Tucker Rountree’s just finished some Italian food and is walking around the West Village with drummer Mattie Siegal when we’re connected over the phone. The purpose of our chat is to talk about Total Slacker’s most recent full-length record (titled Parallels, which just dropped Friday via ONErpm // Verge Records), but we work our way into the meat and potatoes by first talking about meat and flour tortillas; a few hours earlier I’d eaten Burger King’s latest monstrosity, the Whopperito (a questionable decision at best), which I readily (albeit ashamedly) admit to Rountree in the first thirty seconds of our conversation. “Whopperito. I haven’t tried it yet,” he says. “I will say that it’s a marketing marvel. A burger that’s inside of a flour tortilla? And the name. I really like that they did there.”
But what’s in a name, anyway? Not much, according to Rountree, at least when it comes to this project. He cites an interview he once watched featuring Green Day singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, who admitted that the band name hasn’t got much deep meaning apart from the fact its inception coincides with his decision to really commit musically. “It’s just a figurative kind of veil that I can create behind and release ideas,” says Rountree. “Maybe the next album will be a sextet chamber piece orchestra playing baroque music, but who knows?”
I do take a minute to point out the irony that many others have picked up on when it comes to the title of Total Slacker, though, because it entirely downplays the level of passion and hard work that Rountree has put into manifesting his musical career. He says, “I have this inner drive where I can’t stop, you know? I have to keep going and keep getting better, so I just decided ‘I’m going to do it, and I might as well go all the way and never look back.'”
And it seems he hasn’t, even though it’s not been easy, by any means. “I didn’t go to a nice college and come from a nice family where my parents were married and shit. There wasn’t family money or anything, and I’ve had to scrape every way to where I’m at right now, and I’m not even that far along. I haven’t had many people financially support me, but I just decided to say ‘Fuck it,’ and keep going, and just dedicate and commit to the whole thing.”
Rountree hails from Utah, and he tells me his dad “was a singer-songwriter and a house painter. He’s been painting houses for forty years back in Utah, and when he wasn’t painting houses, he’d stay up really late at night and play the guitar and write songs, just like many working class people did and do. So that whole thing just kind of wore off on me.”
This modest background also seems to have played a role in developing Rountree’s grounded career stance, and his self-effacing approach to answering my questions. When I ask him if he’d ever considered any other sort of career path, he says, “There’s never been anything else. I’ve had other interests, you know, but I’ve been doing it for so long,” and then is quick to follow up with, “Keep in in mind that I’m well aware that a lot of these answers can sound pretty pretentious, and I’m really not trying to give that kind of an answer. I’m a very humble and grateful person to be doing what I’m doing in my life, and I totally realize that it’s a privilege to be able to create for a living.”
And his creative trajectory began early with the title of jazz wunderkind, touring with lauded musician Eric Johnson for a spell in his early twenties, and then working with Leonard Cohen’s producer and bass player to create a modern jazz record. Eventually, though, he arrived at Total Slacker, and here we are at the band’s third full-length release.
Of this record’s “AHA!” moment, Rountree says, “I was studying a lot about form, and also pop culture, studying Carl Jung and the cultural zeitgeist (and the lexicon, as it were) that we live in in the Western world, and was just trying to tap into some deeper wellsprings of thought and ideas, both philosophically and spiritually. Somehow I found a touchstone within all of that, a focal point of singularity where all of a sudden the body of work came to me.” From that point, he went on to write about twenty songs in fairly quick succession over the course of roughly two months. The batch was then whittled down to a tight eleven tracks, et voila, Parallels was finished.
With this newest record, the buzz is sure to keep growing for Total Slacker. “It’s been a very slow burn and ascension for me, but finally people are starting to pay attention to what I’m trying to do,” says Rountree. And while I’m sure the recognition for hard and honest work must feel gratifying, he’s also quick to bring it back to his underlying dedication to a musical life regardless of applause, noting, “It doesn’t really matter, though; I’m just going to keep doing it anyways.”
Be sure to download a copy of Parallels HERE.