Role model on recording with Mac Miller and touring with diabetes

Tucker Pillsbury is in love. The details are none of our business, of course, but under his stage name, Role Model, he has plenty to say about it.

On Role Model’s debut studio album, X-ray, there are many discussions to be had – about love, about pain, about sin, about forgiveness. And the man behind an album featuring tracks like “die for my b**ch,” “masturbation song” and “stripclub music” feels thoughtful about life’s biggest questions.

Ahead of the concerts at Coachella and the kick off of her first world tour, Role Model spoke with Newsweek to catch up with us on where it is and where it is going.

When we talk, your album, X-ray, came out a few days ago. How are you?

I’m well. I finally managed to digest a little. But yesterday we went straight back to rehearsals. So now I’m like, put my phone away and play some live music and I can’t wait to get back on stage.

Do you feel a kind of disbelief about what is being done? I know that when I’m working in a creative space, there’s a point where I have to force myself to let go. Have you reached this point? Or would you still be playing with it if you could?

I thought I was going to cry when he left! I thought I was going to have this emotional thing. But maybe it was because my friends all flew out here for the hangout and everything. And so I was like, with people all the time, and I think I couldn’t really digest it all until the next day.

But it’s amazing. I mean, it lasted two years. And this is my first album after being signed to a label for, I don’t even know, three years? So it was more than a long time coming. And I’m glad I waited and glad we did it the way we did.

Did this production feel different to your past work in any way?

For sure. I like my old music. And I love to play it of course, but I [re-]I listened to these songs and I thought… what am I talking about? Like, there’s no cohesive or similar story, there are themes and stuff, but it’s an overflow of consciousness.

Whereas when we started this album, I really wanted every song on this album to be complete, like a complete thought, a complete story. I wanted to be so picky about every word we put.

So it was really good. And then also just learning to use my voice… five-part, six-part harmonies, which I [have] never could do in my life. I’m not that musical.

So yes, I hope this feels like a step forward and hopefully in every way.

Role Model performs during week two of Coachella, throwing dandelions at the crowd.
Scott Dudelson/Getty

You tweeted that you think this album is going to be “crazy” live. It’s such an intimate and personal album, sometimes you whisper into the microphone. Do you change the way you think about music when you plan to play it in front of a crowd like Coachella?

100 per cent. These shows, I always say it’s pop music, played like rock music, interpreted like rap music. When you come to concerts, I want the energy of a rap show.

These words that I whisper into the microphone are now shouted. Like, shouted. I like energy. I love jumping everywhere and it’s hard to whisper and be like jumping up and down at the same time.

I would like to hear you talk a bit about your influences on this record. I will say there is one that immediately comes to mind, and that is Mac Miller. Especially on “If Jesus Saves”, I hear a lot of “Divine Feminine”, this era of Mac’s work.

And I know that Mac is, of course, really, really instrumental in your career. Was it on your mind? Were there other artists you were looking for inspiration from?

I think inevitably Mac is always going to be an influence, even if you can’t hear him in the songs. Almost every time I’m in the studio, it’s one of those things where you wonder if he’d hate it, or if he’d be, like, nodding his head. And I always do that.

Even outside of the music, there are things where I weirdly check in with him. Looks like I’m super spiritual. But it’s like he’s one of those people for whom his approval is paramount. If it was like, go like this [head nod and smile] while you’re playing a song… Yeah, he’s got a huge influence.

And like every other artist in the world right now, what I listen to is so everywhere. I think everyone is like that now, because we’re just exposed to everything. So I listen to Drake and Rihanna, then Neil Young, Van Morrison and Kacey Musgraves, and Mac. It’s everywhere. So it doesn’t matter what will seep into my music.

The only thing I really tried to keep consistent was the lyrics and the way I speak. I want people to say “Oh, yeah, that’s a model song.” ‘Cause who else would be like talking about touching a loved one like me?

There is an interesting spiritual and religious current to X-ray. You are clearly working on making sense of a lot of things.

I’m not a religious person, but I just think using all these religious visuals [is] not a new thing, i know every artist does it. I just felt like for my personal story…there were just a lot of easy connections I found to how someone’s knees, a breaking point, finding God, an epiphany or a miracle . I look dramatic. But as if that was really what it sounded like. I had never known of falling in love. So it hit me like a train. And it really felt like a drug or something heavenly.

And I have no idea what it’s like to find God or anything, but I just think there are connections there. And so there are religious metaphors throughout the album. I think I probably said “Jesus” a little too much on the whole album.

Did that give you a hard time?

Uh, honestly, yeah, I lost some followers with that song “If Jesus Saves”. In the beginning. But I think once the album comes out, I think maybe people will understand a little bit more. Life is funny. And people kind of get the message, which is good.

model tucker pillsbury coachella mac miller
The role model flashes peace signs to the Coachella audience during her Week 2, Day 1 performance.
Scott Dudelson/Getty

You’re kicking off a world tour on April 13, and then we’ll be at Coachella. How do you feel about this? A world tour is a big problem.

I know. I try not to think about it too much. I’m so excited to hit the road obviously. And like, Coachella is amazing. All the festivals are amazing, but I try not to think about the fact that I’m going to be away for so long.

But I can’t wait, and I miss just hearing people in the crowd. It’s just very inclusive, and it’s like we’re all doing it together. It’s my favorite thing in the world.

You talked a lot about being diabetic and the exhaustion of being on the road. It’s exhausting for a lot of people who don’t have to deal with it. So what would you say to a small diabetic child who was thinking of getting into music? Is it too much? Is it manageable?

[pauses] How can I say this? It’s hell. Like, it’s amazing, once you get to a point where [you’re] like, wow, I do! If I stop now, like, there’s no example for the kids.

Honestly, diabetes is the scariest part of touring. I’m no longer afraid of forgetting the lyrics. I’m not concerned that we have any technical issues on stage. It’s more like, okay, how am I going to survive these two months? I do everything very independently. It’s like difficult to teach people in a short time everything related to it, but yes, it’s a lot.

But I would say to any child with diabetes, please don’t let this limit you. When I was a kid, I remember going back to my doctor and my endocrinologist. And she was like, asking me how I’m doing and what I’m doing and what interests me, college and everything. And I said to him, I got really interested in music all of a sudden, and I was very passionate at the time.

She basically told me that I should probably get a more secure job because it’s a very expensive disease. And I remember coming home crying. It shattered me. But once you can kind of digest that and think about it and think about the person who just said that to your face and where they are? All you want is to prove them wrong.

So I guess I have a bit of competitiveness in me. But yeah, I would just say to any kid, no matter what you’re told… you have the whole world in your hands.

Last question: what was the last song you had stuck in your head?

Wow. Oh, that new Jack Harlow song. It’s the hook.

Newsweek’s ongoing Coachella coverage is available online at newsweek.com and on On Beat, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Rebecca R. Santistevan