Jeremy Zucker
Photo: Stefan Kohli / Press

Jeremy Zucker — CRUSHER

Zucker built a nearly fictional artistic persona around a raw, real-life narrative. The result? 'CRUSHER.'

CRUSHER is arguably Jeremy Zucker’s most raw and emotionally in tune project to date, but, despite its evident showcase of Zucker at his most angrily cathartic, he isn’t shying away from the aspects of exposure and susceptibility that come with its release. It’s a level of security that feels like a pipe dream from the outside looking in, but one that has to remain in place when unleashing such a sensitive yet wholly unrestrained body of work.

“I really try not to let my happiness and feelings depend on how I think it’s going to [be received],” Zucker explains to EUPHORIA. “The only thing I’m nervous about in the slightest is how people are going to like it and how it’s going to perform. I’m not nervous about the vulnerability aspect of it at all.”

That calmness is, in part, due to the fact that CRUSHER’s narrative isn’t an open wound for Zucker anymore; rather, he took the time to process and use the music as a means of deliverance while he moved on from the impact of the real-life story. Ultimately, the Zucker you hear on CRUSHER isn’t necessarily who he is as a person right now. He’s just beyond that. 

But the album does mark the latest iteration of Zucker the artist, who carries a bit of Zucker the person’s trauma, though certainly not as baggage — that would insinuate that it weighs him down.

“I’m generally really nice, and I don’t have a lot of anger in general,” he says. “So, when I do have anger, I don’t really know how to deal with it, and the most constructive way for me to deal with that is music. My music is always the most polished, put-together version of my taste, for whatever reason, so I got to bring in what I felt like was more grit and a bit more realness and a bit more anger into my world. Some of the lyrics were brutal and angry, and it just feels really great to play that character. The more I do this, the more I really see it as a performance and less like a diary.”

But this new role that Zucker stepped into with this project didn’t come to fruition on its own. In some ways, the pandemic brought new beginnings for Zucker as a creative. Albeit difficult, it enabled Zucker to give himself an ultimatum — either he was walking away from music, or he would vow to take himself (and his artistry) less seriously moving forward. 

CRUSHER is the result of taking that step back, being less “precious” about the process and leaning into the current — Zucker’s music now becomes a place for expression rather than a “lifeboat” that he was latching onto in an attempt to stay afloat. That meant giving himself the space to strengthen his music sonically; finding a new artistic persona was only part of the challenge in creating CRUSHER, and the elevated sound that radiates from the album is proof that putting effort into the unfamiliar led to a successful showcase of musicality.

“I’m simultaneously becoming open to more experimental things, while also becoming more aware of the origins of genres and trying to tribute these eras that I grew up through of alternative music and pop music,” Zucker explains. “I focus a lot on live instrumentation between my last project that I worked on, brent ii, with Chelsea [Cutler]. And this one, I just have been recording so many live instruments and doing drums and everything and really challenging myself as a producer. This time, it was very, very drum-focused, which has always been my weak point.”

His push to step outside of his musical comfort zone made for a project that sounds unlike anything in his previous discography. It’s not quite as granularly refined as Love Is Not Dying and doesn’t carry the same soft, almost acoustic feel as the brent EPs, but CRUSHER gave Zucker a unique opportunity to develop a truly new era from the ground up. He isn’t just taking on a new feel for his music on the album, but shaping an entire persona that matches the contents — CRUSHER is a moment that stands entirely on its own.

But Zucker also knows that developing a new sonic image won’t come without critique, particularly from those who have come to expect a similar sound from him on each project. Much like the attitude lying within the messaging of the album, though, he isn’t anxious about the court of public opinion when it comes to his art.

“There’s nothing I dislike more than repetition, so I just really am happy that it’s so different,” Zucker says. “There’s always a big almost slap in the face for me when other people don’t understand when things are different, or they don’t understand why things are different. I can never sort of comprehend that, the mindset of the person who wants the same thing all the time.” 

Zucker continues, “My musical instinct has always been that, if I feel great about it, then it is great. And that is the instinct that got me to where I am. And it’s the instinct that makes me happy about what I’m doing. I don’t want to be creating and thinking about how other people are going to perceive things, and that’s the instinct that I’m going to continue to follow. And if that leads me somewhere where everyone’s like, ‘Man, this fucking sucks,’ then whatever.”

It’s important to note that this new “era” doesn’t mean a complete redefining of Zucker’s artistry. He is saying the same things and covering the same ground — heartache, apathy and, rather prominently, addiction — but with a grittier tone grounded in harsh realism. The intimation of, “You fucked me up on purpose. You crushed me. Fuck you,” as Zucker describes it, appears loud and clear, and that catharsis from the pain of overdue closure is precisely what makes CRUSHER such a massive standout among Zucker’s discography. 

Perhaps the biggest factor in CRUSHER’s artistic success is Zucker’s approach to creating it, which was largely instinctual. From the decision to diversify the tone behind his vocals to the recognition of the need for live instrumentation to complete the package, Zucker tried to avoid the second-guessing part of the decision-making process, and the results speak for themselves.

It is the order of the track list, though, that ultimately determines the feeling and perception of the album, and Zucker took a similar route to determine what listeners would hear first and last — the bookends — and how everything in between would support those two tracks primarily sonically, but also lyrically.

“What I ended up doing was honestly just trusting my gut in the sense of the flow of energy and what feels like it should be next,” Zucker says. “I just think back to my own experiences, listening to albums of artists that I like a lot … When this person sits down to listen to this album for the first time, the first song is the most important. It always sets the tone and creates an impression for how you view everything else. And ‘i-70,’ for me, was the biggest departure from my sound in a way that was really exciting. I think that’s the tone that I really wanted for the whole album.”

While there are tracks that fall outside of the world of CRUSHER’s story, like “18” and “Cry with you” — a move that Zucker describes as one stemming from his lack of interest in traditional “album aesthetics” — there on the other side of the spectrum are two songs that Zucker believes to embody the overarching tenor of the album. The songs don’t need to create a thematic universe in order to emit what Zucker was feeling when he assembled the album, but rather exist within the same moment of time. 

In short, the project doesn’t encompass every thought he had while he was healing, though it compiles the music that felt most true to his experience (including the events that surrounded the recovery, not the recovery in exclusivity). 

“All these songs are just very specific moments in this bigger story, but ‘No one hates you (like I do)’ is definitely very thematic of the whole thing,” Zucker explains. “But in terms of what’s most true to me, ‘Don’t come over I’m an asshole’ is the most straight from my brain to the speakers as possible. I was not thinking when I wrote those lyrics, in the best way.” 

Zucker continues, “It’s almost this feeling of bitter resentment tied into this feeling of understanding someone else and having sympathy and still choosing to resent them. In the context of the power dynamic that creates, when you choose to resent someone, you are putting them below you in your own mind. That’s how I coped with the damage that was caused, that was inflicted on me with this whole situation.” 

CRUSHER marks the beginning of a few things for Zucker — an era of music, an approach to creating, life after closure, and a new persona that draws the narrative just distanced enough to keep the person separate from the artist. But outside of the world of the album, his path to acceptance of the emotional turmoil can be summated rather plainly. “Sometimes you have to choose to hate someone to make you feel better,” Zucker says.

CRUSHER is just what happens in the rare circumstance that an emotion like hatred, as fearsome and daunting as it is, can be transformed into something beautiful and, ultimately, healing. “A lot of it is my therapist, for sure,” Zucker says. “And a whole lot of trial and error.”