Madison Cunningham On Touring, The Truth, Her Music, And More

Singer-songwriter Madison Cunningham will be performing at Saxpahaw's Haw River Ballroom on April 12th and at Asheville's Orange P...

Singer-songwriter Madison Cunningham will be performing at Saxpahaw's Haw River Ballroom on April 12th and at Asheville's Orange Peel on April 13th. We caught up with her in Paris to discuss her upcoming tour with Juana Molina, the truth in her music, her dream music festival, and more.

What's it been like opening for John Mayer?
It's been absolutely surreal. The audiences have been so kind and receptive and quiet. It's a big undertaking to stand in front of 20,000 people and just have one instrument to back you up. I've learned a lot about dynamics and how to get an audience's attention with silence over noise and learn how much or how little to play every night. It's really interesting.

Which stop on the tour has been your favorite so far?
I think last night in the Paris Arena. It was the most special show of the whole tour. I would stop playing a song for just a minute and give a second of dead air and everyone was quiet. You couldn't hear a single thing. It was the most ominous and wonderful feeling to have 20,000 quiet people. It was a most respectful crowd.

In April, you're going to be touring the US with Juana Molina. How did that pairing happen?
I have been a big fan of Juana since I was seventeen years old. I just always dreamed of doing something with her. Her music colored the way I played and thought of music. One day, I ended up covering a song of hers and learning every part and she heard it and reached out and was super kind about it. We've just honestly stayed in touch since then. I tried to make [this tour] happen for a number of years. I'm pinching myself that it's actually happening.

What's the strangest gig you've ever played?
Oh God. There's so many weird ones that I've played in my life. I can tell you the worst one. I think the worst one I played was in Glasgow in 2022 where the sound engineer couldn't get my vocals to stop feeding back so he ended up just turning it off. So I played a whole show without a vocal. It was truly horrible and weird. Very psychedelic.

Revealer earned the Best Folk Album Grammy. What was that like?
To be honest with you, supremely unexpected and wild and with all the things you would expect and some other things you wouldn't expect. It's one of those things if you do win a Grammy, it's the first time your family takes you seriously, like the World Cup for music. I guess that was the main prize for me, that some of the family members can be like, "Wow! We can get behind this now."

But yeah, it's a confusing thing actually. I found it far more confusing than gratifying. As time went on, I had to let it sit in the rear view and not give too much stock to it in order to just keep making music I loved and am excited about it but I'm not ever trying to make music to win awards. I just don't think that's a relative reason to make music.

We named "Hospital (One Man Down)" our favorite song of 2023.
Oh wow.

How did you end up working with Remi Wolf on the re-recording of the song?
Remi and I were sort of Internet pals and wanted to meet up and hang out. We were fans of each other. I had this last minute thought of trying to make a very off-the-rails version of "Hospital" and she was the first person that came to mind. And I just thought this would be such a very interesting test of two very different palettes coming together and trying to make something. I felt it was exactly that, just a very joyful expereience where there were no rules and it reminded me to always make sure music feels like that. I really enjoy listening to that song. I think it's so full of life and excitement. I think Remi is a very special artist and I loved what it brought out of me as an artist as well.

You've worked with producer Tyler Chester on both Revealer and Who Are You Now. What does he bring to your music?
Tyler is such a deep, methodical, thoughtful person, maybe one of the deepest producers I've met in my life. Tyler brings the truth to any project he works on. He's such a truth teller and truth seeker and I think he has such a gift for pulling that out of artists. I think the tell of a true producer is one who knows how to stay out of the way and bring out the best qualities of an artist and to not put too much of their personal stamp onto it and I think that's what he does so well. Tyler was also a mentor so he brought more than just that for me in particular. He taught me one my favorite tunings that I play in all the time. He was kind of like a brother figure to me in a deep musical sense. I felt Tyler opened the doors to a whole world of music that I just wouldn't know existed without him. He's a special person and musical monster.

You really bare your soul in your songs. What song of yours was the hardest to write?
Probably the one that didn't bare my soul to be honest. Those are always the hardest to write. I don't know why but it's the song that's too cool or something that doesn't have an identity. There was a song called "Common Language" and I felt like that took the longest to write. I took a minute to find my soul in it and my story in it, because I just had a cool concept. To write conceptually is really hard and sometimes just meets you with a bunch of dead ends.

Are there times when you have to walk it back in fear of sharing too much?
I don't know if there's such a thing as sharing too much unless you're like talking something really, really personal that no one wants to hear about. I feel like I've had to walk it forward as much as possible because it's so much harder to tell the truth in a tasteful way. I think maybe I've had to walk it back when I was just telling the truth without love. The most important ingredient in songwriting is love. If you're a honest person or a curt person without passion, you're a little bit tasteless. So maybe there's been moments when I've been to angry and devoid of love and needed to try and find that ingredient again but I can't really think of one in particular. Really my battle has always been to be honest enough.

Are you working on a new album?
I am. I'm writing one at the moment and working on a few side projects. I've got my head buried and hopefully I'll be recording it sometime this year.

You're in charge of a music festival and can get any five acts, living or dead, to appear on the bill with you. Who do you choose?
Oh. Definitely Juana Molina. It's crazy that I can truly say that. Radiohead. Probably Fiona Apple. XTC and Jeff Buckley. Probably Nina Simone as well. I could just go on and on.

What song do you all perform together as the final jam?
Oh God. "The Weight?" I'm just kidding. Maybe we wouldn't really perform a final song, we would just improvise something and see what happens. I would love to see what would happen among all those geniuses.

MORE MADISON CUNNINGHAM: Official | Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud | Spotify


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Strange Carolinas is the Travelogue Of The Offbeat, a wry look at the interesting, unique, and offbeat roadside attractions, people, music, art, food, and festivals in North and South Carolina.


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