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Jeremy Zucker is no longer a ‘sad-boy troubadour’

Solomon Ni / Thresher

By Brandon Chen and Riya Misra     4/21/24 11:51pm

Jeremy Zucker’s arms, like most of his body, host a scrapbook of tattoos — a faded clementine peel, his childhood pets (Rusty and Susie), a Pinterest doodle of Sonic the Hedgehog with a bouquet of flowers. His middle finger is etched with a single tooth, hanging off a thin branch that curls around the rest of his hand.

After graduating in 2018 with a degree in molecular biology, he got matching tattoos with his three Colorado College roommates — a house, stick-figured and the size of a stamp, on his right bicep. “It cemented [my] home,” Zucker said in an interview with the Thresher, just before he headlined Moody X-Fest on April 19.

It was his first-ever tattoo. Just four months later he would release “comethru,” his breakout song that would eventually amass over 800 million Spotify streams. Now, he has over 9.5 billion global streams and too many tattoos to count.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rice Thresher: Welcome to Rice. How's it treating you? Have you been here before? 

Jeremy Zucker: Never been here before, no. It's awesome. I didn't expect it to be so green. And humid.

RT: You went to Colorado College and you’ve performed at colleges before. How does it feel to be back on campus?

JZ: It feels great. I’m trying to think of the last college show that I did. Honestly, I can't remember. I do a couple of them every year. But Rice reminds me a lot of Tulane … It's the same long sidewalks with big trees lining the sidewalks. And the whole campus under a canopy. 

RT: How's it different from your normal venues like House of Blues? The actual concert-concerts?

JZ: I mean, super different inside, for sure. I really love playing shows outside, though. All the college shows are usually on a lawn, depending on the weather. But if they're not on a lawn, then they can be kind of weird, because then there'll be like, a gymnasium or an auditorium. 

RT: Shifting gears a little bit, happy five-year anniversary of “you were good to me.” It came out April 19, exactly five years ago. 

JZ: Oh, my God. Today? I wonder if my team knows that. What's crazy about it is that “you were good to me” just went double platinum

RT: That was with Chelsea Cutler. You've done an EP with Chelsea, you've toured with The Kid LAROI. You did a song with blackbear, and “Heavy” and “make daddy proud” have the same melody … Can you talk a little bit about how your collaborations throughout your music career have shaped where you are now, shaped your music?

JZ: When I work with people, it usually happens one of two ways. When I was first starting out, I would have an idea for a song that wouldn't fit in my main stuff. I would leave an open verse and be, “Oh, so-and-so would sound good on this.” The blackbear thing, that's how “talk is overrated” happened. That was after he remixed my song “Heavy.” Since he did that, we were like, “Hey, we did you this favor. You want to get on my song?” and he was like, “Sure. That's awesome.”

These days, collaborations exist very separately. My process is very solitary. My state of mind and my emotional state at that moment matter a lot. Bringing another person in just means bringing another unknown factor, when there are already a lot of unknown factors.

RT: Speaking of vibes, I'm going to list the names of some of your songs: “cry with you,” “therapist,” “we're fucked, it's fine,” “all the kids are depressed.” Your Apple Music bio describes you as a “sad-boy troubadour for the extremely online age.” 

JZ: Woooow.

RT: What are your thoughts? Is that accurate? 

JZ: I don't think it's accurate anymore. For that era, it was super accurate for two reasons. One, I definitely used to be way more hopelessly sad and hopelessly romantic. During that time when I was making music, the Tumblr vibe was still alive online. The “sad boy” aesthetic was a thing. You don’t really hear that much anymore. 

These days, I'm much happier. There's less hopeless melancholy in my music, for sure.

RT: What do you think changed? Was it more so the music industry, or was it personal for you?

JZ: The industry changed so much, and that really made me reevaluate why I'm doing this and it made me come back to it with a bit more intention. Things just got faster. Music got supersaturated and I didn't want to be another voice competing for noise. 

RT: Your career actually started on SoundCloud, a platform that has launched so many other careers of big artists: Post Malone, Billie Eilish, Lil Uzi Vert. Now, you're talking about change in the industry and how TikTok has risen so much. Where do you think the SoundCloud era of music is going? Is it going anywhere? Is it dead?

JZ: I think the SoundCloud era is kind of dead. I think people don't want to — I mean, I definitely don't — put in energy to find your music. The easier it is to discover music, that's what catches on. That's why radio was so big for so long. I think that's why TikTok is catching on, because it's so easy for people to discover music.

That said, I don't really know what comes next. It stinks for someone who doesn't want to make music for TikTok. I’d like to think I'm curating something deeper. But I would love to have a song blow up on TikTok again, for the record.

RT: So what do you make music for?

JZ: For the longest time, I was making it for myself and to understand myself. It still is this way, just less hopeless because I do understand myself way more than I used to. It's like therapy, it's like understanding my place in the world and contextualizing things that I've been through. Sometimes tossing in things that can help people and make them feel less alone. 

RT: To jump a few years back to the music industry, how’d you get into it? And how’d you balance it in college?

JZ: It's funny. For some reason, I really didn't have a hard time balancing music and school … My school kept me so humble. If I was at a big state school and I was this kid picking [up] music, releasing stuff and going on tour, it probably would have gotten to my head pretty fast. At my small school, people were like “Oh, thinks he's too good for us now,” and I was like, “No!” 

But yeah, I didn't have any free time. My free time was when I would make music. That'd be my alone time. That’d be how [I’d] process emotions. It became a necessity to do that. 

RT: You were pre-med, then obviously switched gears a little bit. You're in good company, since so many people here are pre-med. What advice would you have for a Rice student, or really any college student, who is pre-med and is considering going in a different direction?

JZ: If it doesn't feel right, it's probably not right … I worked at an optometrist for summer, but I didn't do any of the things you're supposed to be doing. I was not thinking about it because at the front of my mind, I was like, “This is my backup. I want to be making music.”

RT: Okay, we have a few minutes left. I have a few rapid-fire questions. Physics or orgo?

JZ: Orgo.

RT: What's your tattoo with the biggest story behind it?

JZ: Probably my first two, which is this house and the world. I got this house with all my roommates in college when I graduated. It was the first time that I lived with a bunch of friends and it really felt like a home. 

Later, I got this world map. Even though I have a lot of roots in my home, I want to see the world and get out there.

RT: You told TMRW Magazine in one of your interviews that you take a bunch of photos. How many do you have in your camera?

JZ: Oh, good question. Let's see. I got a two-terabyte phone, so I don't have to think about it. 42,000.

RT: One of Rice's mottos is “unconventional wisdom.” What do you think that means? 

JZ: That's a motto? For a school?

RT: Another one is “home of intellectual brutality.” It’s the athletics motto.

JZ: That’s weird. Someone was either cynical or had a good sense of humor.

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