Role Model on Checking in 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's got an awful lot to say about it.

On Role Model's first studio album, RX, there's plenty of discussion to be had—about love, about pain, about sin, about forgiveness. And the man behind an album containing tracks like "die for my b**ch," "masturbation song" and "stripclub music" is feeling pensive about life's biggest questions.

Ahead of live shows at Coachella and the kick-off of his first world tour, Role Model sat down with Newsweek to catch us up on where he's at and where he's going.

When we're speaking, your album, RX, came out just a few days ago. How are you feeling?

I'm good. I finally got to digest it a little bit. But then we just yesterday jumped straight back into rehearsals. So now I'm like, back off my phone and playing the music live and looking forward to getting on stage again.

Are you sort of feeling disbelief about the thing being done? I know when I'm working in a creative space, there's a point at which I have to force myself to let it go. Have you reached that point? Or would you still be messing with it if you were able to?

I thought I would cry when it came out! I thought I was gonna have this emotional thing. But maybe it was because my friends all flew out here for the release and everything. And so I was like, with people the whole time, and I think I didn't really get to digest the whole thing until the next day.

But it feels incredible. I mean, it was two years in the making. And it's my first album after being signed to a label for, I don't even know, three years? So it's been more than a long time coming. And I'm happy that I waited and happy that we did it the way we did it.

Did this production feel different than your past work in some way?

For sure. I love my old music. And I love performing it of course, but I [re-]listened to those songs and I'm like... what am I even talking about? Like, there's no cohesive story or like, there's themes and stuff, but it's spill of consciousness.

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

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

So yeah, I hope it feels like a step up and in every way, hopefully.

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

You tweeted that you think this album is going to be "insane" live. It is such an intimate and personal album—at times you're whispering into the microphone. Do you change the way you think about the music when you're thinking of performing it in front of a crowd like Coachella?

100 percent. These shows, I always say it's pop music, played like rock music, performed like rap music. When you come to the shows I want the energy of a rap show.

Those lyrics that I'm whispering into the mic are now being yelled. Like, screamed. I love the energy. I love jumping around and it's hard to whisper and be like jumping up and down at the same time.

I would love to hear you talk a little bit about your influences on this record. I will say that there's one that comes to mind for me immediately, and that is Mac Miller. Particularly on "If Jesus Saves," I very much hear "Divine Feminine," that era of Mac's work.

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

I think, inevitably, Mac is always going to be an influence, even if you can't hear it in the songs. Almost every time I'm in the studio, it's one of those things where you ask yourself if he would hate this, or if he would be, like, bobbing his head to it. And I always do that.

Even outside of music, there's stuff where I weirdly check in with him. That sounds like I'm super spiritual. But it's like, he's one of those people where his approval was everything. If he was like, going like this [head nod and smile] while you're playing a song... Yeah, he's a huge influence.

And like every other artist in the world right now, what I listen to is so all over the place. I think everyone is that way now, because we're just exposed to everything. So like, I'm listening to Drake and Rihanna, and then Neil Young, Van Morrison, and Kacey Musgraves, and Mac. It's all over the place. So no matter what that's gonna seep its way into my music.

The only thing I really tried to keep cohesive is the lyrics and the way I talk. I want people to be like, "Oh, yeah, that's a Role Model song." Because who would else be like talking about touching themselves to a loved one like me?

There's an interesting spiritual and religious undercurrent to RX. You're clearly working on making sense of a lot.

I'm not a religious person, but I just think using all these religious visuals [is] not a new thing, I know every artist is doing it. I just felt like for my personal story... there were just a lot of easy connections that I was finding with the way someone is on their knees, a breaking point, finding God, an epiphany or a miracle. I sound dramatic. But like that's genuinely what it felt like. I had never experienced falling in love. So it hit me like a train. And it really did feel like a drug or something heavenly.

And I have no idea what that feels like to find God or anything, but I just think there's connections there. And so there's religious metaphors throughout the album. I think I probably said "Jesus" a little too much in the whole album.

Has that given you trouble at all?

Um, honestly, yeah, I lost some followers with that "If Jesus Saves" song. In the beginning. But I think once the album came out, I think people maybe understand a bit more. Life is funny. And people are kind of understanding the message, which is good.

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Role Model flashes peace signs to the audience at Coachella during his Week 2, Day 1 performance. Scott Dudelson/Getty

You are kicking off a world tour on the 13th of April, and then we will be at Coachella. How are you feeling about that? A world tour is kind of a big deal.

I know. I'm trying not to think about it too hard. I'm so excited to get on the road obviously. And like, Coachella is incredible. All the festivals are incredible, but I'm trying not to think about the fact that I'm going to be gone that 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 kind of doing it together. It's my favorite thing in the world.

You've talked a lot about being diabetic, and how being on the road is exhausting. It's exhausting for a lot of people who don't have to deal with that. So what would you say to a little diabetic kid who was thinking about getting into music? Is it too much? Is it manageable?

[pauses] How do I say this? It's hell. Like, it feels incredible, once you get to a point where [you're] like, wow, I'm doing it! If I stopped now, like, there's no example to be set for kids.

Honestly, diabetes is the scariest part of touring. I'm not concerned about forgetting lyrics anymore. I'm not concerned about like, us having technical issues on stage. It's more like, okay, how am I going to survive for these two months? I do everything very independently. It's like, hard to teach people in a short amount of time everything that goes into it, but yeah, it's a lot.

But I would say to any kid with diabetes: please don't let that limit you. When I was a kid, I remember going home to my doctor and my endocrinologist. And she was like, asking me how I'm doing and what I'm doing and what I'm interested in, college and everything. And I told her, I was really interested in music all of a sudden, and I was very passionate about it at the time.

She basically told me that I should probably find a more secure job, because it's a very expensive disease. And I remember driving home crying my eyes out. That wrecked me. But once you can kind of digest that and think about that and think about the person that just said that to your face and where they are? All you want to do is just prove them wrong.

So I guess I have a little bit of competitiveness in me. But yeah, I would just say to any kid, no matter what anyone says to you... you have the whole world in your hand.

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 continuing Coachella coverage can be found online at newsweek.com and on On Beat, available wherever you get your podcasts.