The accolades have been piling up in recent months for Patrick Paige II. His sophomore album, If I Fail, Are We Still Cool? arrives this Friday, May 21 via Fat Possum, after an immaculate rollout, almost three years to the day since his debut dropped. He has spent the time building. Letters of Irrelevance was a wrenching, restive catharsis for Paige, whose work on bass for The Internet had some listeners expecting more head-nodding funk. If I Fail, Are We Still Cool? is something closer to a concept album, a biography remembered from a sky-high perspective.
First came “So They Say,” a velvety meditation on self-worth and artistry. “Whisper (Want My Luv)” dropped soon after. With bandmate Steve Lacy in tow, Paige II made sure to placate the band’s fanbase before countering again with the workout anthem “Big Plays” and nostalgic slow jam “Good Grace.”
Together, they’re four singles that only begin to cover Paige II’s swath of talents. His raps alone range from commanding to contemplative, but his voice is a revelation too. And don’t get me started on the production—there’s an orchestral feel to his productions, one that only comes from someone who lives, eats, and breathes music. He sums it up nicely on “So They Say”:
“Complex wiring and circuitry gave me emotions
Connected to my brain from which that came all the notions”
It’s a knack Paige II shares with a fellow bassist and Angeleno: Thundercat. The two first met in 2012, when Paige II’s career with The Internet was just beginning to take off. Thundercat, meanwhile, had just ended a historic ten-year run as bassist for Suicidal Tendencies. He would release his own seismic solo album, Apocalypse, the following year.
As the years passed, the two bassists began to form a friendship around things other than music—namely, video games (Paige II was better then, Thundercat’s better now), tattoos (they both like going to Dan McWilliams, when he decides to pick up the phone), and more recently, getting healthy. That means spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Especially physically.
Pre-order/save If I Fail Are We Still Cool? here.
When did you both decide to—
Thundercat: Get ripped?
Yeah, I guess.
Patrick Paige II: We were like, man we need to change our lives. We was on some bullshit, and then we stopped being on some bullshit. It was like, “Hey God, it’s me. Sorry man.”
Thundercat: Let me get another chance, like Kevin Hart, “Help! N***a help, help me.” No, I mean personally, you know the story of how you start to realize stuff around you. And Mac [Miller] was like the shot heard around the world kind of thing. For all of us. It was kind of a wake up call. I think me and [Patrick] just be in synchronicity a lot of the time. We both want the same stuff.
Can the two of you talk about your origin story? You both grew up here, but when did you first meet?
Patrick: The first time I met you in person was in 2012, at the very first Odd Future Carnival. And I’m going to tell it like it is because I’m a transparent kind of guy. I was fanning like shit. So I didn’t know what to say. I was like, “Oh damn.” And then I had to go play bass and I was just glad he wasn’t there because I was like, cool I’m trash.
So what happens after that? Did you stay in touch? Or more of a slow burn?
Patrick: It was kind of slow burn, very organic. And I remember the first time actually going to your house. It was with Matt, Chris and...I want to say Syd.
Thundercat: Yeah, it was Syd.
Patrick: We were playing Tekken and he kept beating my ass. And I was like—
Thundercat: See I needed to hear that, because I haven’t been playing my games lately man. It’s a fall from grace. So somebody may actually put hands on me in Mortal Kombat.
Patrick: Now. Yes. Now. Not then but now. But that’s how it started. I think everybody else left and I was like, “Yo, you mind if I just stay and play the game a little bit?” We were just kicking it a little bit after that. And then literally every other situation after that was organic. We kept running into each other. And just staying friends and making stupid jokes on Twitter.
How much did bass factor into that early connection?
Thundercat: A little bit here and there. It’s like where the friendship existed because it has a chance to exist. It’s everything in between there. There are moments we talk about bass. There are moments we talk about influence and stuff like that. There are parts we just live real life together in a lot of respects. Seeing girlfriends come and go...we both look different from where we’ve been. It’s literal changes and life actual changes.
Patrick: We look good as fuck.
Thundercat: I use lotion bro. I’ve been using Shea butter. I fight the power. I should still be able to write my name on my ankles. SB.
Let’s move on to the album for a minute. Congratulations on this incredible next step—it’s a very different album than your debut, Letters of Irrelevance.
Patrick: Yeah, definitely. Letters of Irrelevance was a very personal project. It was more of an outlet for me, more like a journal. You know what I’m saying? I just needed a place to get these feelings and emotions out. It was more of a way to deal with what I was going through at the time. And you know, the album served its purpose. It did what it did. I personally don’t like the album any more. I’m a little embarrassed by it. More so the performances and the sound, not what I was talking about. Because I own completely what I was talking about. You know what I’m saying? Like what happened, happened, it is what it is.
But the new one, I’m very proud of this one. I’m onto the next one, I want to record the next one because I’ve been working on this one for so long. I’m definitely more confident in my voice, what I’m writing about, what I’m talking about. For me it’s just like a big affirmation, a big piece of affirmation. This is what I’m ready for. This is what I want. Kind of like what I’m asking, all these things I’m asking God for, I’m ready for these things now.
I’m ready to accept these things now too. So really taking a chance on myself, taking a big leap of faith. That’s what this album is all about. Channeling that confidence. Walking into that light, of saying, “Okay, if I’m gonna be an artist, I’m not gonna do this halfway.”
There’s a little of that sentiment in the album title too. I love how you introduce it in the that interlude moment—
Patrick: Oh, that’s my friend Shante. Man I love her. That’s my friend Shante Weston. It was funny, I just recorded that. I was just asking random people, “if I fail are we still cool.” And the first voice you hear is one of my longest friends, Brian Weston. He was like, “Oh, most definitely.” That’s my dude for real. His cousin Shante, she was like, “Wait, why would you fail?” She grabs the camera and was like going in like, “You can’t even speak like that.”
Basically everything I’m talking about and addressing, she kind of took that in that skit. That’s literally what it’s about. Like you can’t speak on yourself like I’m going to fail. But the title more specifically was, If I Fail Are We Still Cool?
I know what friends are solid, but it’s just more of a general question. Internally too. You know what I’m saying? All right, I’m ready to do this. What happens if I don’t? But I’m not going to think about that though.
Three or four years from now when you listen back, do you think you’re going to have that same response that you now have to Letters of Irrelevance? Is that reluctance just something that’s kind of hardwired?
Patrick: I don’t know, honestly. I hope … I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Thundercat: It’s definitely hard listening back to stuff, because it’s like a snapshot of your emotions. Yeah, it’s like a lot of the time this is what we do. We convey our emotions in these moments. And even if you didn’t spell it out well back then, or when you look back and it’s weird and blurry, it can immediately snap you back into those moments. So yeah, that is real difficult sometimes. Like I can’t… It’s going to take me a while to listen to It Is What It Is without it immediately making me hyperventilate and have to pull the car over. It’s genuine emotion that gets processed in these moments.
Even if I look back at Apocalypse or The Golden Age, I hear a song and it’s like, “Oh, I was with this person.” Or like, “Oh man, this person is no longer with me.” Or it has all these different things that come with it. It’s nice to do it sometimes because you have to always know where you came from to know where you’re going. But it’s one of those things where it is very intense.
Must be a strange thing, to share that with the world when nobody else has your context.
Thundercat: Yeah, because it’s not the same for them. Whatever may be a painful thing for you may be something that puts somebody in another place and they’re going to express that to you. It can be intense.
Earlier you said something about journal entries. Letters of Irrelevance definitely has that intimate vibe, but the new album feels like there are some actual journal entries. You even say on “Curfew,” “hand me a mic and I’ll spit you a journal.”
Patrick: I’m honest in my music, so it’s like I’m honest in my journal. I’m not going to filter how I write in a journal. I’m not necessarily going to filter how I write in a song, so it’s basically the same process. But I’d like to say it’s a lot more poetic and it’s a different kind of release than it is writing it is writing a journal.
It’s not just going straight to the journal, getting it straight to the point. Writing a song is a different way of coping, knowing I can listen to this and hear back these different sounds. Like he said, it’s a snapshot of your emotions. Some pictures you love. You’re like, “Damn, I look good in this picture.” Then there’s a song you go back like, “Ugh, I wish I would’ve made a different face.” You know what I’m saying? It’s the same thing with a song. But yeah, it’s pretty much the same process. This is as honest and vulnerable as I try to be in my music.
Thundercat: See honesty is what we need. We need this, truth be told.
How did the album start? What music came first?
Patrick: It’s funny, “Good Grace” was the first song that I made for the album. I made that beat at like 3 in the morning in my bed, literally just making the beat. I just started writing to it another day. And I think that was the first one I recorded. THen I called my friend Ohana Bam, because Bam can spit. I met Bam through Saba, actually. But that was the first beat that I made, and I knew it was going on the album. I didn’t even know what the album was gonna be.
I have to ask about the airplane theme that’s woven throughout the whole album. Was that something you knew you wanted to do from the beginning? Or was that something that took shape over time?
Patrick: It kind of took shape over the course. I’ve been obsessed with aviation since I was a kid. I love airplanes man. I wanted to be in the Air Force when I was younger. Then I got older and I was like, “I don’t want to drop bombs on people. That’s just not cool.”
Patrick: But being a commercial pilot, that fantasy is fun to think about sometimes. I’ve just always liked airplanes. And this album to me is like the journey, take off. I want this shit to take off literally. I’m not scared to say that out loud. I want it to fucking go crazy.
There’s also a line on the album about you starting a label.
Patrick: Yeah, I started that last year. I mean, I’m not blasting it and putting pictures of it everywhere because it’s just my personal thing right now. The situation I’m in with Fat Possum is joint right now. It’s a distribution situation. Via them, via my label, however you want to call it, but when I feel like I have a more solid foundation that I’m ready to present to the public, then I’ll talk about it more. My cousin made the graphic and all of that, it’s some professional shit.
That’s really exciting—it’s a logical next step, after making the decision to release music as a solo artist. That was something you both had to decide to do. Were there any responsibilities that you didn’t expect when you took that leap?
Thundercat: It’s one of those things where because of not knowing what to expect, you just kind of keep your hands open to what it is. I’ve been taught by a lot of people, the notion or the idea of: Don’t be afraid of being in front. Mike Muir used to always push me out there. Erykah would push me out there.
I wasn’t afraid of the unknown. It was just like anything, from having your friends tell you your voice sucks to learning the idea of, this is how my voice sounds. I just didn’t think about it a lot. I would just do it. It’s became what it’s become. And it’s one of those things where I’ve learned to sit down and let it happen.
Do you think being a bass player has anything to do with that mentality?
Thundercat: I think that the role of the instrument in itself, how it fits in with what’s going on. It vacillates between roles. There’s a part where it’s already in the nature of what we do, to be able to think in a couple of different ways. Sometimes I do wonder why bass players always tend to get this part, but also I feel like it’s the nature of our instrument too.
At one point, playing with Mike Muir in Suicidal Tendencies, or playing with Erykah, it’s one of those things where I would have all kinds of things happen in those moments. So anything from someone telling me I’m playing too fast, or playing too much, to play more, sound like a key bass, and all kinds of different, weird things that exist in that world. You wind up taking on a lot as an entity. So becoming your own artist, it’s like you can put that hat on. You’re not afraid of that.
I only got this interview because I play bass too.
Patrick: That’s what’s up.
Thundercat: We got the best fingers ever.
Patrick: I ain’t been practicing like I should, though.
Thundercat: Yeah, I just been punching.
Maybe you punch the bass.
Thundercat: Yeah, maybe I have to punch the strings. You talk about slap bass, this is going to be more like fist bass.
Patrick: I want to slap bass, like literally slap the bass.
Thundercat: I’m going to be hitting the bass like this. Sock the sound out of the bass.
Patrick, what were some of the non-musical inspirations that helped you through this album?
Patrick: Right now I’m reading this book called Ask and It Is Given. It’s really good. I like self help, spiritual kind of situations. I have three favorite books ever. As a Man Thinketh, hella short, straight to the point, loved it. The Kybalion, fucking incredible book about the seven hermetic principles. It’s super deep and shit but it’s hella good. And then The Science of Getting Rich.
What are some other emotional pillars that helped you through this album? Lessons taken from these books?
Patrick: I guess one is just, getting out of my own way. And then two, really starting to trust myself, artistically and in general. Starting to really love myself as a human, starting to like myself.
Because it’s one thing to love yourself and then like yourself. I love myself. I like me. I fuck with me. I just told somebody the other day too. Another is being ready for more, whatever the next step is. Completely being grateful for what I have and thankful. But also understanding now that I can take myself out of this box I put myself in.
So it’s funny you say emotional pillars, because it’s also about removing those pillars out the way. You know what I’m saying? And realizing my potential, that’s all it’s about really. Tapping into my full potential. And this is only the beginning. That album is only the beginning of that. And it did a lot for me, not just artistically, emotionally, mentally, you know, spiritually, physically I’ve been working on myself.
It all comes back to the pandemic workout plan, for bassists.
Thundercat: See if you can catch the muscles in the interview.
Patrick: Can you hear this bicep? Stephen has fantastic calves.
Thundercat: Rub the phone against my calves. Calves to text instead of speech to text, calves to text.
Patrick: We both started working out before the pandemic. The pandemic just kind of gave me a reason to be like, “I have nothing else to do but work on myself now.”
Thundercat: Yeah, I mean where it starts for me, it’s pretty clear. Mac Miller was like ground zero. That was like, boom. What the hell just happened? It was one of those things where it was a shape up or ship out thing for me. And along with a couple other moments that were intense for me, it’s like, I had to do something different. I had to. I had no choice.
Like you just said, the pandemic just reinforced it. The pandemic was like, “Not only can you go nowhere, but this is all you have to do.” And it’s brought about the changes that it has. And you can see it in our elbows and in our neck muscles.
I want to talk a little bit more about L.A. before we go. It’s where you both grew up. How does the city today compare to when you were growing up?
Thundercat: I just want to say, first of all, I fucking love LA.
Patrick: Any and everything you hear about LA is not true. The people that move here and hate it, that’s exclusive to one region. You got to go out and actually see the city, meet the locals, see the people. I love it here personally.
Thundercat: We experienced lots of changes. You know, everything from the riots to the growth, the clubs coming and going. Like you said, it’s one of those things where you have to get a chance to be in LA. We get a chance to see, or we get a lot of chances to see different things change and go. It’s trippy man. It’s kind of part of our culture to be really open like that. Yeah, I love my city. I hate the traffic but I mean that’s always going to be the case. So make sure you get a car you like. Hopefully you don’t explode in the summertime, on the freeway going down the 405.
Patrick: That happened. I had a ‘95 F-150. It’s definitely suffered some heat strokes. I was pushing 80 in that bitch, I ain’t going to lie. On a good day I was doing 75-80. You know, like on a clear night obviously, I’m not driving reckless or nothing. Her name was Bessie. Bessie, she was my baby. You remember Bessie?
Thundercat: Yes I do. Fantastic. We’re blessed. I can’t lie. We got good weather. We got the beach. You know what I’m saying? If you into that you got good marijuana.
Patrick: That’s true. We’ve always had good marijuana.
You mention Cloverdale Avenue on the album, where you spent some years growing up. Was music always around even then?
Patrick: Cloverdale Avenue. That’s where I grew up. I was a square though. I was never a gang banger or nothing like that. I would never tell those lies. I was just a regular dude from up the way man. And everybody on my block was really cool. We all got along. We were all really close, tight knit. Just like any other block, kids playing tag. My sister and my mom and I moved over there in ‘97 and ‘98. We started off of Normandie and Vernon, and then we went to Mid-City. And that’s where I spent the majority of my life at, so that’s where I say I’m from. We lived in an apartment. We lived on a second level, a little Section 8 apartment. It was two bedrooms. It was nice though. We were blessed.
My sister and I have a better relationship today, definitely. We found a common ground. I think our common ground is fitness right now. When she came to visit for Christmas we were working out together. I had two 25 pound dumbbells. That what I do everything with, pretty much. And she’s hitting them just like me. She’s doing the same shit I’m doing, a push up and lifting up one arm and doing it. I’m like, what kind of Hulk shit is this?
Thundercat: We basically knocking motherfuckers out when this country opens back up. I keep putting that in the air. I’m throwing motherfuckers through the catering tables.
Last question: how does it feel to see your friend going through the motion of an album cycle like this?
Thundercat: Well, it’s one of the things. I’m excited to see my boy grow. We look back, in reality, we’re a far cry from where we’ve been. It’s just been beautiful to watch. So I’m bumping this shit all the way on 11 bro.
Patrick: Thank you man.
Thundercat: I’m extremely proud of you for what this is. And to know that it takes a lot to put yourself out there. I think we see these moments happen so often, but you can’t forget that the real person is there in this moment. I know this dude, and I know how much this takes for that to exist. So there’s part of me where I’m like, “This is beautiful to watch bro.”
And while this album has a lot of those intricate musical and emotional moments, there are a lot high-energy, uptempo moments.
Patrick: Yeah, the difference between this album and the last one—this one was a lot more fun to make. Some headspaces are still challenging but they were constantly growing. You know what I’m saying? I had hella fun. Every feature that I have on there, they’re all my friends in real life. I can call them. I do talk to these people often.
Even working with producers I’ve never met, I have relationships with them now. Just putting the whole thing together was fun, bringing different ideas to the table as opposed to wanting to do everything by myself. I’m okay with not being a one man band anymore. I’d actually rather work with a lot of people.
There are certain things I can’t hear that they can bring to the table, and it makes the shit way better. Why keep cooking the same fire-ass meal when I can go to a buffet? We can all bring a potluck to this motherfucker. So that’s why it was more fun. It was knocking those pillars out the way and getting out that box.