Some artists don’t discover their passion until later in life. Others seem to have been drawn to it ever since they were kids. The latter is definitely the case for Thundercat, the genre-hopping musician, singer, and producer, who joined the iconic metal band Suicidal Tendencies when he was only 16 years old. But his affinity for music goes back much further than that. One glance at any number of his baby pictures and you’ll notice a common theme: He’s almost always holding a guitar. And not just any old guitar. “As far back as I can remember,” he says, “it’s always been the bass.”

But while some musicians are fueled by anger or sadness, Thundercat is fueled by a desire to have fun. After all, the guy literally writes songs about his cat. “That’s a real thing,” he says. “I really love my cat.”

While this may make him sound flippant or like he doesn’t take the work seriously, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thundercat is as determined as they come, and he is aware of how lucky he is to have the career he does. “It’s a privilege,” he says, “to always be able to create.”

It’s this combination of lightheartedness and dedication that have kept Thundercat in such high demand. While spending nearly a decade in a metal band would likely pigeonhole a lot of musicians, Thundercat has been able to collaborate with many admired artists from other genres, from Erykah Badu to Kendrick Lamar, in addition to dropping three solo albums of his own.

So, what’s his secret? Well, part of it has to be his ability to not take himself too seriously. “When I’m at home creating music, I usually wind up laughing,” he says. “It’s always, like, funny—like, what the hell did I just write?”

It seems that Thundercat is still that little boy in the picture: holding his guitar, smiling, and having fun.

For more from Thundercat, be sure to check out the newest episode of Guitar Legends above, presented by Guitar Hero.