Name: Rosie Tucker
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Rosie Tucker's Sucker Supreme will be out on CD and Vinyl via Epitaph on June 18th.
Recommendations: Ellen Fullman’s Long String Instrument. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.
[For those interested in the Long String Instrument, see our Ellen Fullman interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Rosie Tucker, visit her personal website for more information.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I think it’s always been music for me. I’m told I was singing before I started speaking words. My parents aren’t particularly arty but they’ve always supported my music making. I wish I could tell you why noise does it for me, but I can’t.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I feel like I interacted with a pretty eclectic music selection from a young age. I grew up in a very Christian household and community which limited what music I was exposed to for a long time.
I don’t feel like I’ve ever successfully emulated music I was trying to emulate, and I don’t feel like I have strong ties to any particular scene, era, genre, instrument, whatever. I think I always feel like I’m starting over. It’s not true, but it’s how I feel.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think creativity has to happen in a place beyond identity and definition. Sometimes I’ll write something and come to understand its meaning later— this song was about gender, that song was about a particular relationship. But to get the songs to emerge I can’t assign too much meaning too soon.
That said, if I’m the sum of everything that’s resulted in me, then so is my art. There’s only so many thoughts in my head, only so much I have to share about the world, so direct experience has a role in there somewhere.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Writing a song is still the main creative challenge. Arranging, producing, writing parts, playing in a band— these things can be challenging but they’re also FUN, and also frequently involve other people, which always makes things easier.
Writing a song though, that’s an equally blank slate no matter how many songs you’ve written before. It’s a magic trick that only I can perform for myself but I’m still not totally sure how it’s done. It’s stupid, it’s frustrating, but it’s also the most satisfying. I’m learning to be nicer to myself, and to trust that the songs can come, even if I don’t know when they’ll show up. I feel like I’ve been saying that for years.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The guitar has been my primary technology for hammering out songs over most of my songwriting career. That said, I love to muck around with synthesizers. This is only barely beginning to translate into the production on my songwriting projects, but I’ve gotten a lot of joy out of taking a noise and stretching it, distorting it, turning knobs, going somewhere atonal and coming back. I have a lot of admiration for some of the earlier women of synthesis, like Wendy Carlos or Pauline Oliveros, whose writings on listening have given me lots to think about.
Becoming more comfortable within the recording process has changed where my creativity leads me to. If I’m sitting down to fuck around and have fun I might ask, is today a sampling day, a MIDI day, or a live instrument day? And move creatively from there. It’s freeing when you figure out that there’s no one way to accomplish your production goal, the results are what matter. I’ve also had a good time using Melodyne, a tuning software, to make big freaky unnatural stacks of vocal harmonies or distorted guitars.
I think it’s important not to get caught up caring about gear. Gear culture is classist and promulgates icky gatekeeping behaviors far removed from acts of creativity. This isn’t to say that there aren’t people who love and understand a wide array of music technologies, but everyone I’ve connected with knows that what you play is as important as the amp you play through. I’ll purchase a piece of gear and then it’ll take me half a decade to learn how to use it, to build a relationship, to move past the presets. I’m sure I’m not alone here.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Yes! I’m at a crossroads right now. I’m used to inventing lyrics and a melody with the guitar in hand, each aspect of the songwriting informing what happens with the other. The melody has to feel good to sing while I’m playing.
That said, the guitar can feel really limiting, since I’m no virtuoso, and the computer has endless sounds for me to play with (or was for me to distort my guitar and vocal). I’m practicing writing over loops I’ve created, and it’s a whole other kind of feeling trying to locate an authentic melody without holding an instrument.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Alright so I write the songs (chords lyrics melodies) alone but from that point forward I’m in a collaboration space. Wolfy, who produced my last two records, has been hugely encouraging of my own development as a producer, and has helped me build out a vision with each record, aiming to land somewhere more ambitious and hi fi than the last. The songs also couldn’t grow up to be what they are without instrumentation from Jessy Reed (drums) and Jess Kallen (guitar) who are so generous in bringing their creativity to the recording process.
I used to play bass in bands pretty frequently, and that’s an aspect of my creative live that I’ve really been missing. It’s one kind of satisfying to lead or steer a creative project, but it’s a totally different beautiful thing to share in the creation from the beginning, to practice listening and jamming. It’s so special to play bass with a drummer you know really well, or who you have really good chemistry with. There can be moments where you’re not thinking, and they’re not thinking, and you play like an improvised fill or something perfectly in sync and it feels kind of miraculous. It’s been great working on my own artist project but I kind of can’t wait to jam for fun again, once I’ve got the space and time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I am not talented at structuring my time. I’m a procrastinator, I’m naturally disorganized, I’m always working against my more chaotic inclinations. Having outside commitments helps me to get my work done, and I’m always trying to make sure I don’t mess up anyone else’s work day with my own nonsense.
During much of the pandemic I was remotely teaching middle school music technology but now it’s summer and I have a lot more free time on my hands. I’ll wake up, have my tea and do some reading or write some pages in a notebook. Depending on what’s going on, I’ll either start by making music or I’ll take care of the most pressing emails. I’ll walk the dog at some point, maybe mail some Bandcamp orders. Maybe later I walk again while talking on the phone. I’m not really sure what to tell you because every day is different.
In the evenings it’s dinner and TV or reading with the partner. A pretty sweet domestic life that will hopefully be upended by touring in the near future!!!
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think every recorded work finds me in a different place than the last, so I'll talk a bit about my most recent record. Our goal for the recording process was to make a record that sounded fully professional, big and hi-fidelity, but to do it with a small team of friends who love each other, mostly outside of any recording studios. We wanted to trick people into thinking we were more professional than we actually are, and I think it worked.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Being kind to myself and taking care of my basic needs are the best tools for my own general health as well as my creative life. Some people can create from a place of being actively angry, sad, or upset. Whatever art comes out of me takes a lot more time to process strong emotions. It emerges when I’m feeling safe, when I finally have the bandwidth to look at emotions or situations from a while ago.
Learning to grocery shop regularly has helped my creativity, as has moving my body and going to therapy. I hate narratives around the unwell genius. I think people are successful in spite of suffering, not because of it. Creativity is a beautiful outlet but it can’t be the only one if the art is going to be sustainable and challenging and interesting for a long time.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I’ve personally related to music as a tool for processing emotion, which can be pretty healing. Sometimes music I’ve written will resonate with people who have experienced similar emotions or traumas, and connecting to others through music helps remind me that I’m not, and never have been, alone in what I’m experiencing.
When it comes to the wider world, I think about how many young people don’t have access to musical equipment or knowledge. Many public schools in my state (California) have struggled to allocate funding for arts and music education for several decades now, even though participation in the arts is tied to better outcomes for children. Abstract expression, creative engagement, and artistic discipline can help us all to locate and express our emotions in constructive ways. Music begets self esteem and creative mutuality. In my ideal world, every student would attend music class regularly for the entirety of their schooling, and each school would have a musical program with a full time teacher. These classes wouldn’t focus on a prescriptive, rigid classical cannon but would draw from music the students listen to and from musical traditions active within those student’s surrounding communities. Folk music and instruments would be taught alongside contemporary instruments and production techniques. I think there could be a lot of healing in such an environment.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
There are lots of juicy ways to approach this question, but practically speaking, I think that artists should strive to make art that feels natural, personal, and familiar to themselves, even if on an ambitious scale. This is just a good rule of thumb for art making in general.
Of course, things get twisted where there’s money involved, or clout, whatever your vehicle for power. Art functioning on a commercial scale becomes increasingly bereft of social history or context (authenticity) as it moves into the mainstream. I’m thinking, for example, about young Black American choreographers, like Jalaiah Harmon, whose original dances go viral and uncredited on Tik Tok when popularized by white American teens favored by racist algorithms.
Capitalist enterprises in this way have the tendency to distort or prevent cultural exchange, maintaining the erasure and oppression of marginalized people while those whose status in the society is more secure garner money or acclaim for art styles they’ve borrowed.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think it’s interesting how sound informs my spatial awareness, like if I have headphones in, I sometimes find I’m a little clumsier. I think sound is kind of the most immersive sensory vehicle. Like, a video might immerse me for a time, when I’m sitting in one place, but sound can travel with me, wrap me up, make me feel like I’m elsewhere.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Mostly I think art-making is just the best way to waste your spare hours in this lifetime, if you’re lucky enough to have hours to spare.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Nothing! I think the right artist within the right medium can touch on pretty much any mysterious aspect of human feeling.