “I can’t control this finger.” “Lighten up a bit.”
Trying to make people feel better that don’t know how to stretch across your giant-scale fret board?
That’s all good, man. There’s lots of people that can play like that. I mention them a lot, like Hadrien Feraud or Robert “Bubby” Lewis. Hadrien Feraud is one of my favorites, because he has a lot to say from his instrument. He’s trying to push the envelope of the instrument.
What do you make of the simplicity, especially in dance music, of basslines? Let me give you one example here of someone that I don’t think can play an instrument, but you hear immediately when HE did a bassline. [plays DJ Zinc “138Trek”] Totally non-virtuosic.
What do I make of this? It’s that thing we were talking about, the ability to make the right thing. That’s just as killing as Hadrien Feraud, because there’s always so many other routes you can take. Then there’s the right thing, and this is the right thing to me. You see what I’m saying? You can’t not feel that. Even the choice of tone it’s...
[plays Zinc’s “Super Sharp Shooter”]
Even with that one line, I still see that as the bassline. Both of those are basslines to me. That’s still dancing around, knowing where it goes. You see what I’m saying? That takes a skill to be able to know to go around and not get in the way, but still be prominent. Essentially, that’s the role of the bass player. Yes, now you see, that’s dancing. Dancing around it, man. YEP! It’s moving, you know what I’m saying? You like: “What’s coming next?”
To this day, any time one of his tracks drop at the Notting Hill Carnival, it’s… shutdown.
Yeah, you lose it, cause you can FEEL it. That’s the role of a bass player. I think it’s in between melody and harmony, and then there’s rhythm too. Those are all a part of it, they play a role in that. You have to know when to pull each one out, I think.
I’ll never forget the one time I was on stage with Snoop, and he gives me a bass solo, and I’m like, “OK.” I go straight up [makes bass sound], and he’s like, “Stop.” He’s like, “Chill out, man.” I was like...
That’s not the way HE said it.
Yeah, it was worded a little bit different, but in my mind it felt like, “Stop, dude.” I was like, “Oh my God, OK.”
That’s the best Snoop impression you can do?
[laughs] He’s like, “You have to play all those notes, cuz?” I was like, “Alright.”
A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)
Here is that part where I’m always singing to Tron, my cat.
Tron is the cat?
Yeah, that’s Tron.
Alright. You’re talking to him or her?
Her. There is always this part where it’s like, “Tron is a girl’s name,” and then it’s like, “Yeah, and I know a couple o’ girls named Timothy.” Tron’s my favorite girl in the world, other than my daughter, and my mom. I can’t do that, can’t leave one out there, then one of these days they’re going to hear that and be like, “You’re a piece of shit, Stephen.” Tron is really inspirational to me. I have these moments when I find myself thinking that Tron is my therapist. I’ll be talking to her, and she’ll be looking at me like... I don’t know if she understands everything I’m saying. She’ll just sit there, and it’s the best therapist ever because she just walks away at the end of whatever I’m saying like, “Whatever you said, sure. Feed me.” Then it’s like, “Alright,” and I’ll just get up.
I tend to write about her a lot. One of these days, Tron, if she ever learned to speak English, “Just know that’s your boy, I’m looking out for you. I got a lot of love for you, kitty!”
You’re very clear she doesn’t understand you?
There’s been a couple of times where my friends think that we have a relationship more than what people deem... It’s pretty funny. Everybody gets mad because I call my cat sexy, and she responds to it. I’m like, “You’re sexy, Tron,” and she goes [meows]. Everybody from my mom to my dad to girls are, “Stop doing that!” and I’m like, “No. I’m calling my cat sexy because she is sexy, and I want her to be sexy.” She is. Everybody’s like, “You have a really pretty cat,” and I’m like, “Because I call her sexy every day.”
That’s just a lot of fun at home. I always have a bullhorn, so while she thinks she’s nice and chilling, I blow the bullhorn and chase her around the house like I’m going to kill her, and she runs off. She peeks around the corner like, am I playing, or am I really going to kill her? I just have a lot of fun. I made her a little box today. I didn’t take a photo, did I? There she is right there. There’s the Grammy, comic books and Tron.
You’re like the classic Marvel dude?
Oh yeah. Not because they just start putting out movies. That’s been a long time in the works, man. That’s middle school. I still have all the cards from when I was a kid. I’ll always be a Marvel kid, even if they suck.
What’s that down there?
That’s the animated TV shows on vinyl collection. Danny Elfman did the music for Batman, the Animated Series. You saw that X-Men number one back there, right? Pow! Yeah!
You’re not reading Moebius or Vertigo things?
A bit, yeah. There’s a couple. I’ve always been an Image fan, of course. That was the big jump. There’s this whole DVD that I have that explains the changeover from Marvel to Image, and how all these guys who worked at Marvel were such a prominent part of Marvel. They had these odd stories for the characters, crazy slight steampunk/morbid, violent, really weird part of the emotional spectrum with these heroes, like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Cable, Bishop, these introductions of all these time travelers and stuff. This was done by the guys that created Image, and they left Marvel to create Image. From them leaving Marvel, they created Spawn and Darkness and Witchblade and Savage Dragon, and... what’s the other one... I think it is the New Mutants, a couple of things like that that were pillars of my youth and still. I don’t have an Image comics tattoo because Marvel... that’s a special place. I definitely grew with them.
This is about a lover?
Feel like it’s a never-ending tale. It is a lover. It is a person that loves you. There’s love and love lost. That’s what that is for me.
Which do you prefer?
Good God. That’s another age-old question there. [laughs] That’s a pretty intense one. Which one do I prefer? I want to just believe in... I do want to believe in love and not being that far from it. There’s things in life, though, that take you different ways. You go through it. You fall in and out of love a lot. Sometimes...
Do you fall in and out of love a lot?
I’m saying the human experience. There’s moments. There’s the joke about the great white buffalo, the one that got away. Your first girlfriend’s like the great white buffalo. It’s like, “She had it right, and I messed it up.” There’s that and to meeting somebody that’s good for you one way and terrible for you in many other ways. I don’t like throwing the term around, but it’s the idea that... moments that actually meant something to you that changed. In a way, it’s in and out of love, or what’s to be considered emotionally attached to somebody.
The weird thing is to call it love a lot of the time too, because there’s a part where it feels like love denotes to so much more than the physical act of feelings something for somebody.
And it’s weird to say falling in and out of love because love is like a sacrifice, love is more than what a person emotionally does for you in the moment that makes you feel good. I’ve been through a few relationships myself. It’s like falling down a hill sometimes. You’ll just be like chilling and then you’re not chilling.
Falling down a hill is a pretty good metaphor. One day you’re like, “Top of the world, ma!” The next day it’s like, “Fuck. Who shat on me?”
It’s like that one moment when you’re watching one of those fail videos where there’s this guy riding a bike. You can see first he was struggling to hold on to control of it and then the bike goes flying this way. He’s just like in the dirt. Exactly, that is that. I would think everybody’s experienced something like that. That feeling. That feeling of free falling.
It’s pretty emo-melodramatic in here with, “I’ll just close my eyes, hope I wake up dead. Don’t want to live without you,” and so on.
Yeah, you know. It happens. It happens, man.
Still, you get to it maybe in the “in another life” bit. Do you believe that or is that just something people say?
I think that you can even have other lives while you’re here still. It doesn’t mean that, “I’m going to see you on planet Zarbicon and we will fall in love then.” No, it’s not that. I’m not going to come back as a cockroach and trail you as you’re the cyborg fighting crime. “There’s this roach following me. I think he’s in love with me.” I’m not going to do that. I’m going to say that having other lives sometimes can be an immediate moment. Maybe you met a weird version of me or I met a weird version of you and then the next time you talk to me it’s a different person. It can mean so much.
That is the thing that’s hard to accept in these things, that even if on paper everything is totally dandy: There’s always shit going on in another human being’s life that neither you or they have control of over.
They’re trying to navigate themselves. They’re the ones going downhill and they’re about to crash into you or you’re the one behind them going downhill and you’re going faster than they are.
What’s going on here? Sonically, it’s a little different than the others. In a way it’s more like the Stranger Things to the Breaking Bad. At least a little bit more of the different reference, it seems.
Were there other people involved, or why is that?
Well yeah, that’s Flying Lotus’s production of it.
Flying Lotus channeling his ’80s vibe.
A little bit of disco. How do I describe this song? This is pretty intense talking about these songs like this. [long pause] That song feels closer to me talking about death than anything. It’s the inevitable. I don’t know. That was just my identification with it. That’s literally all I can tell you about that song.
It’s been a specific situation?
Not just that it’s that. It is the part where you’ve gone different places emotionally to the point where you feel the extremities of, “Aw, man.” Watching death around you and that feeling of helplessness sometimes, but then at the same time having to know that that’s part of the process.
Day & Night
We could go to this next guy. It’s kind of funny. I might want to say there is a bit of that Wally Badarou, Nassau-vibe in there.
The funk is always the point, I think.
Yeah, but in a different way than in the rest of the tracks.
Mmmhmm. [affirmative] I think this album is as sporadic as... It’s meant to do that a bit. There’s all of that in that moment.
Show You the Way feat. Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins
Before we talk about the people here, what is the actual song about?
That song to me is about going down the rabbit hole, taking you to another place. It’s me denoting, “I can show you how to get to another place.” On the edge of dark, there’s the brightest light. It means a lot to me in the sense of... the experience that I’ve had growing up with friends and people that I’ve been around where it’s inviting them into where I come from emotionally. Sometimes it’s a pretty intense thing. The point is how weird things can get. I feel like it’s very funny that, in a way, of course Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins would be there.
Who is the Cat and who is the Mad Hatter?
[laughs] Exactly. I felt even meeting them in the song, they were like, “Let’s show you how to do it.” That’s what I felt like they were doing for me with this. Because I didn’t write it by myself, I wrote it with Michael and Kenny. I had the part that I wrote and then Michael wrote his part and then Kenny found his place and how he felt comfortable in the song. We’re all talking about going to this different place. There’s so many different ways to interpret it, but for me personally it is about going down a rabbit hole.
Is that how you explained it to them, as well?
Yeah. I almost didn’t want to give them a reference. But they were like, “What are you talking about?” I’d be like, “What does it feel like I’m talking about?” That’s how I approached writing with them.
Who’s the MC on there, the person who introduces everyone?
Oh, that’s me. That’s me being like a lounge... “Ladies and gentleman.”
Is that your exit plan? Like a Vegas show host?
I’ve got the long microphone. I remember doing the intro and me and Lotus were dying. It was like, “There’s no way we can not not do that on this song.” You’ve got to introduce them because it’s so grand-esque that these guys hadn’t written in so long.
How did it come together in the first place?
Well, it started with Kenny Loggins and it started with his son, actually. I was asked on the radio: “If you can take anybody with you on an island...” Even if it sounded like it was joking, I wasn’t joking. These are guys that I’ve listened to and where I felt that I’ve learned that honesty in the music.
Kenny Loggins is one of my favorite songwriters. One of my favorite songs is “Heart to Heart” because you can hear the life that he’s lived in that song. That song was so much of the inspiration behind this album. That song, literally, I would sing it all loud. I’m like, “Kenny knows what’s going on. He gets it. He’s been there. He’s been to the wall.” I used that as a guiding light for the album.
I think at the time my friend, Dennis Hamm, had been working with Kenny Loggins’ son and Kenny, touring with them. He would watch me every now again go off about Kenny Loggins. I was like, “Kenny Loggins is the one. He’s the guy. He gets it. It sounds like he’s been through so much life.” He’s like, “I’ll reach out to him and see if he’d be interested in maybe working.” I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
When Kenny reached out to me, the first question he asked me was, “Are you joking?” It was a weird moment. He was like, “Are you serious about working with me?” I was like, “Absolutely.” He opened up to it and he listened to the music.
At first he was a bit skeptical of it, I think, because I’m not the biggest artist. But it was one of those things for me where I really nerded out. He was trying to feel out what the situation is. If I’m going to football tackle him. He thinks he’s on a TV show. “You’re being punked.”
He listened to the music and he calls me back and he goes, “I’m listening to your music, man. You sound very jazz influenced. Are you into Mahavishnu Orchestra?” I was like, “Yeah.” He literally goes, “OK, I’m going to call Michael McDonald because I think that this would be a good chance to get him involved, because he’s also that kind of person.”
I literally almost peed on myself. I silently freaked out. I was like, “OK, sure.” I was like, “Whaaaaaa… What the hell, man?” Michael McDonald, he reaches out. I guess he does the talking to Michael McDonald and the first person I met in the studio was Michael McDonald. I get there and Mike’s sitting there, he’s got the silver hair and flannel shirt.
Michael McDonald would send me a voice memo and I would break down crying, man.
Over time I would play them different ideas and stuff I’d been working on and then I really did want them to work on a couple of songs specifically, but I didn’t know how to introduce them because they were just these small pieces of songs.
I think one of the most beautiful moments of it was realizing how amazing Michael McDonald was. He would go through so many ideas and have so much to offer. The minute you would say, “Do that again,” he’d be like, “Do what?” It was like magical, just to see it. Then he was like, “Let me take it home for a little while.” He would send me a voice memo and I would break down crying, man. When I finished [the song], it was like one of those moments where, even between me and Lotus, we were like, “Yo, this is kind of tight.”
There’s even more to it. One day Kenny said, “I hadn’t seen Michael in so many years. It’s cool that we got the chance to work together again.” For me, I was just like… floored. I didn’t know what to say. It was pure happiness, but I was blown away.
Some of my friends know me, I would always sing things in a fake Michael McDonald voice. I’d respond to people’s questions as Michael McDonald or I’d be singing a Drake song in a Michael McDonald voice.
I’d walk around the house and Michael McDonald it out. Got your eyes closed and you got your fist balled up.
Does Michael McDonald close his eyes while he’s singing?
Yeah, he’s that guy, still.
I don’t know what the correct English term for it is, but that register between your falsetto and your full functioning voice: All those gray areas. He’s just so good at that.
Even with the raspiness. That’s something I learned about my voice. That’s why I always sing in a high voice, because that part of my voice, it’s difficult. It’s a strain to do that. That’s what makes him even more magical. You still strain to sing it, but it feels so right. Michael McDonald, man.
Walk On By feat. Kendrick Lamar
What is the drum machine?
It’s an 808 or 707 or 606. Something like that.
You’re “a drunk wrestler”? So, what’s going on there?
It’s exactly what it sounds like. Nobody wants to drink alone at the end of the day.
Do you drink alone?
There would be times. I think that everybody gets to that point where sometimes something is so overwhelming to the point where you would need to take a step back and think. Sometimes there’s alcohol there, sometimes there isn’t. There’s a part where... Yeah. You don’t ever want to be by yourself and I think that’s just what I’m saying in that song.
I guess that’s some different quality. I totally get these moments of loneliness and when you really badly do not want to be on your own. How in Japan, someone who pours his own sake, as in someone who drinks alone, is an insult? That’s why you always pour another person. If you turn to that as consolation or for comfort then it’s definitely reaching a different level of when it becomes uncomfortable.
I guess it is multifaceted, how it works. It can be a lot of different things to you and that song for me is just that. It’s a different part of the spectrum of what alcohol could be. It’s a darker part. Again, it happens every now and again. You just have to try to come back from it, I guess.
How does Kendrick’s verse fit in there?
He asked me what I was feeling with this song and my conclusion is: Kendrick’s a storyteller. He’s very good at telling a story, so he made the song into a story. There’s a bit of a conversation happening between two guys. That’s how I’ve seen it. The references he makes are almost PTSD, like where he’s talking from a different perspective. It could be considered like, “He’s just talking bout some hood gangbanging shit. Then, there’s a part of it where even the song being called “Walk On By,” it’s about – when you really think about the moments where, you can see it as where it’s walking away from a crazy person. That conversation that’s happening is between two guys that are there, I think. That’s not saying that Kendrick drinks like that, but him being able to understand and convey the message of the conversation within that moment is what that is. It blew my mind that he picked that up and then I picked that up from where he was going.
Then, he asked me about it. He was like, “What do you think?” I was like, “Again, with the first instinct. It’s always the one.” I don’t really stray away from that a lot of the time. Even though there’s always so much more that can be done. If somebody spends time with something... When I told him how I felt about it he was like, “Exactly”, and I was like, “Wow.” I feel like we’ve told the story with that song to a certain degree.
When you say it could be considered about gangbanging, was that a part in your upbringing as well? Were you confronted with gangs and that?
Oh, yeah. Of course, man. That was part of everyday processing in your mind. My church was right on the street where the 1992 riots started. My school was built on the street where the 1965 riots happened. Everything surrounding that was all the stories you hear about gangbanging. Crips and Bloods and all that stuff. It’s all interweaved throughout our... especially black culture in LA.
It spread throughout everything because it became popular, but it was things that would get turned inside out on each other. Whereas you had the cops beating people up to then it just turned into the people beating people up and that’s what happened essentially overall with gangbanging. It was self-hate. Nobody would say it. Your mind has been deteriorated to a certain degree to the point where you just become the killing machine yourself and that’s what happened, I think.
It’s always been interweaved in the culture of how LA functions. I throw the word “cuz” around real quick because it’s part of my upbringing. Everybody likes to act like a gangbanger and everybody loves to have the affiliation, but it’s an era that was really dark. All kinds of unnecessary things happening. People were to think that it was normal, but that wasn’t normal. Growing up in it and being in and around it. Even for Kendrick, whenever he talks about it, even though he knows and has an affiliation, you could see how it perplexed his mind. I think him talking like that and conveying that, I think he made his point.
Would it go to the degree that you chose the color of the sweater you’re wearing on purpose?
No, when I was younger I wasn’t allowed to wear red at all. Literally.
Blue is so common that there’s no way you’re not going to wear blue. Janitors wear blue. Everybody is blue somewhere, but red was ... My brother, all he ever wanted to wear was his Jordan’s. My mom would never buy my brother Jordan’s. Polo and everybody would make all these bright colors. You’d better be wearing yellow or neon green. That’s where all those weird, retarded colors came from in the ’90s. “Why’s everybody wearing… Magenta? Cerulean?” Because they didn’t want to die. There’s so many other colors.
I was actually not allowed to wear red growing up and, of course, psychologically, you’re like, “What the hell?” I get old enough and you realize, “I’m a grown-ass man. I’m going to wear a red sweater if I want to wear a red sweater.” I’m not going to wear it in certain areas at certain times, but I’m going to wear a damn red sweater.
I guess at the YG thing you went to recently, you were safe in red.
There’s so many different things. The face of gangbanging has changed from the ’90s and ’80s. People aren’t smoking PCP like they used to. It’s not the first choice of drug.
That kind of helps.
We’re going to go to the function. Oh, cool. You’re going to try to get some chicks? No, we’re going to smoke PCP. The night’s going to end in murder. Why not just listen to some music? Protect the people from the cops. That’s all embodied in that verse that Kendrick puts on that.
Were there many people that turned out to be athletes around you?
Did I have many people that did?
Not a lot that I paid attention to. There’s one guy that I know that plays for the North Carolina Panthers named Richard Marshall. I went to high school with him. Maybe even my pastor’s grandson at my church when I was a kid, his grandson started to play for the Trail Blazers, but no, not a lot of sports. All my friends turned out to be musicians, that’s all I hung out with was musicians. There’s Kamasi [Washington], then there’s Cameron [Graves], and then there’s me and Ronald [Bruner, Jr.], and then there’s Terrace [Martin].
Did you feel that when Biggie said, “Either your slinging crack rock or you’ve got a wicked jump shot”? Did that apply to you?
No, I think that was just specific to New York. That’s a Brooklyn thing. I’m pretty sure that may have applied back in 1986 based on Ice-T and Afrika Bambaataa wielding the hip-hop sword. No, I’ve never thought about slinging crack. I’ve never sold drugs. There’s always an option. It’s like jumping off a building is also always an option, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to take it. It’s just there.
I remember those moments when there’s some after-party and there’s a big fucking rock on the table and some guy just says, “Take whatever you want.”
You still have to make the decision to be like “It’s kinda…” “no, it’s not.” “It looks ...” “Nope, not even remotely going to teeter that line.” You just innately know. It’s almost like your body just runs immediately. It’s like somebody fired a gun. You’re just like, “Get that shit away from me.” There’s some guys that would indulge in that shit. I’m pretty sure they’d dance for three days straight.
There’s definitely a line between consuming and selling.
Yeah, and both of them are just as shit. Both of them. You’ve got to get somebody addicted so they come back and it’s like, “You’re a piece of shit.”
You’ve seen how things in your neighborhood, reflected through pop culture, and get popularized to an absurd level.
Yeah, and you’re just like, “Really? OK.” That’s really how it would feel. Even seeing gangbanging become a popular thing. The hood was down the street from Hollywood, so you’d be like, “OK.” It was a weird thing growing up and you had your friends that want to be like gangbangers and join gangs and then go to prison and you’re like, “What did you think was going to happen? You thought you were going to Wolf of Wall Street this motherfucker? What are you doing? This is not the same dynamic.”
I definitely saw friends of mine die, growing up, in really volatile ways. I saw a guy getting shot in the face and dumped in a trash can in the back of my high school. Guys getting beat beyond recognition for no reason. Wrong gang. Sure, let me try to keep my distance.
How do artists that made it keep that distance?
It doesn’t. I feel like it’s a subculture still. it’s always a subculture. It’s a wave of immaturity, a youth thing that happens. Even knowing where [gangs] started from. It didn’t start in a bad place. It was meant for good and it got collapsed on itself. It’s unfortunate, but at the same time so many other things came out of it.
You look at that picture of Snoop Dogg and you go, “That dude came out of a crazy era.” Especially with where he came from. You know the story, you know the whole murder trial, getting shot. I don’t think Snoop got shot, but the murder case he almost caught.
You watch very interesting shades of it again where you see Kodak Black where he almost went to jail for 30 years on a rape charge. It’s like, whoa. From almost being a millionaire one day to going to jail for 30 years. Even in itself, that’s absurd. You know what I mean? “Here’s $1 million. No wait, I’m sorry. You’re going go to jail for 30 years.” In reality, that is fucked up. That’s like, “Ha! Guess what? I’m sorry, I’m not going to kill you. Sorry, wrong neighbor. I meant to kill that guy. I’ll put the gun away.” What? That’s weird. Again, these are the things that this song embodies.
From Kodak Black to “Blackkk.” What is “Blackkk” about? Why that spelling?
I don’t know. That was originally.. The way this song started was it was a title given by Sounwave from TDE and I just left it because I could feel, I think, where he was coming from because of the odd time signature and what it made him feel. For me, it became more than that. It became a thing of talking about going somewhere else again. It’s almost like the same thing that would happen with [Kendrick Lamar’s] “Complexion.”
The original name of “Complexion” was “Death March” and it was talking about partying. When Kendrick heard it he was like, “This song is ‘Complexion.’” You feel something different, but at the same time it feels like it’s still part of the experience of the album because, underneath it, there is that and we’re seeing that everyday now. Watching everything regress. We watch everything go backwards, basically.
We’re watching everything regress, it’s pretty pitiful. The lyrical content about the song is not about that, but if I was to play it live it would translate completely differently.
Because it would become a bit more of Afro-jazz. It wouldn’t be a cool, laidback song because it is still the aggressive... The music would be a bit aggressive. It’s cool, man. The title is completely juxtaposed to the actual song, but I’m okay with it.
Basically, I love Tokyo. There’s some life that’s been lived in Tokyo. I could tell you a few of my experiences with Tokyo, where the first time I went to Tokyo was with Leon Ware. I had to be 17 or 18. I remember how much fun I had in Japan the first time. I forget certain things about it, but it was like going from watching Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT to, like, fucking “This is pretty awesome.”
It was insane to me. The thing is, you get infatuated over here because the culture is so popped out, like J-Pop. Now we’re not into J-Pop, but even Dragon Ball and the idea of anime and how enthralling it was as a young male.
I remember, I talk about it in the song, my first encounter with Dragon Ball Z was there was a dentist that slapped me with one of those bracelets that wind around your wrist, and it had this little photo, as if it was film, with scenes from Dragon Ball and I was like, “Who are these guys?” I remember just staring at my bracelet. I was like, “This looks cool!” Never saw the cartoon or anything, but my bracelet was everything. I was like, “What the hell is Dragon Ball Z?” Then, literally, when it would come on Saturday mornings at six or seven in the morning – because they didn’t think that it was going to be a big deal out here – it was almost like a mania [for me]. Then of course Pokemon hit and it just drove everybody up, like somebody just broke the wall down, and it was like, “Pokemon!” You know? Everything from the first experience to where I go there now as me, it’s always been a bit of a love affair.
Throughout the course of working on Kendrick Lamar’s album, I would almost religiously watch the movie Fist of the North Star, like every day. Every day, Torsten. Sounwave would come over to my apartment and be like, “Really, man?” It’d be quiet, but it would just be in the background consistently. I would be like, “You don’t know what this cartoon means to me, man. This is the best anime movie ever made.” Yeah, so that’s the story of Japan to me.
There’s so much more to it, once you get a chance to visit a lot, it’s not about the whole “Kawaii!” thing. You get to see the spirit of how people really are. The part where they talk to you and where they don’t talk to you, and the things that they do say, and the things that aren’t said. The things that you need to learn about. The things they tend to try to hide and keep to themselves, all those different little things.
Even realizing those motherfuckers party like there’s no tomorrow. That was a realization that blew my mind. I think that was the first time – and we’re brave heroes – like, “Is the sun coming up again?” I’m like, “Have we been out until tomorrow?” Literally, it’s like, “Oh my God, these guys go crazy. Tokyo is fucking awesome!” You know? Then you just, like, enter the void, you’re like, “Yeah!” So that’s what that song is for me, it’s genuinely a love affair with Tokyo. Big cheers to Tokyo, or just Japan in general. Even though I haven’t been all over Japan, but Tokyo specifically.
Jameel’s Space Ride
Another anime thing for me was Golden Boy, another one of my favorites of all time. I actually have a song called “Golden Boy” on the first album, a reference to the cartoon. It’s about this guy that’s learning to be a man and learning these women’s intentions with him. His intentions are pure, but the women’s aren’t always. It’s crazy, yeah, it’s really intense. If you ever get a chance to watch Golden Boy, it’s pretty funny.
I would compare my little brother [Jameel] to Golden Boy. It’s like he’s the guy that’s going through life, figuring stuff out on the fly. Intentions being really weird and pure, but at the same time, that doesn’t translate the same all the time. I draw inspiration from my little brother a lot. The things that he would experience every day was like my... Me seeing him, and drawing inspiration from him and at the same time, being able to relate.
As far as a recent situation goes, I’m not sure I like the title of this song.
Hey, man. You see what I’m saying? It’s real life, it’s like the moment of... You know? Oh, my gosh, I’m not even going to... I think, literally, that one literally just deserves no explanation, because it’s that moment of...
Fuck, man! Yeah, man. It’s an interesting place to be, because it’s like you want to be... It’s such a psychological leap, it’s a psychologically weird thing that a woman can do to a guy. You know? I mean, if it was a guy to a girl, whatever the case may be, the turtle to a turd, whatever. Everybody nowadays gets offended if you just, you know... I think it’s something we’ve all experienced in very interesting ways. It’s a place I’ve definitely been more often than not. It’s funny, man, it’s funny. [hysterical giggle] Now I’m thinking about the places that that song comes from, it’s just really funny.
It’s good that you can laugh about it now.
Right, you laugh to keep from crying. Oh, God. Man.
That one gets a bit more specific, obviously. The next song actually says the girl’s name. Like, “I’m talking to YOU!”
Both songs are about the same girl?
No, no… of course not.
Of course not!
It’s one of those things that’s like... Like you’re in love and love lost. Everybody heard this song and was like, “Whoa!” They could relate to that moment, because I think... It’s like you go through that moment, you just get just fucking ripped in half sometimes. That’s what this song is. I had a moment with the person and... I don’t know if they had never been listening to my music. This is the person that I’d been with for a while.
I think you told me when you were… drunk.
Yeah. Yeah, it’s usually when she had a moment of like, “Wow, I didn’t know that that was...” I was like, “Of course you didn’t,” you know? That’s why that song was written.
Oh, are you saying I should fire up the Ableton while I’m on a 12-hour flight?
Hey, man, you got to internalize it. The more you internalize it...
Record the vocals on the airplane toilet?
Yeah, dude. Let the anger flow, man. The dark side of the force, you know?
The weird thing is I’m almost not angry.
Oh, you get over it: “You don’t see it, if you don’t see it, I’m not going to try to make you see it.”
I mean, I find it sad, very much so, but... What can you do?
Even as friends, they don’t want to be with you, they still want to be your friend, but they want you to still... You have to draw the line somewhere, it’s up to you. It’s a messed-up dance, where it’s like one of your legs is short or something and... You keep bumping foreheads for no fucking reason. “Why is this happening?” You know?
You still got hope?
Yeah. I’d never lose genuine hope in the idea, because it’s hard work. The truth is, one thing I feel like I’ve learned playing the bass is that, the truth is, it’s hard work no matter what you want. You know? Just because it doesn’t come to you immediately doesn’t mean that it won’t, because at the end of the day, when it does show up, you’re still going to have to work at it.
You’re going to have to work at working at it with somebody else that may not want to work at it as much as you do. You just have to try to be in the moment and not drag all the other stuff or be too confident. Every time I hear that song, “Them Changes,” I think about writing it and how happy I was writing it, because of how I felt the music was coming out and then the lyrical content being from that same place where it was pretty dark. But then I would hear it back, it almost would make me laugh a bit, because it was like “Yeeez.” You know? It’s like, “What the hell happened?” Because a lot of the time, I feel like the music is a bit of a document. We’re documenting moments that you have…
On a more upbeat note, that song could easily be your retirement fund, could it?
HAH! My retirement plan?
Yeah, because I mean, when people that grow up with that, like in ten years or so, they’re going to be music supervisors on that TV show, blah, blah, blah, that ad agency. It’s a very sync-able song.
Oh, man. I could only hope one day that I would make money off of it like that. It’s one of those things, we live in the... I call it the wild, wild west of the internet right now. Every time I see millions of plays and I see... I don’t have the “millions of plays”-house. I’m kind of like, “Cool.” Yeah.
If you have a really, really smart guy with sick humor, you could just put that to a CSI crime scene.
Right, right, right, right. Exactly, like the opening scene, where they do the whole thing, where they’re dancing and then it’s like –
Yeah. That’s funny. That would be great if CSI used it, that would be fucking hilarious.
Drink Dat feat. Wiz Khalifa
You know what this is about...
Black and yellow?
Right, that’s black and yellow. No, but that’s exactly what that sounds like. I feel like there’s a few moments on this album where I’ve had these really intimate moments with the people that are there. Wiz being… I feel like a pillar in this album is that song, because it’s like a really bold statement as to exactly what it is. It’s that part, even the song before it, describing that part, here comes that part, and the part being the part where I’m like… gone. You know?
Wiz smokes, and I always had this theory that the smoker and the drinker find each other. He would trip out watching me drink sometimes and be like, “Whoa.” He’d be like, “Man, it’s pretty crazy.” I was like, “The way you smoke, that’s just the way I drink.” It didn’t scare him – it was definitely intense for him, though. It was like, “Wow, there it is.” The smoker and the drinker personified, and I feel like that’s that song.
We found a place that made sense, because even for him, I think it was a stretch trying to figure out where I would make sense in his world, too. We had experienced a bit of life together, too. He had been recording, working on music, he was married to Amber Rose at one point. Another guy that gets the struggle of those things. Every time I see him, he tells me he loves me, man.
That’s all along with Taylor Graves doing the drums and the synth playing and all that. We all came to this moment, even those lyrics. It’s like, “Can’t open my eyes, girl. I’m just too wasted.” It’s like...
Why did you call on him? You could have easily called 10, 20 other people, of which most you worked with before.
Well, to me, it’s not about the fact that I could call everybody. It’s about the parts where... The things that stood out to me. The process of recording this album, it’s the connection you wind up having with somebody and the places you meet each other. That’s the literal only way I could describe it, because even with those moments, there’s not a lot of people that can relate to the darker part of it, and that’s what I’m saying, that there was something special about that song.
Everybody I would see every now and again, Wiz’ll mention me working on some stuff with him and being like, “Yeah,” and he did 28 Grams and he shouts me out on it, because I’m playing bass on the songs. We would write a couple of songs and things together. They were these beautiful songs that were way different to what people would expect from Wiz. Like I said, we shared a special moment in that creative place and so I feel like that place is... You could feel it, I would hope, in the fact that me and him, the way we’re talking and singing on this song, because it’s not like I’m trapped out at all.
I’m not like “Taylor Gang or Die,” I’m not that guy. You know, this like, “Well, where the fuck does that connection happen?” It’s like that’s exactly how it really works, it’s like you never know and that’s the magic of music. I would hope that people could see that and take it for face value, because it almost has a bit of comedy to it a bit. It’s pretty silly, but at the same time, it’s still very much the serious thing about it.
You said something earlier about musicians wanting to be comedians. How do you handle your social media?
Oh, you see... I may just post a dick pic tomorrow. If I’m angry enough. I’m not saying it’s going to be mine, either. I’m just posting dicks, you know, because at the end of the day, it’s still the place of information, but it’s social vomit. It still is, and I’m not saying I’m not part of it, because all I do is sit up and talk about busted nuts on everything. Ray J – I keep including Ray J in the weirdest parts of the conversation – but I still look at Twitter as fun. I look at it as fun, you know?
It’s like, you got to have fun on there, other than that, it’s just black people getting shot and maybe the end of the world… again. It’s just that’s all it is. People still know how to draw and people still make cool music, and World Star tends to keep everything really funny. They have a good grasp of social media. Their tweets, they are fucking golden.
Well, “Inferno”... It was the feeling of what’s going on right now. Me talking about darker days ahead. We watched the last several months progressively get really weird. Watching everything get a bit weird again, to the degree of where’s it like you feel like it’s almost touching close to home, like it could be YOU. You know the term “out of the pan and into the fire”? It’s a bit of a saying, I guess. The descent into madness.
There’s a song I wrote on Flying Lotus’s album, called “The Descent Into Madness,” and it’s the feeling of “am I going crazy?” Again, I mentioned this several times in the album. It’s like you’re joking and then it’s a bit not funny anymore. It sucks, so I feel like that’s why it’s like calling it the inferno.
That’s a lot broader than just your own personal situation.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Another thing for me is one of my favorite movies is The Inferno, an Italian horror movie, where it’s like these levels of hell. It feels a bit comforting knowing that things are that crazy sometimes.
In general, you seem to be a relatively cheerful guy.
It’s the part where it’s so not funny that it is funny. It’s like that part where it’s like, “Wow.” You know?
Is the end stretch of the album all about short, dark things?
I don’t know, I can’t remember what comes next after “Inferno.”
I Am Crazy
Oh, yeah... See what I’m saying? It’s like I will ask the question, “Am I going crazy?” As short as that is, that’s just straight to the point. “Like bittersweet memories cloud my faded mind and if I was so lucky, I could press rewind, or could it be that I’m just crazy?” Everything’s actually okay. It’s me posing a question to myself a bit, and at the same time, asking somebody.
In your opinion, is it more acceptable in bass playing to hear the fingers moving on a string?
No, a lot of the time, it’s how it’s played, as far as even the choice of notes and the chord. Sometimes it can be really intrusive, because of how higher the frequency of the guitar can be. It’s like it’s already this weird... Then when you add an effect or something to it, it can be so far away from the subtlety of what it could be, due to the fact that the frequency of the bass is that much lower. Almost in a frequency that it isn’t intrusive, even if I’m playing something that’s pretty, you know?
Other than that, I would guess a Spanish guitar is something that people tend to, because it’s got this weird acoustic sound, but there’s this weird darker tone it has to it. And with how far the strings are and then being nylon strings and the body’s this wide of a chamber... I would feel it’s something to that degree. But if it just doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t sound good. But literally, if I had my friend play something (on a guitar) and yet his voicing was going to sound like exactly what I was playing, it may be better if he played more to the voicing, because it’s a higher frequency.
When you were a touring musician, how difficult did you find it to emulate other people’s sounds?
Well... If it was Suicidal, they never wanted me to emulate anybody’s sound. They would just want me to play the parts and not get them wrong. I could have my own sound, you know?
You got very, very different approaches to it.
Well, a lot of the time, you have to look at the spirit in which the music was made and you have to try to meet it there. With Erykah, and a lot of her earlier albums, there was either a jazz bass or a P bass playing, but on her first album Ron Carter’s playing upright bass, which, there’s just no competition. With those records, I didn’t find it hard to emulate at all, because I would know references that these were being drawn from, so anything from Dilla samples you would know the record and it’d be like, “OK, I know what was being played on the record for the most part.”
You would try to give it feel, give it that before you gave it the “let me just have any bass tone on this,” you know? I would be that meticulous sometimes with people’s music. Raphael Saadiq, I would never play a five or six-string bass. I play a P bass with black flat wire nylons and I would try to get as close to him or Pino Palladino, because that’s what he wants to hear. A lot of the time, the truth is – that’s actually a lesson I learned from Raphael Saadiq – playing the record. If you’re playing with somebody, you play their record. You’re not playing your music, so you play their record.
Did you meet challenges there?
Sometimes, where there was that key bass part, the part where everybody’s expecting the synth-y bass. One thing I remember, there was one moment in Snoop’s rehearsal, I figured out how to make my electric bass sound like a key bass by way of EQing, because the bass I was playing was very weird and so every time I would play with anybody else on it, on a gig, it’d be: “How do you get your bass to sound like a synth bass?” I didn’t even realize I had started doing that subconsciously. Every time I would hear it, I would be like, “Really?” I would explore that a little bit more, like, cut the mids up a little bit more, still the bottom [or] cut the bottom up, but then take the high end off, but then cut the high end up here.
The funny thing about Snoop Dogg’s band, back when I was involved, everybody wanted to be Bernie Worrell. So there’s five guys with [Korg] MS-2000’s on stage. None of them needed it, other than maybe the auxiliary keys guy, but they wanted it to be super powerful, so there’d be like six guys with key basses and I’d be like, “Come on, man.” Like, unnecessary. Battlecat would have a key bass, Larrance would have a key bass, Terrace would have a key bass, I would have a key bass.
It’d be all the same key bass. I remember one day, I was just playing bass and I remember it being a thing of Snoop turning around and being like... He was freaking out, because he noticed that something was weird, but when he heard my bass, he mentioned that it sounded like a key bass. I remember being like, “If Snoop said that, I did something right.” No matter what anybody would say.
On Snoop, what’s the deal with the 1500’s?
1500? Well, 1500 or Nothin’, I would have considered myself a bastard child of that group. That group actually started out working at me and my cousin’s. [Brian] W[arfield], actually, he’s the producer for now. He’s the reason why Miguel is who he is and Jhené Aiko, and the reason why everybody’s seeing Yuna now is because of my cousin, Brian Warfield, and his partner Mack. Back in the day, me and my cousin had a studio, when we were teenagers. It was genuinely these feral, asshole kids in the studio. Work on music all day, then go to Yoshinoya, so you can get beef bowls. Like, “Whoa!” We were winning!
Imagine this, Larrance from 1500, his dad used to do gigs with my dad on the weekends in a wedding band, and even to make this more intense, Larrance from 1500 went to middle school with the mother of my child. I have a picture of them in middle school and he’s standing next to the mother of my child! It’s all in there and there’s so much more to it. The 1500s started working out of the studio me and my cousin had. James Fauntleroy had just started coming around. Lamar [Edwards, AKA Mars] was from Bakersfield, so he’d drive down from Bakersfield. Everybody would come through you know, like Just D.R.U.G.S. production, they would all come play beats and stuff.
That’s how I remember 1500s, because of the connections. Again, being a band in hip-hop now is foreign, so there would be moments where I would play with them every now and again. I remember Bobby Valentino had put his album out and I played with Bobby Valentino with them as the band. The 1500s was all interweaved in hip-hop through the last ten years or so, too. I feel like it’s more so about Larrance and Lamar, and there’s other songwriters. James made a name for himself. This kid [Kenneth “Bam”] Alexander, the drummer, you know. There was a guy, we used to call him Little Chris, I’m sure he’s just regular Chris now. We were kids back then. Now I’m pretty sure he has a beard, I’m not going to call a grown man little.
That’s my history with the 1500s, and literally, if you were to ask Larrance the same question, he’d be like, “Oh, Stephen?” He’d be like, “That guy? Yeah!” I still go by and say hi every now and again.
What I find interesting there, is when you see them perform, like at the Jay-Z show – they look like they genuinely have fun, which you hardly see on a stage.
Yeah. Because they really be there with each other. Cats cut from similar cloth. A lot of my early writing, I could play you tracks that me and Larrance created together that literally were just tracks and years ago, they were pretty intense for R&B tracks, we were going swinging for the fences. I think the first song – imagine this – the first song that I ever sold as a producer, as a songwriter, I sold to Steve Spacek. “Hey There” on Space Shift. It was a bit of a flipped version of (Jaco Pastorius’) “A Portrait of Tracey,” but that song was done by me with Larrance playing, too. That was the first song I ever sold. It was maybe 500 bucks and I was like, “Yeah! I’m a producer!” Clearly not a producer, but it was THAT moment, and Larrance was there for that, and his sister Alex, so it’s like they’re a bit like family.
How is that interaction different to, let’s say, when you interact with Kamasi these days?
It’s just genuinely different. Me and Kamasi were basically raised up together. Our parents played together, too. The truth is, I took to Kamasi more because we were playing jazz. Literally, playing in nightclubs, playing at festivals, playing at stuff, always playing. Always finding a place to go play and do things. The truth is, I still talk to Kamasi. I remember, I just talked to him a couple days ago, he had a cold or something. I was going to tell him, I don’t think he’s seen my new place I’m staying and everything, so I was going to invite him by. “Check it out, man!”
We still talk the same, too. We’re still very much involved in each other’s lives, it’s just very spaced out. Like everything’s changed, we’re grown now. I’m in my 30’s, almost mid-30’s. We’ve been playing together since we were kids, so by the time everybody’s seen us, like, “Oh, cool,” it’s like this is almost 20 years old, you know? Nonetheless, I don’t see it any different. I will play with Kamasi, you know, if he asked me to.
At the same time, you also have to respect the artist. Just because you see him, doesn’t mean that you SEE – You know what I mean? It’s about making it make sense to some degree.
Did you feel tempted to go back into that “real jazz” world?
Well... I mean, it’s not even that it’s not a temptation, it’s just that I feel like things have changed so much to where it’s like sometimes I do feel awkward. It’s like the expectation as compared to... Again, through the course of this year, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on. Like I was saying earlier, so many things have changed, it’s like looking up and seeing everything around you change, you kind of go, “OK, what’s going on?” You know? This whole year was not putting out music and taking a moment, a step back. I had to be okay with doing nothing and giving the chance for there to be life with what I’m doing. I’ve tried to stay focused, even if the focus has been me taking a step back.
I feel for the sake of preservation of the relationship of friendship and things like that, you give each other space, because there’s a part where everybody is always going to want to put two and two together. Kamasi, Terrace and Thundercat, it’s always this moment to do that, and I’ve even said it between them, as friends, I’m like, “You got to be careful, because it’s one of those things where people are looking to make this THAT, and we need to let people know that we’re also our own artist.” I look at them with a lot of respect and we try to keep everything as beautiful as it was when we were kids.
I feel like those three songs are actually one song. Essentially, if you’re listening to it straight through, there’s a bit of a story to it. You can hear it. It’s like, “Am I going crazy?” And then it’s “three o’clock.” There’s a part where I kind of really open up about how I feel about things. If you were listen to them again just consecutively, you can hear it a bit.
So here we got the title track.
“Drunk.” Yeah. That’s what that is, you know? It’s a place you can’t wind up. I think that was an honest moment for me. I don’t know what to say about that song. But every time I hear myself, it’s very unsettling. But, at the same time, settling because I know what I’m doing by saying it, you know? I’m getting it out. It’s almost like you have to get it out. That’s the only way I can describe that. In order for me to move forward, I feel like I have to acknowledge what that is. In a very interesting way it’s like... I mean, music being therapy. That’s all I can really say about that song.
The Turn Down feat. Pharrell
That’s the “everything is terrible” song then.
What? “The Turn Down”?
Yeah, man. It’s like a beautiful, twisted, kind of like... Even Pharrell at the end was like, “You should just take a love pill and laugh.” I feel like that is like another pit in the album. It’s very serious, but at the same time a bit joking.
I remember playing that for him in the studio and I remember seeing him immediately start mouthing lyrics to it. I was like, “Whoa. That’s the one?” I played him all the stuff. I left it with him for a while and it was like... Again, this was Pharrell so a part of me is kind of like, “Ah. This is probably a tall order.” When he came back, I did literally cry because I felt like he got it. He understood what I was talking about. When I saw him feel it, I knew that that was the one.
Well, yeah. The lyrics are pretty silly, you know, but it’s like the idea of it being just as dark and twisted as it sounds. Then it ends on this note that’s like, as I was saying, it’s a bit funny to me. The part where it’s like, “The bottom of the glass, at this point you’ve made an ass, and your friends will let you know tomorrow.” The part where it’s like, “There’s always tomorrow.” At the end, it’s like, no, there’s not.
Have you fallen out with friends seriously over incidents that happened in that state?
Not really. Well, yeah, there’s been moments of like where we’ve gotten close to the edge, but it was not far enough to completely annihilate it because it’s like there’s a part where I would think my friends know me more than that moment. I think that’s the part where everybody gets concerned, I guess, because it’s like, I’m not that guy. It’s just part of the story. I can see that. That’s why I’m okay enough to say something about it.