Thundercat and Flying Lotus, pop outsiders with Grammy hopes

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Like each artist who launched an album within the spring of 2020, the L.A. jazz-fusion bassist Thundercat has had a very long time to take a seat with the combined feelings of releasing his life’s work on the onset of a pandemic.

“It was a bit arduous to course of,” he mentioned through Zoom from his recording studio, the place he was joined by the disembodied digital voice of his producer pal and longtime collaborator Flying Lotus. “It was just like the minute the album got here out, everybody mentioned, ‘Get excited, but additionally keep on the sofa and don’t contact anybody. Put on a face condom, but additionally attempt to really feel some pleasure.”

“It was bizarre,” Lotus, born Steven Ellison, agreed. “You by no means had a victory lap, you didn’t get to tour, you had one thing that doesn’t really feel full. You didn’t get to journey that standard wave.”

The near-year that’s handed because the 36-year-old Thundercat, born Stephen Bruner, launched “It Is What It Is” has been interminable and overwhelming. But it surely’s additionally nearing some kind of finish.

Musician stands before a backdrop of trees and shrubs, wearing sunglasses and lifting both arms.

“The minute the album got here out,” says Thundercat, “everybody mentioned, ‘Get excited, but additionally keep on the sofa and don’t contact anybody.’”

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Instances)

The 2021 Grammys are, within the scope of issues, small comfort, and never high precedence for individuals who misplaced a beloved one to the pandemic, or relied on touring earnings. However they could find yourself being one thing significant for 2 of L.A.’s most acclaimed artists, each lengthy on the forefront of the town’s radically ingenious and uncompromising scenes straddling jazz, digital, hip-hop and experimental music.

Each are up for awards on March 14: Thundercat for progressive R&B album (competing in opposition to Chloe x Halle, Jhené Aiko, Robert Glasper and Free Nationals) and the 37-year-old Lotus for producer, nonclassical (in opposition to Jack Antonoff, Andrew Watt, Dan Auerbach and Dave Cobb).

“Man, in the event that they don’t give Lotus his Grammy this yr, I don’t perceive something,” Thundercat mentioned, laughing.

“After they introduced the nominees,” Lotus mentioned, “I used to be simply checking for Cat, to see what they have been going to offer him.“

Lotus, whose most up-to-date LP was 2019’s “Flamagra,” has by no means gained a Grammy, although he’s been up for dance recording and, as a part of Kendrick Lamar’s staff, for album of the yr. Thundercat acquired one for his contributions to Lamar’s tune “These Partitions” however not as a solo act.

The 2 return almost 15 years. They met in Austin, Texas, on the South by Southwest pageant when each have been rising acts (Lotus was a staple of the Low Finish Concept membership evening on the Airliner in Lincoln Heights; Thundercat performed for acts as numerous as Suicidal Tendencies and Erykah Badu). Lotus signed him to his label Brainfeeder and has contributed manufacturing to his information ever since.

Even underneath the most effective of 2020 circumstances, “It Is What It Is” was going to be an album suffused with grief. Thundercat was an in depth buddy of the late rapper Mac Miller, with whom he collaborated; he was going to open Miller’s headline tour in 2018, and the 2 have been texting excited messages in regards to the upcoming run the evening earlier than Miller’s overdose demise.

A lot of the bassist’s work is buoyed by loony wit — his 2017 LP “Drunk” featured soft-rock icons Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. He raised his teenage daughter on progressive jazz information like George Duke, and “It Is What It Is” has components of each: Arduous-sprinting songs together with “How Sway” and “Unrequited Love” present a veteran on the top of his powers. His latest edit of the L.A. rock trio Haim’s “3 A.M.” (he and Taylor Swift every reworked a observe from Haim’s album “Girls in Music Pt. III”) took their tightly wound popcraft in a mystical new course.

However “It Is What It Is” additionally displays the profound unmooring of shedding a buddy, and methods to pursue your craft within the wake of it. “Truthful Probability” immediately speaks to the loss: “So arduous to recover from it, I’ve tried to get underneath it / Caught in between, it’s what it’s.”

“Quite a lot of this yr was restore from the stuff that occurred prior,” mentioned Thundercat, “and it wanted to occur. I’ve been kickboxing, going to remedy and studying methods to converse extra in truth. Truthfully, if I’d gone by all this within the situation I used to be in just a few years in the past, I most likely would have by no means gotten the possibility.”

Producer is photographed alongside flowers.

Flying Lotus is nominated for producer of the yr, non-classical, at this yr’s Grammy Awards.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Instances)

He and Lotus, who executive-produced “It Is What It Is,” stayed shut all through each the grieving and the pandemic yr. Lotus had a significant non-touring venture to immerse himself in — the forthcoming Netflix anime “Yasuke,” which he’s government producing and scoring. The collection, with a lead voiced by LaKeith Stanfield and based mostly on a historic determine, follows the primary African samurai in medieval Japan.

The tightly guarded collection, directed by “The Boondocks’” and “Black Dynamite’s” LeSean Thomas, is about to premiere later this yr. Lotus was glad to have it to work on mid-pandemic.

His 2019 album, “Flamagra,” imagined — documented, actually — an L.A. rippling with wildfire, and that perennial sense of doom that comes with residing right here. The album was eerily prescient. “Man, it had a bonus observe referred to as ‘Quarantine.’ I promise I’m going to cease making an attempt to see the long run anymore,” Lotus joked.

Each Lotus’ and Thundercat’s music is extra rooted in cosmic, psychedelic wandering than present occasions. However the previous yr’s fixed reminders of the precariousness of Black life in America have been a heavy factor for each of them to hold as properly.

“Folks didn’t get to show away from these photographs,” Lotus mentioned. “ Even earlier than George Floyd, I felt like I heard about one other [police murder] each month. I don’t have any new methods of claiming, ‘Cease killing us.’”

“I’m an individual who’s an escapist artistic,” he continued. “ I don’t need to dwell on issues which can be too actual. I don’t like films about slavery, as a result of I do know that story and it’s simply going to make me hate individuals. I need to watch dragons and sorcery and anime; I don’t want any reminders that life is actual.”

For each artists, all this time alone has solely deepened the significance of their lengthy, lengthy friendship. A Grammy can be a pleasant coda after a depressing yr, however each are fairly hopeful that the worst is behind them.

“This yr had been like ‘The Strolling Lifeless,’ the place you actually see individuals’s true natures and who is definitely nonetheless there for you,” Thundercat mentioned. “However the Grammys does really feel like a light-weight at finish of a tunnel.”

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