Somewhere in between wanting to be a visual artist and becoming a rapper, the popstar-adjacent Tucker Pillsbury became an aspirational and experimental musician. Known best as Role Model, the singer-songwriter is about to bring his unique blend of artistry and reality to the one-and-only Irving Plaza.
Emotionally earnest, Role Model is a rare strain of superstar. The versatile musician is subdued, and even sitting down with him remotely, he emits the most calming energy. You almost have to take a step back mid-conversation to truly ground yourself right alongside him.
Pillsbury, who you might know as his stage name of Role Model, is the whole package, but a surprising one that you didn’t expect to show up on your doorstop – let alone fall in love with. He is transcending genres, challenging the norm, and combining ambitious instrumentation with blissful lyrics in ways that mesmerize each and every listener. The slow, but sure catalog he is building for himself puts that on full display. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that even the most striking and grooviest numbers that Role Model has released present two feet planted firmly on the ground. (It’s almost as if he doesn’t have hundreds of millions of streams to his name or a fanbase that quickly grew to span the globe.)
There has been a slight shift in your music over the last year or two. Not necessarily outside of your notable and beloved musicality, but it’s there. Do you feel as refreshed and possibly renewed in this era of your career as it seems like to us, the fans?
Yes, but I still don’t think I’m ever going to just do a country album or something. I don’t think I will ever commit to solely a rap album or anything either. As far as where the sound is going, it’s generally to stay the same, but I will say over the past year I have learned how to sing and use my voice properly. I’ve learned how to take care of my voice. I’ve learned how to do six part harmonies, thanks to my like producer Spencer [Stewart]. I’m still learning a lot, so that will inevitably change the music for the better. I don’t think I’m straying too far from the music that got me to where I am, though. There are still little droplets of talking about depression and mental health and everything, but I am tying it into a lot of these more positive, uplifting songs.
For sure. You’re not changing, just evolving as an artist, and that’s something that people should simply commend you for.
I agree. I agree. I think it’s important for every artist to do that. If you’re not improving, I’m not sure the music is going to last too long.
That’s very true. As an artist, you are very cohesive in what you create. Everything kind of has this message, like you said, of being introspective in and toward the world around you. While it might be heavy at times, there is this afterglow of hope and positivity. Is it hard to maybe put those negative themes within a more uptempo beat? Or is it just something that comes natural to you as it is personal?
When I write songs, I guess I don’t think too hard about if I’m leaning too dark, sonically or lyrically, or if I’m leaning into more happy and joyful vibes or whatever. I write the song as is. If I write a really dark, sad song, I don’t want it to just be over some depressing piano chords to make it a ballad. That’s going to bring people down to where I am. I want to do the opposite – take that sad, lyrical song and put it over some 800 eighths to make this upbeat, beautiful, happy sounding song, just because I’ve always loved that juxtaposition. There are a lot of artists that I looked up to growing up that do that. Tyler, the Creator does that really well. The juxtaposition of lyrics to production, personally, I think is a really fun thing to play with.
Right! I think that the dichotomy of the two is mesmerizing and it kind of adds to this boundary breaker title that I think a lot of your fans have been dubbing you as. Whether it’s dreamy and bouncy love songs or twenty one pilots-esque crooners, you’ve got an edge others don’t. How do you think that, your musical and personal aesthetic as an artist, will come across on stage? As you prepare for this tour and bring these songs to life on stage, what can fans expect?
I think that edge comes from a lot of what I listen to, which is a lot of rap. I think that’s a huge influence that I try to not let it take over everything, but it’s all I listened to growing up, so it’s inevitably going to make its way into my music. I think my favorite thing about these shows is that it’s going to be pop music performed as rap music. Once again there is that juxtaposition that is like my favorite thing in every aspect of what I’m doing, whether it’s clothes or shows or the music or anything. I love singing these songs that have darker lyrics and just shouting them out and treating it like it’s in a rap show keeping the energy alive. That’s my favorite part about these shows, really, that I get to make pop music and perform it as rap music. I want the live versions to be a new experience when people come to the shows, so it’s not just the same songs they’re listening to on Spotify.
I love that. You’re turning it into a moment – this whole package for people to immerse themselves in, because like you said, anyone could just turn on Spotify to listen to your music. If you (or any artist) create this really grand experience, then it’s something totally different that people are going to want to come out to.
I agree. It’s like a new version of every song when you come to these shows and I think that’s fun.
Fun, but also special! You have really clever and thoughtful lyrics. They’re raw, but they’re slick and suave, too. It fits the Role Model image, though, this little moniker that you have. How did you build that out and create Role Model to be as much of music as it is an idea? Was that something that you always wanted to do – have this sort of fine line of creativity and vulnerability?
As far as the songwriting and stuff, I don’t think I’m trying to be vulnerable and I don’t think I’m trying to be relatable or anything. I just write these songs for myself to help myself or to make myself happy or whatever. It’s very therapeutic for me regardless of how people perceive it, so I try not to think about it too much.
The name, too, shows that. Nothing about this whole thing is supposed to be perfect or shiny or thought out. This is far from that – and that’s the whole essence of the brand. I try to reflect that in the music, which should be vulnerable and share all the flaws and showcase my real life and everything. I want everything around Role Model to reflect that message.
I think you’re doing that wonderfully, because there is a reality to your music that is always seen, including on “forever&more,” one of your latest singles. It’s a stunner – just barely three minutes long and yet so enveloping and real and infectious. Did you always know this was going to be a single release? What was the process of this song like? Because it really is so top notch from the almost sixties surf pop intro to it’s simple, but effective cover art.
Thank you. I knew I wanted it to be a single when we made it, but it wasn’t going to be the first for awhile, but as things got pushed and pushed, we were suddenly in mid-summer and as this is one of the happier, more bright and summery songs, it felt right to release. We acted on it and switched gears and put this out and I think it was perfect timing for it.
This one actually came about on a writing trip that me and my producer Spencer went to in Joshua Tree. It was the last day when we were just very drained, and while we had songs, we were a little bit running dry. He played those guitar chords found now in the song and immediately it was like this nostalgic vibe making me think about the past year and want to reflect on it, but in a really cool, upbeat, energetic way. I had him leave for a couple of hours, but I stayed and I wrote everything. Then he came in and helped me kind of structure out like pre-chorus and everything to make it come together. Yeah… that was a really cool moment and fun song that we almost didn’t make.
Wow. I can’t believe that it was kind of almost spur of the moment, because it’s top notch. It kind of has this sixties surf pop vibe, but it’s very simple and effective in from the cover art to lyricism
Thank you. That one is of my favorites.
Rightfully so. Now, it’s hard to miss the fact that a big part of your work stems from your presence on the Internet, so whether it be blowing up on Soundcloud ormaking people smile on socials, you’re doing it right. In this über digital era and as a fellow young person, how has the online space of creating and releasing music and art played a role in how you navigate this career?
I don’t think I try to make it part of it. That’s a good question, actually. I don’t think I’m the most active human being on social media in general and I think that is because I care very deeply about my music and everything surrounding it, whether it’s the videos that we’re planning out months ahead or the cover art and then getting it in tune with the song. I have other things that bring me real joy in that I’m actually passionate about, which is amazing. Social media is great for showing that, though. I used to hate Twitter, but as of recently, I’ve kind of fallen back in love with it. I get to talk to my fans directly and I feel like they have the same sense of humor as me. It’s like I get to have this separate group of friends that I have online and that feels really cool.
I’m not on TikTok trying to promote a dance or anything for my music and I never want music to be turned into like a hand dance on TikTok. That’s not really why I do things – or write, certainly – but if my music makes it onto those platforms, that’s great. I’m just lucky that I don’t make any music with the Internet too much in mind.
You know, Tucker, the first date on your tour, which just so happens to be one of our very favorite venues, is completely sold out. A sold out show in the Big Apple! Night one! After all the work you’ve put in, all the fun you’ve had, and simply the last year or so in general, how does that feel?
It’s incredible. We’re actually doing two shows in that one day, because the first sold out, which is insane to me. I did my first show ever in New York that was – I don’t even know – like three-and-a-half or four years ago. It was absolutely horrible [Laughs], so it’s insane that I’ve come to this where I get to play this venue. I feel very fortunate. I don’t know how I got here, but it’s incredible. And I love New York, so this gives me an excuse to get over there finally and that’s going to be amazing.
How full circle is that? Again, after the last year plus of not really being able to do shows, to go back and know that the whole room is going to be filled for you – twice over – is so thrilling.
Yeah, I think it’s going to be very emotional. I’m sure there’ll be some tears.
ROLE MODEL IS COMING TO IRVING PLAZA ON SEPTEMBER 23 FOR TWO (!) SHOWS. FOR TICKETS AND INFO, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.