A young singer / songwriter with an impressive pedigree and musical foundation, this artist is no stranger to local NYC stages… he’s also leant his voice to several high profile live performances and projects. But now with a new single and a vocal style all his own, the artist known as TUCKER is ready to be front and center on the main stage.
Thotyssey: TUCKER, hello! Thanks for chatting with us today! So after a year and a half of lockdown, nightlife in NYC is finally starting to come back, and hopefully Broadway will soon follow. What are your thoughts and feelings about this moment?
TUCKER: I think it’s super exciting that we’re finally in a safer position vis a vis the pandemic these days; but truth be told, I’m nervous! I’m an immunocompromised Type 1 Diabetic, which puts me in a high risk category: so even though I’m fully vaccinated, I’m still figuring out how to comfortably emerge from my Covid-safe cocoon!
Whereabouts are you located now? What was your own quarantine experience like? And where are you from originally?
I grew up in NYC metro, and went to high school and college in the city. After several years of gigging in LA and NYC and traveling back and forth every few weeks, I made the West Coast move more permanently at the start of 2020. After two solid months there with some very exciting music activity, that hoe over there Miss Rona reared her nasty ass wig and I ended up back on the East Coast in my family’s place during the latter part of the pandemic. We’ve certainly had our moments, but overall it’s been super nice to be with the fam during this time!
You grew up in a very musical family: your father is an acclaimed music and radio producer, and your mother is a songwriter who worked with many of the greats in the 1960s, like Hendrix. And your godmother is Ellie Greenwich, who wrote iconic songs like “Be My Baby,” “Chapel of Love,” “Leader of the Pack,” “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Do Wah Diddy,” “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” “And Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.” I’m guessing this meant that you were constantly exposed to many different genres and eras of music all the time. Did anything stand out as a particularly strong influence?
Wow, you’ve done your homework! I’m heavily influenced by my dad, mom, and Ellie. Their music-media lineage is a huge part of the reason that I am who I am. When I was younger, my dad was creating the sonic branding for Nickelodeon among many other projects, so I had opportunities to sing commercials, network IDs, and show themes for him and a small group of his trusted compadres. Being in studios as a kid really helped stoke my desire to write, perform, and record music. I was also exposed to a lot of fantastic artists in my house when I was growing up. My mom’s best pal was Ellie who, among other nuggets, told me in all seriousness to sing the word “bay-bee” as “bay-beh!” I also remember eating bleary-eyed breakfast in the kitchen while the soundtrack ran the gamut from Rahsaan Roland Kirk to Aaron Copland, Joni Mitchell, and The Crystals. I’d then proceed to get on the bus and blare Aaron Carter in my earbuds!
Did you always see yourself becoming a musician, or were there other possible career paths in your future? You did major in Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts here in NYC, after all!
My parents joke that they would have been quite content had I come home from school one day and declared: “Hey this biology thing is really cool. I wanna be a doctor!” But I was one of those kids who did a bunch of different activities after school: track, the school play, competitive figure skating (no joke), etc.. No matter what I forayed into, though, deep down it was probably always foretold I’d be a songwriter and singer. When it came time to go to college, it was my conscious academic strategy to deepen and contextualize my songwriting by digging into the literary canon and writing prose: non-fiction, journalism, poetry, and playwriting. I wanted to make sure that my artistic sonic development would encompass something wider than strictly music and songwriting.
Paul is my “rock and roll godfather.” He and my mom met in a recording session for The National Lampoon Radio Hour (I believe the bit was “Kung Fu Christmas” with Christopher Guest and Gilda Radner) in the mid-’70s, and have been best friends for decades. Paul will tell you that he was new in town when the producer insisted on bringing in this “Brooklyn hitter chick singer.” My 20-something mom came in, listened to the demo and the first words he ever heard her say were, “that’s not a demo…it’s a fuckin’ mastuh!”
I’m very lucky to have someone like Paul in my corner. Not only has he been one of my kindest and most supportive cheerleaders, but he’s also given me wonderful advice about music and the business simply by showing me. I remember one day as a kid I visited The Late Show when Alice Cooper was the musical guest, and after they taped the show I got to watch post-production Paul in the studio underneath the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater. He worked on the live recording for hours after most of the staff and crew had long ago left the theater. He rearranged his live arrangements, re-recorded them, re-mixed them, re-arranged them again, re-recorded and mixed them again, and then tweaked the sound all in time for the 11:30 PM broadcast that night. It was a serious lesson in “it’s not right until it’s right.” I strive for that level of excellence.
You sang backup for another prolific singer-songwriter, Carole King, in her 2018 Election Day performance on The Today Show! What was that experience like?
That day was truly one of the most surreal of my life. Carole King is everything to me–my ultimate idol! I had coincidentally lent vocal support to Jonah Hill, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, and Melissa Villaseñor in the hilarious “Political Musical” sketch on Saturday Night Live just three days before, so I was riding “The 30 Rock High!” My call time was something like 6am, but I barely slept the night before because I was just so damned excited to meet Carole.
For context: I was #obsessed with [her groundsbreaking solo album] Tapestry growing up. I knew every word because my family always played it on long car rides. Beyond making music with her, the best part about the experience was how sweet and loving Carole was. After the rehearsal (there it was: that unmistakable sound of hers… keep it together, keep it together!) she told me I had a fantastic voice and that she was grateful I could be there to sing with her. I almost passed out.
The MOST fun! We did a monthly duo show in the cabaret room called Two Tuckers— you know, because I’m Tucker and she’s A Tucker? Anyway, it was always a hoot. The night was full of lip-syncs, special guests, and our original songs which ranged from “26” (a lament about losing health insurance and picking up french fries from José at the neighborhood bodega) to “Laugh It Off” (in which we covered the importance of moving forward after showing up unannounced at your Grandma’s house and seeing Pastor John going down on her… among other laughable pastimes). The shows were salacious yet touching; raucous but loving. We packed the house every time, and always had a ball. I also did an original musical comedy cabaret show monthly at The Duplex the following year called Peter, Paul and Carly–but that was all another decidedly pre-pandemic story!
Do you have an all-time favorite performing experience?
I had a residency at The Cutting Room in New York City when I was in college, and those shows were always a blast. There was something about working out new material with a band in front of a live crowd that was especially exciting. But before then, I actually did my first live shows ever at the original Cutting Room on West 26th Street (before they moved to East 32nd). I remember my first headlining show there when I was 16 years old pretty vividly. I had just started putting out piano-vocal demos on my Facebook page, and when I sang them to a packed room–accompanying myself on just the piano–everybody was singing my lyrics and melodies back at me. It was totally surreal, and a full body high moment. I still get that tingly feeling when concertgoers do that with my material years later. Now that the world is slowly but surely reopening, I’m so pumped to get back on stage again in front of a live audience!
Much of your musical career has been about supporting other artists in their endeavors, but right now might be your first real turn as a front-and-center recording artist with original songs. What inspired that shift?
I’ve been writing songs since I was six years old: the first one was about a fashion model I thought I saw at the mall. I wrote original musicals with a dozen and a half original tunes when I was in high school. But as time went on, yes, I was mostly writing and singing for other people.
During the first stages of the lockdown in 2020, I decided to get over myself: I took a look at my past, and considered my future. When the pandemic persisted, I felt an old, familiar burning bubbling up from under my gay diabetic ass… one no legal pharmaceutical could hope to quell! From the time I was little, I always had in the highest part of my soul this calling to be a recording artist. I realized that, here I am–an immunocompromised person living through COVID-19. As my debut solo song “KNOCKOUT” says: it was “time for the main event!” I accepted that this was the time to seize my moment… if not now, when?
You call yourself “The Retro Contempo Artist!” How would you describe your sound in relation to that title?
When I look at the pop landscape, I hear my stuff as subsuming parts of the continuum of girl groups, doo-wop, rock & roll, musical comedy, and stage music. I feel I have something unique to offer in today’s market, and I hear all of those eras and genres as I articulate my present, which I have the balls to imagine has implications for the future.
What are the joys and challenges of being an indie artist in today’s streaming and live gig market?
It’s an interesting time to be an independent artist. On the streaming side of things, because of so many distribution services and social media channels, indie artists have an incredible opportunity to connect with listeners. On the other hand, there’s such an over-saturation of artists trying to be heard, so it’s an intense and hard game to play to even connect with an audience. For me, it’s a slow burn to be sure. But it’s all so much more worthwhile when I get a comment on a lyric video from a listener in India telling me that my song has become their new “slay the day anthem.”
As I move toward the results that I’m going for in the pop artist world, it fulfills me to get feedback from people who are singing along while pursuing their own dreams. Beyond that, when it comes to the live gig market, it’s a real opportunity right now for indie artists who are willing to put themselves out there. After being trapped inside for almost a year and a half, people are ready to hear live music more than ever!
You’ve dropped a handful of singles now, starting with “KNOCKOUT” in April and then “NO COMPARISON” a few weeks later. How do you like the recording process?
Every song is different, but I generally find that if I don’t cut my vocals the day I write a song, the song is usually not gonna go anywhere. There’s something about laying it down when I haven’t heard the song too many times that allows the vocal to further the song in ways that I might not even be conscious of. If I’ve thought about the song too much, it’s usually not as rockin’ or effective because I’m singing more technically and not from the place that got me excited about writing the song in the first place.
And now you’ve just released a really cute Pride-worthy single “FAUX FUR!” It’s a very fun, very contemporary track. What inspired it?
Right before I went into the songwriting session for “FAUX FUR,” a friend was telling me about how they thought they were ugly and undeserving of love, and that in order to appeal to more people they had to change things about themselves. Hearing that from them was such a shock to me, because I thought they were so beautiful inside and out without any of the changes they were talking about.
The conversation seeped its way into my emotional state, and I felt a deep need to write a song that encouraged folks to know that just because they might have trouble seeing how beautiful they are, it doesn’t mean that somebody else isn’t feeling the complete opposite way about them already. Truth be told: I was super into the friend that said this to me, which is why the song took on a more sexually provocative vibe. But I truly believe the sentiment stands in so many different types of relationships: just because you feel unworthy of acceptance doesn’t mean that the feeling is a fact.
Anything else the children should know?
My pop recording artist agenda is front and center these days, but coordinating the hopeful end of the pandemic calls for me to start putting a live show together. I do have an upcoming birthday show on September 27th at Feinstein’s/54 Below which will feature unplugged versions of songs I co-wrote with my pal Jane Bruce. She’s in the Broadway show Jagged Little Pill, and is a serious talent. Like, I literally can’t stress enough how much of an amazeballs singer and songwriter she is. I can’t wait!
Finally: What’s your best advice for a young musical artist who is trying to break through today?
Well, I am a young musical artist who is trying to break through, so I myself could use all the advice I can get! What do ya got, Thotyssey!? But seriously: I would give the best advice I’ve ever gotten, which is to keep going. If you know you have something to contribute to the conversation, you’ve got this one life to say it, so make it happen. And don’t be afraid to be you: if you’re asking yourself whether you are manifesting your best authentic self, you’re probably already on the way to doing it.
Thank you, TUCKER!