In 2016, Portland, Maine native Tucker Pillsbury moved to Pittsburgh to study film, with big plans to produce and direct his own projects. But his life took a turn after he was hospitalized from a wrist-shattering skiing accident, followed by a second broken wrist sustained on a skateboard fall not long after.
“I was housebound, and my room didn’t have any windows. It was quite literally one of my darkest times, ever,” says the singer-songwriter, 22, who took on the name Role Model (often stylized in capital letters).
“It came from out of nowhere, because music was not in the plan,” says the musician, who plays Rickshaw Stop this week, promoting the EP “oh, how perfect.”
Two students who had been experimenting with hip-hop recording left their equipment behind one semester, and he began making his own rap mixtapes to keep himself amused, while charting the ennui and depression he was experiencing in daily journals.
He had no friends, locally, and even though Pittsburgh was a surprisingly beautiful city, with attractions like the Andy Warhol Museum, he says, “After 6 o’clock, it’s like a ghost town downtown, where I was, so I was utterly alone. It was just me talking to myself.”
Then things got darker.
Following today’s wave of emotionally-honest artists unafraid to confront mental illness in song (such as Billie Eilish and nothing, nowhere), he began singing his dark diary entries over sparsely-chorded beats and tracking the results in his room’s closet. Like a millennial-age Leonard Cohen, Pillsbury’s persona (named for Paul Rudd’s character in “Role Models”) could turn misanthropic notebooks into melodic paydirt — for example, “I don’t rly like u,” from the 2017 debut EP “arizona in the summer.”
“I found that I actually had things to talk about,” he says.
Since he wasn’t participating in society, Pillsbury, who now lives in Hollywood, found lyrical inspiration in close observations of others, the ebb and flow of relationships happening around him.
“Even though you’re not falling in love yourself, that doesn’t mean you can’t still write about love,” says the tattooed, tousle-topped wraith, who thinks he might have stumbled on romance himself recently. “But I’m not sure —- I might have f——- it up already.”
Visually, Pillsbury has a distinct style, as well, rooted in recent edgy horror films such as “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.”
That explains the giant goo-dripping heart he’s hugging in the “perfect” cover art.
“I had that exact image in mind even before I had the songs,” he says. “It’s gross, it’s gruesome, but I match it with these light-feeling melodies. I like juxtapositions like that.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop. 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12
Tickets: $13 to $48
Contact: (415) 861-2011, rickshawstop.com