10 things you need to know about brooding singer-songwriter role model
His latest single ‘Minimal’ is a raw missive about Gen Z ennui that you have to hear.
“Literally everyone in this certain age group is going through a similar thing right now,” says 21-year-old Tucker Pillsbury, better known under the moniker ROLE MODEL. It’s why, he explains, the music that he and his contemporaries are making is so damn honest. From Billie Eilish to Kevin Abstract, a new crop of artists are writing their own rules, whether it’s skewering genre or speaking candidly about mental health (or both).
As ROLE MODEL, Pillsbury’s music is barefaced, the production sunkissed with hints of melancholia, like a Californian suburb. It’s a sound he incubated on his debut EP Arizona in the Summer, and one that he’s maturing with recent material like play the part and new single minimal, the video of which is released today. It’s also one borne from IRL experiences. He started making music after a bout of depression following a skiing accident, and much of his lyrical content draws on the resulting period where he was living alone in Pittsburgh. Even though he’s no longer in that specific space, those hints of darkness linger.
But while his music brushes with big themes, there’s also joy and the exciting buzz of an artist offering something new. To find out more, we gave ROLE MODEL a ring early on a Friday morning. Here’s what you need to know…
1. He originally wanted to work in film
“I wanted to direct and produce movies. But at the end of my freshman year [in college] I had met these two kids who had recorded themselves rapping. I had never seen that before. I didn't know that you could do it yourself like that at home. They brought all this equipment over to my dorm and we were just fucking around, freestyling. They left the equipment at my dorm. I played around with that for, like, three weeks and just fell in love with it. I watched all the YouTube tutorials about how to record yourself. I have never fallen in love with something that quick, aside from film. I just stuck with it from there.”
2. In fact, he started off rapping
“I had always freestyled with my friends without the thought of ever recording it. It was trash. I saw these two kids taking it seriously and I was like, 'Wait, this is actually pretty cool.' So I started rapping and I had a couple of mixtapes out, which I believe I have cleared from the internet, hopefully.”
3. He stumbled across singing by accident
“It was something that had never crossed my brain... I was just digging through these beats that people had sent me a couple of years ago. One of them was this guitar sample and a beat -- I think it was a Penny and the Quarters sample -- and I just started singing a melody to it and ended up recording it. I was like, 'Holy shit, this is actually kind of good.' It was an actual surprise to myself. After that I wanted to work on that and get better at singing and pour my heart into it. That's when I started taking the actual writing of it seriously, too.”
4. Much of his debut EP, Arizona in the Summer was produced by a guy who was 16
“So I just started making all these songs and I worked really closely with this producer from my hometown in Maine. He's a really young kid -- at the time I think he was 16 and he was just sending me all these guitar-heavy tracks with hip-hop drums. I was like, 'Damn, I would love to make a whole project with this sound.' We did it and I was in love with it, so I put it out. I didn't have a manager at the time, so I was just making these decisions myself.”
5. He views depression and anxiety as the most relatable things in music right now
“It's just that music seems to be the outlet that every person is using to get their point across... I think artists are tackling it well. I personally don't like to be as up front as other artists – I like to mask these things under pretty pianos and happy melodies, and try to lift people in other ways. But if you really dig deep into the lyrics you're going to hear the darker side of what I'm actually saying."
6. He says he wants people to cry while dancing to his songs
“I'm very obsessed with juxtapositions. I like the idea of finding beauty in pain. I love the challenge of putting these things I'm going through, which are extremely dark, into big, beautiful, happy-sounding songs. I think that will have a better effect than me just singing about depression over some sad-ass piano chords. I don't want to drag people down to where I am; I'd rather try and lift people up from these low points.”
7. He believes music has become more accessible
“Even the way that I got into making music is a perfect example. You can literally set a studio up on your desk in your room. Anyone can make a song now and you don't have to have loads of money. You can hit up one of your 10 friends who are definitely going to have some sort of a microphone and make a song that people might actually connect with.”
8. ...and with that has come the deconstruction of the “myth of the popstar”
“Obviously there are still those people, like Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish. But Billie Eilish does a really good job of not making it feel like she is untouchable. You can use social media to connect with your fans and stay extremely personal with them. Whereas before, you'd only see them on TV and in music videos. Now it's so much more personal. You literally watch these people every day and they share everything with you. I think it's changed for the better.”
9. He just released a cover of Miley Cyrus’s The Climb
“I was on my way to a session with a producer and that song somehow popped up on my Apple Music. I texted my manager saying, 'I'm going to have this producer reproduce this song for me because I want to try and sing it.' We produced and I recorded it the next day. I knew that it just had to be in the live set. I'm not at a point where people are screaming my songs yet, even on the headline tour. I wanted to feel that, so I chose The Climb. Honestly, it's my favourite song to perform right now.”
10. But with everything happening, he’s not really think about the future
“Things just pop up randomly every day, so I don't like to plan ahead that much and I don't like to make too many goals for myself. I think it's better to take it day-by-day. I think things will work out.”
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.
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