Ever since the release of their debut album, 2015’s Lowlight, Los Angeles-based musician Rosie Tucker has combined wry humour and playful sincerity to craft songs that can be both bracingly intimate and unabashedly fun. Their third album, Sucker Supreme, the follow-up to 2019’s Never Not Never Not Never Not, is their most dynamic and ambitious effort yet, steering even further from the stripped-back indie folk of Lowlight to embrace a more expansive, heavier sound. It’s Tucker’s ability to sift through different moods and styles that makes it such an engaging, powerful listen – a single song can include some of the album’s most searing and funny lines: “Wouldn’t we be perfect together if we wanted exactly the same thing?” they sing on the standout ‘Habanero’, before eventually landing on the realization, “I can’t believe I’ll die before becoming a frog.”
These are some of Tucker’s sharpest songs to date, filled with catchy sing-along choruses and cheekily political lyrics; but then, with the same self-awareness and ease, the singer-songwriter will venture into more experimental territory, from the slinky electronics of ‘Creature of Slime’ to the hypnotic deconstructions of ‘How Was It’. By reworking opener ‘Barbara Ann’ into the strange collage piece that brings the album to a close, Tucker suggests that growth doesn’t always mean leaving things behind; it can mean learning to take those pieces and molding them into a different shape, each element part of a complex, ever-evolving whole.
We caught up with Rosie Tucker for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about growing up as a queer person, their fascination with frogs, making Sucker Supreme, and more.
In a press release, you tell this story of being at your grandparents’ farm and laying an open arm at the electric wire that surrounded it, even though you were told not to. And reflecting on that experience, you say that you “desired knowledge more than you feared your parents.” Was that a feeling that you remember kind of having a lot growing up, the desire to know things despite any potential risks or criticism?
I was a really, really obedient child. I was really into church and into Jesus. And stressed – I think that I was sort of trying really hard to do the right thing all the time. But I really enjoyed solitude. And I think that’s part of where that kind of like, “I’m going to put my hand on the electric fence” – that was sort of like, allowing myself experiences, but only in secret. And forming a sense of myself that I cultivated away from other people, which I also relate to, like, queerness. And it took me a really long time to come out or confront those things in myself. So yeah, I think I was not much of a troublemaker. I was really trying hard to do a good job, but you can’t help it. You got to figure stuff out, you know?
I thought it was interesting, how you talked about desire in that quote, because it’s something that you also mentioned when talking about the single ‘Habanero’ – that “desire is not the same thing as a sense of self, but it’ll work as an added sugar corn syrup kind of substitute.” Can you think of something that you feel does or did form part of your sense of self? Obviously, this could be music, but it could also be something completely unrelated.
I think that my sense of self, for a long time, revolved around my ability to use words and to use music. I started writing songs as a teenager, later in my teenage years, and before that, I was always good at writing. And I think that something that is useful about writing that relates to desire and relates to sense of self as well is, you can simultaneously create what you are, but you can also obscure it. I think that’s part of the art of poetry or of songs, taking an emotion that is so raw and would be so embarrassing to perform in front of other people and using craft to turn it into something that you can present. And so, I think that I grew up as a pretty emotionally repressed person, and poetry and songwriting were an acceptable way of exploring emotion and of sharing emotion. And in fact, they were encouraged – like, I got literally applauded when it comes to sharing music. And so I think that early on, it was sort of like, “Okay, this is an avenue where I am able to share pieces of myself that I’m not sure would be applauded otherwise, parts of myself that I feel are unsavory or unacceptable for whatever reason.” So learning how to articulate through words and music has formed my sense of self a lot.
And then, I also think the process of coming out and the process of knowing a lot of queer and trans people has been really important to how I see the world and how I interact with the world. I think accessing those parts of my identity and also coming out enabled me to relate to how I think about systems of power, how I think about discovering new information. I think going through the transformation of, assuming myself to be straight, and assuming myself to be cisgendered, which not everybody does – I know that some people are, you know, four years old and they’re like, “I’m gay.” Like, they just have it. And I think with me, it took a long time to be safe enough with myself, and it took knowing a lot of other queer and trans people to allow myself the safety and the security to bring those things out into the world.
How did those two things connect for you – the desire to express yourself through music and poetry and the process of discovering your identity?
I think it’s no coincidence that a lot of queer people have migrated to more abstract arts like poetry or like music. If you’re growing up in an environment where being honest about yourself is taboo, I think that having a craft is a way of honestly expressing oneself, without kind of having to own up to being gay or being trans, being the thing that might get you kicked out, you know. I wrote a lot as a kid, and also, I was really into stories – and it’s a very specific genre that exists – but girls cross-dressing and pretending to be boys and disguising themselves to go fight in wars. I have a memory of being in Blockbuster with my dad and him being like, “Well, go ask them,” and me being like, “Hi, do you have any movies about girls dressing up as boys and fighting?” [laughs] And now I look back and I go, “Oh…” Like, “How did my parents not know? How did I not know?” I mean, there’s always romance in them and it’s usually between the main character, who is a girl, and a boy, but it’s like, still very gay because she’s disguised as a man whenever she meets the man that she’s gonna end up with. So, I feel like just looking for those kinds of signals all over the place, looking for poems about – I think a lot of poetry is kind of free from gender, or looking for poems about anger about gender, or just reading and identifying with boys and kind of being able to cast myself into other gendered spaces and not assuming that that’s something separate from me or that doesn’t belong to me.
How was it going from absorbing these works and stories to then trying to express that yourself?
I did not really address any of my queerness until I was about 19. And I fell in love, basically. For so much of my life before that, I was just surrounded by queer people, and I always thought, “Well, I’m straight, I’m just surrounded by queer people.” And they were all really nice about it, and I’m sure no one was surprised when I finally came out. But I think I’m a slow-moving person and I don’t like to make any sudden changes in my life. And so, for a few years, I would say, “I think that I’m straight, but if I met the right person, then I would allow myself to fall for them.” Because I don’t want to live that way, where I’m preventing myself from having experiences that I don’t think are morally wrong, even if I’m scared.
So I met a person who I fell in love with, and that was a catalyst for coming out to my parents and for starting to also reconsider my relationship with gender as well. Because I think that when I started gay dating, I guess you could say, I realized how much physically, up to that point, had been about attracting boys. And I remember when I was 19 and I was dating a queer person, I was like, looking in my closet to go out for a party. And it was like, “Oh, I don’t know what to wear, because I’ve already attracted the person who I want, and they’re not the person who I thought it was going to be. So, what do I – me, what do I want wear? How do I want to present myself? And what kind of attention am I trying to get, if not attention for being a cute girl?” And so, that started the slow path of opening up these other questions. Like I said, I’ve known a lot of queer and trans people, and I think that having those relationships has just been vital to me embracing myself and being okay. I think that being able to make good on those relationships has always propelled me to be brave, when I myself – I don’t think that I am a brave person, but I feel like I owe it to the people in my life who are brave to own up to who I am.
What role, if any, did music play in this process of figuring out yourself? Did it change at all since you first got into songwriting?
I think that music is such a personal and honest place for me that I did not need to change very much. Music is the first place of my life where I really learned how to retreat and to not give a fuck about what other people think about me. I felt that with my own art, I didn’t have anybody to please but myself. And so it’s always been the core of my own self-safety.
I do think that – so, I use gender-neutral pronouns, I use they/them – and that’s something that I started doing in spaces with a lot of queer and trans people where it made sense, it was just one of the options. And it was like, “Well, now that I have the option, I think I like the gender-neutral one because I feel neutral about gender, that’s it.” That is one place within my music project where it was sort of like – there’s really not too many opportunities to go around declaring your gender to people, and it made sense to start including my pronouns publicly. I didn’t really think any of it through – I didn’t really think, like, “Oh, this means I’m gonna be ready to explain this to people, ready to explain my gender.” It was just sort of like, “This is my music, my music is where I’m safe. That’s where I’m the most myself and this is something that I’m exploring, so I’m going to attach it to my music.” And, you know, the project is leveling up and interacting with an increased number of people, which brings an increased number of opportunities for me to correct people about my gender and to explain my gender, which I’m always in the process of how to do that, but it has also put me in touch with so many other people who feel the same way. On the one hand, I never really intended to be that public about my sexuality or my gender, but on the other hand, where I have decided to take those steps, it has always rewarded me by putting me in touch with other people like me, which is kind of the point of making art in general, I think.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting to me how, regardless of how you wanted to present yourself, how that changed, the music itself has always served the same purpose. There’s obviously been a clear progression throughout your musical output, but what drives it hasn’t really changed. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to ask about your new album, Sucker Supreme. With your previous records in mind, what was your vision going into this one? Did you know from the start that you wanted to do something different?
Yes, definitely. I made this record with Wolfy, who produced my last album as well, Never Not, and Jessy Reed, who played drums on my last album, and Jess Kallen, who has toured with the band. So, a really loving, close-knit group of creative people. And I think that the goal for the last record was just, my songs with a band, pure and simple. We’re just trying to arrange for a band. And I think that the goal with this record was to sound better and bigger and more professional, but to still have the process of creating the album be very personal and very full of love. So feeling like, “Can we scale up, can it sound shiny and successful and like, real ass music you would hear on the radio if it’s just us, making it and having a really good time doing it?” And recording, some of it we did in the studio, a lot of it we did at home. So I definitely intended for this record to be different, but I always want the process of recording to be personal and fun and a good time for everybody involved.
I think that’s definitely reflected on the record – it sounds bigger and more refined, but there’s still a charming kind of energy to it, a lot which comes from your lyricism. There’s just so many quotable lines here, and I wanted to bring up one from ‘Habanero’ specifically: “I can’t believe I’ll die before becoming a frog.” There’s also a reference to “feeling amphibious” on ‘Trim’, and you mentioned in that press release that you were obsessed with frogs growing up. Why do you think that is?
Oh man, I loved frogs growing up. I had this T-shirt that said “Frog Facts” and it was just covered in like, “The African bullfrog can eat an entire sparrow.” As a child, I don’t think I ever thought about what the frog means until kind of working on this record, but I just thought that they were very, very cute, and I think I really did want to be one. I felt an affinity for the amphibious, and I did not, at the time – obviously, because I was a kid – connect it to any kind of bisexuality or queerness or any of that, but I think that there’s something very attractive about the ability to be between worlds, to be a creature that is on land and in water. Especially if you’re a kid and if you’re queer and you don’t have language – I mean, it doesn’t have to be about queerness, it can be about any part of ourselves that we don’t have language for yet. I think that recognizing myself as amphibious enabled me to leave room for different identities and to not have to, I guess, repress, and to feel like, “Oh, well, I’m a land creature and a sea creature,” you know, “I like to be with people and I like to be alone. I think sometimes I’m a boy and I think sometimes I’m a girl.” Not having to reject any of those feelings, and instead recognizing that contradictions can exist within us.
It’s interesting how the symbolic language to understand it often comes later on, but that fascination is there from the beginning. And it’s not just frogs – there’s all sorts of creatures on this album, and you often describe people and situations in those kinds of terms. Where do you think that comes from?
I definitely don’t think that it’s very planned. I think part of it is, when I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch Animal Planet and Discovery, I was only allowed to watch educational television. And so, I internalized a lot of animal facts, and I think that those are also very useful ways for me to talk about myself and other people without having to say, like, “You’re a monster, you’re squeezing me to death, you’re so overbearing.” Instead, I can put that emotion elsewhere without having to, you know, talk a lot of shit.
I wanted to go back to that memory of being in your grandparents’ farm, and I thought the conclusion that you drew from this story was interesting – how we basically inherit certain things from our families and then spend the rest of our lives trying to make sense of them. Could you expand on that statement?
I think that as children we can’t help but be impacted by the ways that our parents cope with stress, and they were impacted by the ways that their parents cope with stress, and these things form how we react as we move through the world and relate to other people. Everybody’s childhood is imperfect, and so much of adulthood, to me, is the process of being able to examine why I have the reactions that I have and working through them. And also, I think understanding your parents is kind of a lifelong process, because when you’re a child, so much of what adults do can feel arbitrary and unfair. And you grow up, and sometimes you learn that, actually, now that you have the responsibility of being an adult, the adults in your life were just doing what they had to do. And sometimes you look back and you go, “Wow, that was arbitrary and unfair, and someone shouldn’t have treated me that way as a child.” So I think there’s just a lot to process, a whole lifetime’s work. I don’t think you ever get done.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.