An Interview With Singer-Songwriter MADISON CUNNINGHAM All About Her Newest Album, ‘Who Are You Now’ and More!
The new album from 22-year-old rising guitarist and songwriter Madison Cunningham, Who Are You Now was recently released via Verve Forecast.
“The past year was a largely transitional one for me. It felt like all at once I was living in a new city and a new era of my life,” Cunningham explains. “Writing this record really forced me to take an honest look at where I came from, what my dreams and fear were, and who I was becoming as a result.”
The album was recorded at Sonic Ranch studio in El Paso. “Madison ascended to another level at Sonic Ranch,” describes producer and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Chester, who has also worked with artists such as Jackson Browne, Blake Mills and Andrew Bird. Chester continues, “she left that week a young master, in total control of her musical identity and skillset.”
The Orange County, CA native has performed as a duet partner with Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile on APM’s “Live From Here” and her list of champions has continued to grow, including Bird, Sara Watkins, Nickle Creek and the Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan. During the summer of 2018, she was the sole opener for the entirety of the Punch Brothers’ 34-stop North American tour.
Cunningham first picked up a guitar at age seven, and by age twelve was singing and performing alongside her five siblings in church. By the age of fifteen, Cunningham realized songwriting was a passion she wanted to pursue, citing Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan as key inspirations. “It’d always been a hobby before, but around then, I realized I wanted to make it a religious practice,” she says. “I thought if I could capture some of their same spirit ever in my life, I’d have to work hard and every day.”
Check out Madison Cunningham’s latest videos here-
“Pin It Down” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj8LLAg1ty0
WNYC All of It: https://www.wnyc.org/story/madison-cunningham/
Learn more about Madison Cunningham in the following All Access interview-
What does a typical day look like for you? What do you have scheduled the rest of today and this week?
Going for a run. Writing. Reading. Making a really strong cup of coffee, and playing guitar, in no particular order, is usually what a day looks like for me. Lately i’ve been on tour, so I try to apply those rituals as regularly as I can. They really help to balance me out.
Now that we are in the latter half of the year, how has 2019 treated you?
With equal parts opportunity and exhaustion. It’s been very exciting.
What are some goals that you have had for yourself this year?
To release a record, and to go on tour with a band. I released a full length record a few months ago now, and am just wrapping up a long tour with a band.
What are you already excited about for this fall and even looking towards 2020?
To rest, and to start thinking on what’s next. I’m really excited to write songs again. A whole lot of travel can bring writing to a stand still.
Growing up, how important was music in your life?
It was a household activity. My dad is a musician, and always had a guitar in his hand by the time he got home from work. It was and continues to be a joyful thing to me, and something that I think bound our family together in a way.
Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be in this industry? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
It was difficult and terrifying. Because even if you make the choice to take part in the so called “industry”, it still holds the right to reject you. So the choice isn’t ultimately yours. The will and persistence is certainly up to you, which is a decision that constantly has to be made.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else?
There was never anything else that I wanted to do, or felt ambitious enough to chase after. It was only ever music for me. They say to never have a plan B, so you can only do your best at Plan A. I’m 95% positive that’s healthy advice.
If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing?
I would probably learn how to design clothes, or become a kindergarten teacher. If I couldn’t do music, I would want to do something completely opposite.
Would you be as fulfilled in life?
I’m tempted to say that I wouldn’t, because I’m so fond of my job. But if I felt that what I was doing made a difference in someway, or that I was doing something or someone good, I’m sure I would be satisfied.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career?
The hardship and the responsibility that comes with it. I think I had in my head that once you reached a certain point the struggle would disappear. It’s only become more familiar. And I don’t mean that in an entirely negative sense. The struggle is what art is born out of.
What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
I found every part of it to be a challenge if I’m honest. It’s a fight to stay healthy, in a spiritual, emotional, and creative way. But i’m constantly amazed at the reward that comes with putting your all into something. In the thick of it, it’s not always easy to feel so fondly, but that’s why everyone always stresses to rest before you quit.
What has been the best part about it all?
The lifelong relationships that have developed with musicians and other artists, and the joy and disbelief that I feel when I’m on stage getting to sing and play the songs that I’ve worked hard for, for a room full of people who care to listen. It’s been surreal to put it plainly.
Let’s talk about your new record, “Who Are You Now.” What was the inspiration for this collection?
Most of the songs are from the perspective of a young adult making a departure from their upbringing, to know real love and loss for themselves. When there’s no covering over you, like parents, or friends, or certainty, “Who Are You Now?”. It felt like I kept being confronted with that question in my life. A subconscious phrase that found me at the highest, and lowest points.
What was it like putting it together?
Like stringing beads together. Long, patient, and concentrated.
Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
How naturally some songs came, and how much of a burden others were. And also how either scenario didn’t determine the value or weight of the song. Good songs make themselves apparent eventually, and sometimes immediately, but you can never be sure.
Why do you think Verve Forecast is the right place for you and your music today?
I love my team there. They care about the songs, not the single, and the art more than the revenue, and are incredibly hard working. That’s enough reason for me to be there.
Where can people see you perform next? Do you have any fall tour dates scheduled yet?
I play five nights in Chicago with Andrew Bird this December, and pick up more shows starting January 28th in the New Year.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
I feel liberated to take chances and make mistakes, and less apt to be down on myself when I do. I think fear is greatest bondage for an artist and I felt less of that this year.
How do you feel about social media?
I have a hard time with it. I’m also particularly untalented at it, and feel that it sucks my time more than it does any real good.
What do you think social media has done for your career so far?
Being able to have a conversation with the people who are fans of the music. It makes it more personal in a way, and that seems to be a positive thing.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?
Jeff Buckley, Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell and more.
Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Thom Yorke and Rufus Wainwright.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
Oof. That’s a hard one. Having a budget has always helped to keep my ideas concise. So I’m a little afraid of what no limitations would cause me to make.
Where would you love to hear a song of yours played?
On American Airlines, or ‘This Is Us’.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
Something relatable and beyond my story. If people can only hear my perspective in a song, then the mission is too small.
Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your music with our readers?
I’ll Leave you with a fun fact. I love plane watching and am totally obsessed with flight travel.