Rosie Tucker Collection

Rosie Tucker & the ‘Good Stuff About Being Alive’

Discussing the songwriter’s provocative and rocking new album, UTOPIA NOW!, and her 2024 tour.

Once in a great while a musical statement is created that runs the gamut of the human experience while exploring the layers of its genre; for 30-year-old singer-songwriter Rosie Tucker, that genre is the once culturally dominate, but now marginalized sphere of rock and roll. It is the remarkably catchy and thought-provoking take on that in which fills UTOPIA NOW! – the sound of Tucker’s latest record features clean, tight, alluring pop-rock grooves with the bonus of being adorned with lyrics as poignant as they are humorous.

As a proudly open non-binary artist, Tucker has placed their personal experience within the context of the greater socio-political fray without compromise, and this is what audiences can expect from their spring tour which winds its way into Brooklyn at Baby’s All Right this week.

I spent time a few weeks ago with Tucker, who was kind enough to break down every song on UTOPIA NOW! with me, displaying an envious level of self-reflecting honesty, for it turns out getting inside their songs means enhancing the experience of the listen. The native Californian, having studied music at USC and duly inspired by the early work of the celebrated Anais Mitchell for her musical Hadestown, whom Tucker lauds for “heightening a song to a piece of literature,” clearly exhibits a love and alacrity for the written word. This is demonstrated in Tucker’s painstaking attention to alliteration, inner-rhyme schemes, and playful wordplay that jumps from the songwriter’s emotionally elastic vocal performances, both on lead and background.

While UTOPIA NOW! is one of the most literate albums I’ve had to the pleasure to absorb in some time – even the song titles titillate, “All My Exes Live in Vortexes,” “Paperclip Maximizer,” “White Savior Myth,” “Me Minus One Atom” – it is truly a fun listen. The important themes are expressed with amusingly insightful observations from its opening track, “Lightbulb,” wherein Tucker prods the social media celebrity treadmill harangue: “I’m a brain in a jar / I’m a face on a screen / Liberated, good lookin’, and good at relating / Now everyone’s clapping for me!” to its title track with its shouts of, “All I want is you, you, utopia now!” Here lurks a millennial voice that has crafted a significant musical mission statement. 

Delightfully conversational, self-effacing, and extremely passionate for their craft, Tucker has no qualms about fervently deconstructing the work. Here is a sample-size of our enjoyable 90-minute discussion, which begins with their thoughts on the aim and purpose of UTOPIA NOW! – “I think with this record, I, in writing it, was feeling an immense feeling of frustration with… I want to be precise, the kind of political performativity on the internet as I encountered it, in music and my own self meditating on ‘What is protest music? Can we still have protest music? What does it look like now?’ And so many of the songs on this record are me being very explicit about my thoughts and beliefs in a way that I had not really approached on other records. I think I needed to be a little older to be able to synthesize some of those thoughts in a way where it was not going to feel like bumper stickers. I wanted to be articulate, but also cleanly original and to make a record that someone could approach and not feel like I’m bringing my own kind of cultural baggage in a way that turns people off.”

This is a very personal record at the same time, which is always the balancing act for songwriting: Can you bridge the universal with the personal and make it relatable?  

If any of us is gonna be any good for the collective, we need to be getting something whole out of life as it stands, so… yeah.

And you come right out of the gate with “Lightbulb,” a song that captures the frustration of the cyber world and its effect on art and artists. I assume having it open the album was not a mistake. It seems to encapsulate your thesis with UTOPIA NOW!.

Not by mistake at all. I was going for humor to hang on my anger and bitterness, and I think a lot of this record was about trying to recognize that bitterness can be internally caustic if you hold onto it and try to figure out how to excise that. “Lightbulb,” for me, synthesizes a lot of what I was thinking about during this record. It deals with technology, as I literally had a pack of lightbulbs that were color changing and the app on my phone wanted the permission to be able to read my text messages and that freaked me out, and I related the paranoia of this to how a whole generation of people are caught in this space where we’ve grown up in a situation where we cannot separate what we love to do from a very mechanized relationship with metrics – play versus economics. What I wanted to highlight with “Lightbulb” is not only the personal pain that can result from this kind of muddying of the waters – the facial recognition technology that makes Snapchat fun is the same as the one that is being used on citizens to restrict their freedoms – but also a particular discomfort I feel and that I think many other people I know feel, that the stakes are not just our own physical comfort but they are much higher than that.

On the flip-side of this is the consumer of technology, which you explore in “All My Exes Live In Vortexes,” where you sing, “I hope no one has to piss in a bottle at work to get me the thing I ordered on the internet.” This is a fantastic way to open that song, and I also like when you exclaim, “I want everything, everything, everything at once.” Can you want more than everything? Apparently, you can.

I think you can in that there is a wanting that cannot be satisfied, which is essential to us continuing to have ambitions and desires as human beings. I feel I’m a very desire-driven creature, and sometimes that’s horrible to be in a state of dissatisfaction, but it’s also where all the art comes from.

There is an element of myopic narcissism in being an artist that can fuck up your life and the people around you, but it’s the only way that you can get this stuff out and be honest about it, because honesty is a very dangerous animal.

I think that’s interesting, and it makes me think about how art can be an amazing outlet for horrible impulses like, for instance, comedy, and how frequently comedy is about the catharsis of the performer being able to say things that would get them exiled from their lives. But, if you can channel that into something that is crafted, and that’s where craft also comes in, I think it saves us from just being egomaniacs. There certainly are egomaniacs out here, but that’s also the case with lawyers and doctors and any other profession, so it is interesting to think about art as being a safety valve for some of these uglier pieces of ourselves and it’s transformative. If you’re able to go into yourself and pull up all your ugliness and be solipsistic and craft something that you can share, sometimes it leads you into conversations with other people, and that is a delight. That’s something that would not have happened otherwise. 

That’s true, which brings me to “Gil Scott Albatross” – another great title. A combination of name-checking Gil Scott-Heron and I assume his “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” with the line, “What you give me no app can track,” which reveals a part of your generation that is always being surveilled and exposed. That’s where the “Albatross” comes in.

I think you nailed it.

It’s very playful, as is your penchant on this record to use staccato breaks on choruses, where the band is accenting your passion, aurally underlining your themes.  

“Gil Scott Albatross,” at least in the verses, is such a power-chord driven song, so it was important to me to bring in textures via the rhythm in the choruses; this way the music and lyrics can come together. It’s interesting to investigate how they’re related because they’re always related, like the line “Where there’s smoke, there’s a car on its back, there’s a gap in the side of the overpass,” which was a tour memory of driving by a car that was flipped over and on fire and calling 9-1-1, but it was busy and I was feeling so powerless, witnessing something horrific and being totally unable to intercede in any way. Driving a long distance and thinking about the broken overpass, and the 9-1-1 line being broken, I’m trying to bring these disjointed concepts together, and so as the song continues and breaks rhythmically, we are left with no choice but to go on although there are some very good reasons for us to stop what we’re doing and pay attention.

Your vocals here – and on the entire record – are very emotive and provocative; jumping octaves, playing with falsetto and less gentle phrasing, which also tells a tale. 

That is very kind. That was a great deal of fun for me. In fact, I had so much fun making this record.

It sounds fun, no matter the deeper lyrical content. It is an intriguing juxtaposition. I have always loved happy-sounding songs with more solemn sentiments. How do you develop your vocals?

Because I’d been playing in bands a long time, I had never primarily focused on my voice as an instrument; it’s always been guitar or bass guitar, and I love to play around with the synthesizers – that’s kind of where my intellectual interest has always gone and my voice has always been secondary. I think that with this record, I finally decided that my voice is also an instrument on par with anything else… that it might be my instrument, so I just had a lot of fun letting loose. It made me excited to see where the vocals go in the future. 

The phrasing is also interesting. You do a lot of off-rhythm phrasing. There’s an explicit dissonance on one or two of the songs. This is true of the production on this record, and for the most part, the arranging and sounds are cohesive with some notable exceptions, the acoustic number, “Me Minus One Atom,” and probably my favorite track on the record, “Maylene.”

Wow, that’s very interesting. That’s the one that is my sole production credit. 

There is a hypnotizing drone quality to it that reminds me of the Velvet Underground.

It’s just three strings. There’s also an instrument in there that was a Christmas present to me from Wolfy [producer], which is a synthesizer called the Maximal Drone. It’s a black box with eight oscillators and a tone knob and a volume knob. It looks like an alien object that you can build giant chords with and during lockdown I was spending every day just making drones with it for fun.

What’s the weird shit going on during the instrumental part?

[Laughs] Weird recordings of Wolfy and the dog walking in on me while I was recording and sampled excerpts of an interview with science fiction author, Ursula K. Le Guin. Oh, and in the beginning is from a recording of a demo I was working on. This is a rare song where I had totally fleshed it out before we went into the studio. Normally, we build arrangements together. 

Why Le Guin?

Le Guin has a book called The Dispossessed that was really important to me, which is a “utopian novel metaphor.” It’s a very interesting, kind of alternative society. I love her, and the song deals some with motherhood, and there’s this PBS interview with her where she’s talking about being a mother. I’ve been known, for fun, to download speeches from writers that I love from the seventies or eighties and then just plug different pieces in to sample and kind of fuck around. I was also listening to nineties sample core stuff like pro-lo-fi hip-hop. There’s an artist called Wagon Christ and another, Land of the Loops, similar to The American Analog Set – a different genre, but very comforting music. I was going for that with this.

On the flip-side, “Me Minus One Atom” sounds like a demo, as if we’re privy to your process. Do you write and arrange songs on acoustic and then present them to the band?

Yes, I write the songs by myself in my dark little room and then I will bring them to Wolfy, and usually what we do first is we’ll create a scratch track – scratch vocals, scratch guitar. From there, we’ll start tracking. I had two amazing drummers on this record: Sam Becht, who took on a lot of the more giant, dynamic rock stuff we were trying to accomplish, and Madi Vogt. They both could have done all of it, but Madi took on everything that I wanted to instantly have your mind feel like you were in a jacuzzi. I just wanted the groove to be immediate and relaxing and Madi just has an amazing feel in that way. Sam has this kind of unhinged, incredible, barely-contained-chaos-rock thing going on. The bassist is a friend of mine named Genna Projanski. Although I played some bass, Genna was able to get a feel from all the rock stuff where the chords are not that complicated – feel being vitally important on this record.

There was a lot of trusting our rhythm section with the arrangements, and from there we decided what guitar sounds are we going for. Do we want something polished or more experimental? Do we want any synthesizer? I feel like on the last record, Sucker Supreme, we stayed steady in the rhythm section area and then we put tons of different sparkly synths and stuff all around. That was very fun. I love that record, but this was very different – sparser. In terms of a band record, it was a great rock and roll record.

It very much is a rock and roll record, which is very rare these days to combine pop sensibilities with rock, which has been pronounced dead since the early aughts or perhaps before.

Cool. That’s what we were going for. Also, Wolfy and I had a strong desire that it be very high fidelity, even though we were making it mostly at home. We wanted it to sound like we had recorded in some giant studio. Our friend Keith (Armstrong), who helped engineer on some of those drums is a phenomenal mixer, who had a lot of credits from that era of rock (Green Day, Avril Lavigne. Stone Temple Pilots, My Chemical Romance). In the end, we wanted the mixes to be freakishly crystal clear.

Mission accomplished. The record has what I call “the living room sound,“ as if the band’s playing right there.

We started with the vocals insanely dry and then eventually I said, “Ok, Keith, this sounds crazy, but let’s bring some treatment in. We can have it sound a little more… huge.”

You sang on everything, right?

Yeah. There’s one Wolfy harmony on “Obscura.” He’s the deeper voice on that.

“Paperclip Maximizer” has the line, “A paragon of puritanical, apnoptical persistence,” which is fucking great, and another delicious inner rhyme later on, but it is wordplay like “ontological contention” that pops with the alliteration of your vocals. “Divination, given to dismay,” all that stuff works so well throughout the album.

This one came fast. I do feel there are times where I really let the geek inside be the one driving the bus. I feel I’m getting away with something when I am packing so many syllables in [Laughs]. I’m addicted! It’s a sickness, honestly. I’ll listen to a beautifully simple song and be like, “Oh, that would be so cool to not be using my Wheel of Fortune words,” or whatever, and just say something succinctly, but that’s ok.

“Big Fish/No Fun” has your finest melody on the record. It’s very Paul McCartney-esque. It’s got a lot of great harmonies and things going on in there.

Yeah, I do feel that there’s a lot of the weepies in the melody. I also think that probably where you’re hearing the McCartney is from the fact that there is so much chord movement in this song, like a different chord every bar or more than every bar, and that just encourages the melody to move around in more interesting ways.  

“Suffer! Like You Mean It” is another clever title. I love the use of the exclamation point: “Can you please suffer like me?!” The repeating “I want you to eat my words,” and then finally, “I want you to masticate me,” denotes “masturbate,” which brings on a myopic sexual reference there. 

Yes! I think people are scared to read sex into songwriter lyrics, but, yeah, there is something aggressively sexual in “eat my words” and “masticate me.” I was thinking about that. There’s a fantastic song – I don’t know which song it is, but the artist is called Fail Better, Heal Faster, and they have a song where they yell, “Emasculate me!” I was riffing on that because that was burned into my brain forever. Yeah, the song is about the anger after intimacy, close-up anger. It’s not systemic, it’s unvarnished, and it’s a full-on “fuck you.”

I might be off here, but hearing “Unending Bliss” immediately made me think you might be commenting on your non-binary experience: “A fish with lungs, a newfangled freak, a lonely leap, a sacred breach, the ones I was, the ones I was, sing each to each in tongues that I no longer speak.” It’s very skin-shedding stuff. 

I love that you considered that. The lungfish is a creature that I have been thinking about since I wrote a report on it in the third grade. I had a teacher say that no fish have lungs, and I was such a little jerk, I got mad and did research and found the lungfish [Laughs]. That says something about me, I guess! But, alone, the lungfish is an excellent non-binary image, and this album doesn’t have many of them. There were a lot of images dealing with queerness on the last record, and not as many on this record in terms of thematically what I was dealing with, but it’s always there. And I do think that this song relates very much to identity, not just in this very specific region of gender and queerness, but in general in relationships and how we relate to our own past and to reconciling anger or regret in relationships.

As a songwriter, how much of your identity do you want listeners to connect to?

I think it’s really vital. There would have been a time where I might have felt in a kind of ego-sense that I didn’t want to be uplifted for the purpose of being one identity or another, but if people relate to it that way, it makes a lot of sense. If you’re like, “I never want to talk about how I’m trans and I just wish people would stop asking me about it,” that’s fine, too. “I just want to do my thing and make my art.” I relate to that. I’m cool with that. For me, and at this particular moment in history, the wider group that I am a member of in terms of the trans community and queer community are so legislatively and culturally embedded in our country, America, in particular, that I would not surrender a moment to speak to that. Maybe in 20 years, I’ll be like, “Oh my God, shut up,” but only when everyone I know is safe. Another thing is that my audience is extremely queer and extremely trans and I’m going to places where it is not easy or even always legal for people to live that way.

For me, there is so much beauty that I have encountered in this community by people who are not just trans, but from a whole mess of different backgrounds that I’m super into talking about. Culturally, there are some ways of relating to identity politics that are pretty toxic that have a little too much airtime in the discourse. I think everybody I know feels this way, but to be able to inhabit and celebrate plurality is so beautiful. I feel that part of the goal of my next phase of adulthood – I just turned 30 – is to be able to articulate myself in this way to people who do not have the same experience. Because we really need solidarity right now across different experiences. People who have a wildly different take on the world need to be able to come together to create safety and prosperity for us as a society.

Well said.

I also find it endlessly fascinating that although I’m now non-binary, there are some trans people like my partner where they’re of ‘this’ gender and was always of ‘this’ gender as a kid. Like, “Mom, stop calling me a girl! I’m a boy!” Some people relate in a way that it is clear to them. I found a diary entry from the third grade, where I was like this “girl/boy” – a girl inside boy inside girl inside boy, like with diagrams and shit. And so, for me, gender has just never been intuitive or sensical, and I’m at an age now that I’ve learned to not be as stressed about it because the stress is more like what’s happening in Congress and I don’t need to feel as much stress in my personal life or in my music life.

That was a long-winded answer, but I love being in the queer community. I love interacting with queer people all around the country. I love it when people are into the music just because they’re into the music, too. All of this is cool for me. 

What do you mean to say with the line, “I want nothing but unending bliss for my enemies?” Is that the “Love your enemy” Jesus-thing there? 

It’s interesting that you hit on that because this song was very much about me trying to articulate a concept of forgiveness that was not related to martyrdom. I grew up very Christian, and even as I moved away from it, there was still good shit in there. I think it was very liberating for me to admit to an image of forgiveness that was about diminishing oneself to be the bigger person, to let go of maybe injustice toward you. This, for me, has never proved very effective. I’ve tried, and when I was younger and religious, I tried all the time to be so good and did not find personal relief in it.

No one understands when I try to explain what I’m about to try to explain, so I’m gonna live with that, but I had some real, major, personal beef that we don’t need to get into that emerged in late 2019 – a total world-rocking social-sphere-destroying personal beef. I just couldn’t get over it, so what I started to do was internally to say, “Some people are arms dealers” and others “are not arms dealers”, and these were all gay people involved. The same assholes who would want to restrict my rights are the assholes that would want to restrict those particular social enemy’s rights, as well, so trying to zoom out to whatever degree I could – turns out I had to zoom out really far – to find common ground that was going to enable me to not just be consumed with anger and bitterness and to be able to let go, not from a place of, “Oh, I feel good about you now,” was difficult. It’s also aspirational. It’s like, “Wow, what a person I would be if I could just say all the good stuff to you, because I wanna recognize that I have so much good stuff in my life, but I never wanna be in a room with you, and I wish you the best.” Trying to get out of the bitterness and into forgiveness was a far different model than Jesus being so divinely selfless.

This brings me to “White Savior Myth,” which is the next song on the album. The forgiveness song followed by the pettiest one on the album [Laughs].

[Laughs] This is also kind of a solipsistic music industry looking song where, you know, occasionally you will see people become very successful very quickly. There is a type of person who is so marketable in the music industry right now: the waif-ish woman surrounded by men. It’s just easier to have a frontward facing career if people think you’re a girl and you’re thin or have a particular type of performance of femininity in the public eye. Then I was a little bitch about it [Laughs]. 

But you follow that with “Me Minus One Atom,” which is so inward and deeply personal. I love this line: “If what I am changes minute to minute / me minus one Adam wants you like I’m permanent.” Just “wants you like I’m permanent” has so many layers.

That was written during lockdown, and I think it’s the only song I wrote during lockdown.

It’s a love song?

Yeah, I think I wrote it after we had a fight about something stupid. I just stormed off and then I wrote a love song, which is, you know, kind of nice, beautiful. I couldn’t have planned it. I think that it is so… I don’t know if arrogant is the word, but to have someone in my life who I love so deeply and I’m building my life around is simultaneously the greatest gift and huge liability because nothing is guaranteed, and to continue every single day functioning on faith has expanded me as a person to engage in that way. 

And this relationship’s still going on? 

Yeah. I’m in a phase of life where I’m learning about a longer relationship because all of the culture is about the beginning of the relationship. There’s very little about growing, but you change so completely as a person throughout the course of your life, so it’s crazy to line up your life next to someone else’s and say, “Ok, here we go, let’s see who we turn out to be.”

Especially at your age, where change is rapid and constant. How long you’ve been together? 

I think it will be six years this fall. 

Wow, congratulations.

Thank you.

That’s a lot of growing… six years brings you back to 24. I was an idiot at 24. 

Oh my God – it’s honestly only ever gotten better. I don’t like anyone this close-up. I like to socialize, I like to chat, but I love to be alone. It is so bizarre that I have found a person who I can spend hours with every single day and not want to jump out of a window.

And with that… “UTOPIA NOW!” You obviously want utopia right the fuck now.

[Laughs] Yes. I think that’s similar to so many of the themes on the record, this concept of utopia has a lot wrapped up in it: There’s what I want from society and there’s also the ability to, I guess, if I’m going to be simple about it, step into gratitude and to recognize the sublime that exists in my everyday life and not be forced to reckon with what it feels like to ignore our issues because we collectively must put our minds together and figure out solutions. I want that, but in the meantime, I also need to persist if I will ever be able to assist in that effort.

Finally, “Eternal Life” – this is great way to end the record because it’s very ethereal and compellingly different than everything else on the album. It doesn’t have a bit of rock in it. In fact, it is quite jazzy, and then you have the message of living in the now, the eternal moment.

So… the song is a cover. I heard it before I began writing the rest of the record. Maybe I had written some songs, but the idea of the record was not fully formed, then I heard this song and I said, “That’s the last song on the record.”

Who is the composer? 

Her name is Shira Small. This was a reissue record that came out on Numero Group in 2023. It was recorded in the seventies by a teen at a Quaker boarding school in upstate New York. It’s an amazing record. It’s called The Line of Time and the Plane of Now, which is a line in that song. It was written by a teenager in the time of the Vietnam War, so she’s witnessing her peers reckoning with the prospect of being drafted, and from what I learned this was a crowd-funded project. Her music teacher was like, “You’re really good! Let’s get some parents to chip in and we’ll make some recordings of you!” In fact, I think the harmonies on the original song are her music teacher singing, which is amazing. And it’s a very weird song; the chords are very strange and it has the kind of naiveté of a person who is just beginning, but also deeply talented. Someone who has it, you know? It’s also this trippy, hippie-dippy, third-eye song that is a reaction to some scary on-the-ground historical circumstances. I knew none of this when I first heard it; I just felt it so strongly. Something about it just felt so sincere to me, even in its metaphysical out-there-ness. It just was sung with such sincerity and matter of factness that I just really felt it. 

So, we recorded it at home. Madi Vogt was on drums and did an amazing job. It was recorded last, I think. I did some fun sampling myself of my vocals at the top, I wanted to bring something a little weird and glitchy to it. We had an amazing saxophone player that I know who does stuff that is so much cooler than my record named Marta Tisenga playing on it. I love the freaky jazz. What I tend to be listening to is really squonky music, because my brain is working too much all the time, and so when I put on someone who is like really honking away, I actually get quiet. It’s the only time that happens. So Marta put some amazing horn down and we recorded on my childhood piano at home. Wolfy does not like the sound of the piano on the recording, but I think it’s quite charming. 

Yeah, it just felt like a sunset to me. It felt like, “Ok, we’ve been through all of these experiences, we’ve been through all of this thinking, like let’s all get on the spaceship!” It’s very seventies, and there is something in this record – not sonically as it’s not a seventies record and we’ve got a lot of nineties and 2000s radio rock vibes, I know – but in terms of being ambitious with the vision it’s like maybe we could go somewhere else that feels very seventies to me. 

Lastly, I must ask you about your tour that’s about to begin and will be in Brooklyn the week this comes out. What will people expect to see from your show? Are you going to play a lot of stuff from the new record? Will you have a full band? 

Yeah, it’s me, Wolfgang “Wolfy,” who produced the record, and my friend Maria Castro is on drums. She’s an amazing, monster drummer, and my friend, Jamie Orlando will be on bass, who is also a crazy good musician. Mostly we’ll be doing things in a rock arrangement and a bunch of stuff from the new record, but people know songs from my earlier work, so we’re playing stuff from all the records. It’s cool. It’s new. I haven’t gone on tour in a minute and then went on tour in November and people knew the songs from the record that I put out when I was like 20 [Laughs]. It was very surreal, so, we’re just trying to respect that. 

How do you see your live performance persona with your songwriting/studio one? 

I love all of it. Playing live was so disrupted by the pandemic, that concept of having a cycle where there’s one part of it where I am away from the people completely and I am just composing and I am totally antisocial, then the part (which I’m gradually accepting more) in the recording process where it’s shared, bringing more people in, and then when you start to tour it, the wild interpersonal interaction of me and the audience. Then you go back to being a hermit [Laughs], so every single part of this appeals to me completely. I simply love to perform live. I find it to be so fun. I love talking off-the-cuff. I used to never practice and that would make things stressful, but there is something that is so satisfying about the types of interactions or moments that occur during a performance, nothing scripted, but we will have a set list that we stick to. I used to be horrible about sticking to the setlist and I was always alarming my bandmates [Laughs]. I’ve really gotten a lot better about not straying from the plan, but there is so much that comes to mind. That’s the good stuff of being alive.