After a decade of supporting other artists, today sees the release of singer-songwriter TUCKER’s debut single, the uplifting pop anthem KNOCKOUT, along with the lyric music video by Jayden Becker.
A veteran session-singer, TUCKER “The Retro Contempo Artist”, has brought his talents to multiple seasons of Saturday Night Live, backed up artists like Carole King on The Today Show, and performed Top 40 parodies for iHeartMedia. Last year he recorded and produced The Other Side of the Rainbow for the documentary Cured and took part in the Stonewall Gives Back online fundraiser singing his original song Love In The Light, on a bill with the likes of Todrick Hall, Troye Sivan, Kim Petras, and Cyndi Lauper.
Ahead of today’s release of KNOCKOUT, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive chat with TUCKER about growing up in a musical family, his experience of working with producers virtually to create the track, being inspired by pop artists of the 60s and 70s, and his favourite LGBTQ+ movie moment.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: How did music first manifest itself in your life?
“Before I could walk I was supposedly dancing to James Brown, I wrote my first song when I was six, and my grandmother started teaching me classical piano that same year. I guess my passion for music was inevitable because I grew up in a very musical household. My mom started off singing professionally when she was 15 in Jimmy James & The Blue Flames with Jimi Hendrix and went on to sing on some of the best records ever. Okay, I know I’m biased, but I’m sure many would agree. The list includes Evil Woman by Electric Light Orchestra, New York Groove by Ace Frehley from KISS, Hello It’s Me by Todd Rundgren, and many others. My dad created the sonic branding for Nickelodeon, Disney, Bravo, and produced live concerts with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Rosemary Clooney, and Sonny Rollins. My most influential mentor was my “Rock & Roll Godmother,” the late Ellie Greenwich, who was a pop songwriting titan who created American classics like Be My Baby, Chapel of Love, and Leader Of The Pack. All this to say, from a young age there was always music around and encouragement to perform, harmonize, and write songs.”
What inspired your debut single KNOCKOUT?
“KNOCKOUT was inspired out of some serious self-reflection when quarantine started last year. Like so many, I took a look at my past and considered my future. By 2020 I’d sung on several seasons of SNL, recorded Top 40 parodies for iHeart, written songs for artists, and in a dream milestone backed up my idol Carole King. But as the pandemic persisted, I felt an old familiar burning bubbling up from under my gay diabetic ass, one no pharmaceutical could hope to quell! From the time I was little all I ever wanted to be was a recording artist. I realized that as an immunocompromised person living through the coronavirus era, as the song says, it was “time for the main event!” I was ready to seize my moment: if not now, when?”
How would you describe the vibe and sound to someone who hasn’t heard KNOCKOUT yet and how do you want people to feel when they listen to it?
“KNOCKOUT is a fun, funky, and fresh treat with powerful vocals, one I hope empowers listeners to be their own sonic boom when they walk into a room!”
It’s definitely empowering, energizing, and uplifting! How does it make you feel when you sing it?
“It’s truly a joy to sing. The ego trip of the lyric is really just an invitation for the listener to declare what it is about themselves that makes them a KNOCKOUT. What I love about the song is its message to be your most confident, authentic, and strongest self. I certainly feel that way when I sing it!”
Who did you collaborate with on the track?
“I co-wrote KNOCKOUT with Julia Brex and Jackson Hoffman, and Jackson and I co-produced it together. The three of us have actually never met in person and did the whole track over Zoom, which is so emblematic of music collaboration at this time! We had an AudioMovers stream going, which is a software audio plugin designed to send audio from one person’s digital audio workstation to another. So Jackson would work on the instrumental while Julia and I listened through the link and wrote the melody and lyric together. Then I recorded and engineered all the vocals in my quarantine basement studio, flew those stems back to Jackson, and then he and I fleshed out the rest of the production together. The whole thing really went to the next level when mix master Randy Belculfine got his hands and ears around the project and applied what I now refer to as The Randification Factor: real talk, he’s the best! I can’t wait for the whole team to do a dank dance party to our songbaby in person once it’s safe, including my pal Gabby Green who contributed the soon-to-be legendary ‘Go, Tucker, Go!'”
How does your LGBTQ+ identity come through in your music?
“Love is love is love is love! Whether I call myself gay, queer, bent, or squiggly, my sexuality is central to my humanness. While I’m loud and proud, music is music and hopefully mine will appeal to everybody regardless of my or their sexual identity.”
Did you write the song The Other Side of The Rainbow specifically for the documentary Cured?
“Ian Honeyman who wrote the score for Cured asked me to pitch a song with him for the film. As a gay artist, I was excited about the prospect of being involved in a documentary about LGBTQ+ activists who fought against the APA’s definition of homosexuality as a mental illness, so I immediately jumped on board. Ian and the directors were looking for a sonic finale to capture the transcendent vibe at the end of the film — the “where are they now?” culmination that segues into the credits. They were searching for a song that was not only uplifting, acknowledging how far we’ve come, but also making it clear we’ve still got more work to do in our society’s challenge to make equality real. I’m thrilled that The Other Side of The Rainbow became such a moment in the film and that the movie has been so well received on the festival circuit. It’s a truly special doc and I feel lucky to be a part of it.”
What did it mean to you to be part of the Stonewall Gives Back fundraiser last year?
“Performing under the Stonewall banner was such a wonderful experience. Erich Bergen produced the event at the very start of the pandemic and asked me to get involved, which meant so much to me because I was essentially the unknown on a bill of some serious heavyweight entertainers like Cyndi Lauper, Troye Sivan, Kim Petras, and more. I sang a song that Erich and I wrote with Carl Culley and Michael Blum called Love in the Light, which felt especially appropriate for the moment while we were all trapped inside our houses. We raised over $20,000 dollars for members of the LGBTQ+ nightlife industry who were affected by the closures of their businesses during the pandemic. Importantly, I now feel even more connected to the first generation of queer activists who took the struggle to the streets — people like Richard Dworkin and Michael Callen (founder of PWA), whose music I performed at Joe’s Pub in November 2019 — so I’m honored to be part of that continuum.”
Which musical artists inspire you?
“I admire contemporary artists like Lizzo, Bruno Mars, Meghan Trainor, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, my list could go on and on. But I definitely gravitate to 60s and 70s pop, which deeply influences all of the music I write. I dig girl groups like The Ronettes, The Shirelles, and The Shangi-Las, vocal groups like The Beach Boys, The Jackson 5, and The Stylistics, and artists like Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Dusty Springfield. Songwriters and performers who create work that’s accessible, memorable, and ear-catching while simultaneously expressing how they love in a rapidly changing world…that’s the stuff!”
Have you got any more music coming soon and does KNOCKOUT give us a good idea of what we can expect?
“A good magician never reveals his secrets…but yes, the sonic boom shall indeed continue! Like KNOCKOUT, listeners can expect even more songs with richly-layered vocals, hooky melodies, and lyrics celebrating self-esteem, sexuality, and spirit — coming soon to a streaming platform near you!”
What’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+. Someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years and why?
“My personal favorite LGBTQ+ cultural icon is the “Introducing Madeline Kahn” performance in Peter Bogdanovich’s film What’s Up Doc, particularly the way her heels make parabolic waves on the parquet floor as she’s dragged out of the banquet hall of San Francisco’s fictional Hotel Bristol…trust: once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.”
By James Kleinmann
Watch the lyric music video below: