Music

How LA Singer-Songwriter Rosie Tucker Crafted A Wryly Observant, Stunningly Empathetic Label Debut

Shabnam Ferdowsi

Los Angeles singer-songwriter Rosie Tucker describes themself as a “non-sequiteur equestrian.” It’s a fun phrase, and a pretty accurate way of describing their loose, playful style of songwriting. On their label debut, Never Not Never Not Never Not, Tucker oscillates between wry humor and stark honesty, often in the same song. They jump in and out their own head and other people’s, dipping into the landscapes around them and giving life to every little moment with their pen and guitar.

You could compare Tucker’s observational style to Courtney Barnett and their frankness to Mitski or any other members of that cohort of young singer-songwriters. But drawing too many comparisons distracts from Tucker’s unique songwriting and vocals. Their guitar can be fuzzy or plaintive, and their voice is a chameleon fitting the emotional shape of every song they sing. Never Not Never Not Never Not isn’t Tucker’s first collection of music — they released an independent album in 2015, and a record with the LA indie band Gypsum, along with several other side projects.

Never Not Never Not Never Not has gotten quite a bit of attention leading up to its March 8 release via New Professor, and deservedly so. The record’s first single, “Gay Bar,” immediately establishes Tucker’s voice as an artist. Heaven is a place on Earth, not just in San Junipero — “Gay Bar” is an ode to a California cowboy dive bar and the wonderful, joyful weirdos who frequent it. It’s the kind of beautifully observed song where every detail has a story behind it — and further listening reveals the whole album has a story behind it. I spoke with Tucker ahead of their album release, discussing this new record and touching on everything from California landscapes to Hollywood’s hidden queer history. Read a condensed and edited version of our conversation below.

Can you talk a little bit about your process for writing and composing the songs on the album?

These songs were written over the course of a couple of years, just kind of collecting. I set out to record a six-song EP with all the pals that I play with. We had this tight little recording crew going on. I put together this six-song EP and I sent it to my friend Greg [Katz of New Professor], and he said, ‘I’d love to put this out, but as a full-length!’ And we went, ‘Oh no! Okay,’ and got back to the drawing board. I wrote a couple new things, dug up a couple old things, and we got something together.

Which were the new ones?

“Real House Music” we were writing the parts that we play as we were recording them, quite literally. “Call It Awful,” the really really short one, was brand new. “Pablo Neruda” was a song that I wrote ages ago, and sort of decided wasn’t a good song, and then I played it for someone, and they said, ‘That’s a pretty good song,’ so we threw that one on, too.

When I first heard “Gay Bar” I was struck by how it, like, immediately sets you apart as an artist and sets this great thematic tone for the rest of the album. I love the Dusty Springfield quote in the outro and how it kind of places your music in this legacy of queer artists throughout music history. Could you talk a little about that?

I think that the Dusty quote just came from me feeling like it’s an injustice that I never learned that she dated ladies! And, in fact, dated a lady named Norma Tanega who is also an amazing songwriter and is definitely overlooked. I think that there’s sometimes a tension between identity as it relates politically to the world and trying to forge an identity as an individual artist — trying to speak truthfully to the ways that the world sets you apart, but not wanting to be pigeonholed. “Gay Bar” is mostly about having a really nice night out, and I just wanted to place it in a context that was, like, ‘Look, we’ve been here for f*cking ever, and it’s a joyful way to be.’

I actually didn’t realize that Dusty Springfield was queer, either, until I listened to the song, and Googled her afterward. How did no one ever tell me this?

There’s an amazing Instagram called LGBT_History, and also the ONE Archives at USC [the University of Southern California] are great resources, where every single week they’re posting something, and I’m like, ‘That writer was queer? That musician was queer?’ It’s constantly forcing me to reexamine the canon of great people who have changed the world. A lot of them were queer, and we really don’t receive that history ever.

You also play bass in a band called Gypsum that’s also releasing new music this year. How do you balance writing and performing your solo stuff with your commitments in the band?

Anna [Arboles] and Jessy [Reed] who performed on my album are also in Gypsum, and then there’s a third project associated called Racquet that’s Sapphire Jewell, our guitar player’s, project. And I don’t know, we just sort of amicably figure it out as pals depending on who has what going on in their life. I feel like of any band I’ve ever played in Gypsum is the most like family. We’ve definitely all seen each other be in high-stress situations, and I’m at a point with those people where I’m just, like, ‘Well, you’re just kind of permanently in my life.’ We just kind of negotiate it.

You write a lot about California landscapes and places — “Fault Lines” is about a fracturing relationship, with different qualities of the city and desert corresponding to different aspects of the relationship. What do you find so inspiring about California?

I’m inspired by California because that’s where I’m from. I think if I was from a different place, I’d just be writing about Minnesota or wherever. But I’ve had family in California for a long time. I’m, like, a fifth-generation Californian. I feel very fortunate to get to meditate deeply on what it means to participate in a place for that long, including considering that my family was part of a colonial settlement. And what does that mean, and how does that relate to me being a young white person living in the city of Los Angeles, which is undergoing transformation right now. There’s so much depth to this place, and enormous natural beauty, that I can’t help but think on it a lot. It’s easy to reach for.

When people write about LA, a lot of time they focus on the city and the urban parts of it. I love that you find inspiration a little bit outside traditional city life — when I was listening to the album, I was taking notes on parts of songs and lyrics I thought were really striking. “Drops in the Pacific between us” from “Habit” and “I loved you like a hillside up in flame” from “Fault Lines” both seem like quintessential California lines even though they’re not necessarily tied to the city.

I think there’s something inherently sprawl-y about Los Angeles. You can spend a whole lifetime here and still barely know anything about the city.

I love the line in “Lauren,” “Quiet kind of people do the most important shouting.” Do you think of your own art as a place where your loudness and passion gets channeled?

I think that like a lot of songwriters and artists, the art often serves as a place to express what feels like it cannot be expressed perfectly in any other form. Conversation can feel really limited. When you can work a song, you feel like you can express something meaningful. It’s a fleeting feeling, but it’s what I feel like I’m always going for — that really brief period of time where I feel like I actually did say something, and I said something that I meant to say, and I think it came out okay.

I always think of this quote, I don’t remember who said it [it was Harry Styles] but it was like, “Talking to an instrument is sometimes easier than talking to a person” and turning your own feelings into art make them easier to process.

I feel like sometimes being in an art practice you learn things about yourself as you go. Like, ‘I didn’t know I was so angry about this until I was yelling about it.’ It’s a pretty amazing thing to participate in.

This is your first record with New Professor. How did you get connected with the label?

I knew Greg from around town. He was interested in signing Gypsum, actually, and that didn’t work out. But Greg is just a really good person to know, he’s very genuine and very thoughtful and likes to talk to people about what they’re trying to do in the music industry. I don’t know that most artists get to put out their first label record with someone who’s their very good friend and who they have a level of trust with. I feel very lucky.

I love the album art for the record. It’s a pile of yarn, right? Is there a story behind that?

I was working at an artist retreat, but I was working all the time and I wasn’t getting to make any music. And I’m pretty introverted, and I was sort of overwhelmed by human interaction. And we were really far from the nearest town. But I went to the grocery store one day, and there was some yarn, and I bought it. And I started making these yarn sculptures between trees on the campus. And then I got home and started yarning my apartment. I don’t really have any history with the medium beyond that. But then when I was trying to make some artwork, and I didn’t have a nice camera, and I was like, “What would happen if I just put some yarn on my scanner and just sort of futzed with it in Photoshop and see what happens?” And that big square is what happened.

You’re playing some west coast dates and coming to SXSW in a few weeks. What’s something else you’re looking forward to this year?

I’m always excited about getting to record more music with my best friends. Last time it was sort of haphazard, like, we have an evening here, a morning there — piecemeal like that. My dream this time is that we can set aside some time together to get really experimental with the songs and lay down some weird demos, go into a studio, make a big checklist, and just, bam bam bam, put out a record. Who knows if it’ll happen. But that’s what I would like to do, and that’s what I’m excited about.

Rosie Tucker’s album Never Not Never Not Never Not is out March 8 via New Professor. You can pre-order it here.

×