Stephen Bruner is still reeling from his 2017 successes. It’s not immediately obvious as Mixmag speaks to him from his LA home, because his laconic Californian drawl never sounds like it’s expressing excitement, but whenhe says, “I never in a million years imagined I’d be where I’m at today,” it’s very clear that he’s truly boggled by it all.
It’s not as though he’s a stranger to the big time, either. As a bass player, the 33-year-old has played with everyone from thrash metallers Suicidal Tendencies to alt-soul queen Erykah Badu, from Brainfeeder guru Flying Lotus to the mighty Kendrick Lamar. And his previous albums as Thundercat on Brainfeeder have been cult favourites. But his new album ‘Drunk’, despite it being his most deranged yet, with wild jazz sounds and rapid-change structures, has been the one that’s really tipped him over the edge and turned him into a star in his own right. Even its huge-name guests – Pharrell, Kendrick and “blue-eyed soul” vets Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins – couldn’t eclipse Bruner’s huge musical personality.
The moment the record’s success hit home for him was onstage at Coachella. “Oh my goodness,” he says. “Oh my goodness. Looking out from the stage, seeing all those people singing my lyrics – that was a really intense moment. I think that the people felt it too; I think they realised that was the moment I could stand on my own two feet as an artist.” He lets out a heartfelt sigh: this isn’t just a step up, it’s clearly a massive vindication for someone whose ambition was “only ever to be the best bass player I could be”.
He doesn’t know what the future holds; “I just gotta enjoy this, man,” he says when we ask, clearly still processing the success of ‘Drunk’. But given that he’s now proved that the weirder he gets the more audiences connect, we’ll put money on his next move being very, very interesting indeed.
Joe Muggs is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Mixmag. Follow him on Twitter