Accomplished musician and actor Kat Cunning is preparing to release their debut EP Idol Hands this summer after several successful singles amounting to over 15 million streams. We had the pleasure of meeting with the artist and speaking with them about their inspiration and career, but first, a bit about their past music.
Cunning’s latest single “Could Be Good” is a beautiful, piano-driven song that highlights the singer’s striking, heart-wrenching voice. Rhythmic instrumentation adds intensity to the raw, personal lyrics depicting a cautious but hopeful story of a love beginning. They sing “take it slowly, get to know me, won’t say I’m falling but I could, because, who knows? It could be good.” Their previous single “Confident” is an upbeat, rhythmic track that features a driving beat allowing the artist to show a straight-forward, playful attitude with a soulful edge.
“Supernova (tigers blud)” boasts rhythmic electric guitar notes that give the verse a spacious feel and allow the chorus to build in an uplifting, dreamy wave of optimism. The instrumentation rises and falls dynamically keeping you engaged and guessing. “King of Shadow” begins with a haunting guitar intro that perfectly supports the singer’s breathy, versatile voice as it leaps from low to high notes and back again.
Their single “For The Love” is a track marked by a catchy piano rhythm that resonates to your core. A collection of deeply personal stories, “For The Love” unapologetically declares that everyone should have the right to love who they love as well as have the “right to f*ck it up, just like anybody else”. “Birds” is a thoughtful, minimalistic song that highlights the daydreamy and poetic side of Cunning’s music. Slowly building with echoing percussion under stable piano chords, the orchestration paints a gorgeous scene with decorative harmonies and Cunning’s cutting voice as they sing “get out of my head”.
Growing up as a ballet dancer, the non-binary artist and activist has found success in entertainment having appeared on HBO’s The Deuce, Netflix’s Trinkets, and on Broadway and Cirque de Soleil. When we asked about their influences for their upcoming EP, Cunning replied “music is something I never thought I would do until a couple years ago when I started singing to stay a dancer, but the influences are kind of from my whole life’s music”. To find out more about Kat Cunning’s dancer roots, musical inspiration, and advocacy, check out the rest of their answers from the press conference below!
Written by Katrina Charles
Press Q&A with Kat Cunning
Q (Rising Artists Blog): You started out as a ballet dancer. How has that discipline impacted your music?
KAT: Yeah good call on the discipline. It is so intense. I feel like the intensity of loving something that much, giving my life to it and having a relationship to pain and pleasure through dance… those are huge themes in my music as well as just having a structure for being addicted to working all the time. But I also still love dance so much and I sort of felt like I left it in my own time so that I could come back to it in my own way and I definitely use music as a way to cast and interact with dance like cast dancers with diverse bodies who look different, which is something I didn’t experience enough when I was a dancer being celebrated. And also, just to give myself an excuse to dance and cast myself. The most recent video I did for “Confident”, I actually worked with people that I knew from when I was in school dancing that I had told I was going to leave dance forever. And then I was like, “Hey you guys still around? Let’s maybe do a two step and see what happens.” I never left dance. It’s so thorough for me and it’s definitely largely influenced y’know, it will always influence anything I try to make happen in my life. The arts are important.
Q (Rising Artists Blog): Are there any specific influences that you’re channeling on this upcoming EP?
KAT: Since this is my first EP, music is something I never thought I would do until a couple years ago when I started singing to stay a dancer. But the influences are kind of from my whole life’s music. I’m not making a new music statement, I’m kind of just writing my first approach to music and so my lifetime influences, one of them is Justin Timberlake. I don’t know if that’s going to come out in this EP at all but I was obsessed like I’m still so obsessed with the whole Justified album. So on the stuff that’s a little bit more poppier and swaggier, I’m definitely influenced by him and I’m trying to incorporate some of that into my EP because some of the stuff that’s out already feels more organic and I was like “I wanna put that influence more into this.” There are a couple songs that feel like they have some of that spirit. And then, the other lifetime influences are people like Fiona Apple who are just really raw lyricists and performers.
Q (Rising Artists Blog): You teamed up with The Ally Coalition for Give A Yes!, a voicemail bank where fans can leave messages of encouragement, affirmation and hope. How did you get involved with the Ally Coalition and how did this project come together?
KAT: The Ally Coalition is a long-standing relationship. I’ve done a lot of fundraiser-type performances for them. Y’know they’re one of the flagship queer organizations that does great work. Luckily, they were down to collaborate with me on this but it’s one of many efforts for Pride this year to make up for the fact that we aren’t gathering as much as we usually would. Lowkey, I’m definitely going to be in the streets for whatever Pride is happening but for people who don’t have access to that I want to just make some type of a space so we can just celebrate people and send messages to those people who are in unsupportive homes and stuff like that. And when I was talking to my team about it, they were like “we want to invite all types of people for messages of positivity” and I was like “yeah, but we want to make it gay though” So it’s called Give A Yes as an acronym for the gays.
Rising Artists Blog: I love the acronym!
KAT: Thank you. It also came to me in a dream. I was like “what could it be? It needs to be a message of support” and then I was like, “Give a YAS!” What’s gayer than saying yaaasss? Y’know?
Rising Artists Blog: It’s so perfect!
KAT: Thank you! I have the domain and then maybe in a couple years it’ll be like a gigantic organization where we do more. I hope that it becomes more than just a landing page for messages but that’s where we’re going to start.
Rising Artists Blog: I hope so, too. Because it’s a great platform.
KAT: Thank you. Maybe I’ll have a festival called “Give A Yes!” Who knows, maybe it’s a talk show. I’ll be the next Ellen.
Q (Purchase Phoenix): As a non-binary gay musician in a cis male dominated industry, how do you think upcoming musicians can work towards making it a more inclusive place?
KAT: As often as you can, hire and engage with people who are not cis white men. You know what I mean? The more your team can represent the world the more your art is going to represent the world. Obviously there are exceptions, let’s not be exclusionary in general. It’s never helpful. If somebody is the best person for the job, then that’s awesome work with them. Especially though, make sure they see you, they champion your message, they’re willing to take the backseat when you have something important to say for your community. Just champion other people. I’m grateful that the people leading the way are taking risks. I know Lil Nas X’s video was so divisive but I’m just over here like “Yes! Put blood in your shoes. F**k the Devil. Please, for the mainstream. We need this.” It’s exciting that people who are viral gigantic artists are taking risks that are queer statements. Actually my EP has so much to do with religious iconography and venerating queer people in traditionally unwelcoming spaces. So to see that another artist totally doing that with a huge budget is just thrilling and I think the more that happens with those big examples it’s super helpful for the younger people but also just like not compromising as you’re starting out on that vision and being willing to niche yourself out for who you are and hope that that core community will grow with you. I wish that we didn’t get turned into just gay artists when we are gay and that’s why my songs aren’t specifically just like, “I f**ked a girl. I’m f**king girls.” I’m just telling stories of my life because the gender of the people is not always, like it’s cool that the message can be universal. So we need to on both sides appreciate people who are super, super queer and specific about that in their marketing and also just be like “you’re also a person with human universal stories” and just support queer artists. Do your thing. Be you.
Q (Bloom Magazine): As an actor as well as a musician, do you think that your roles and characters inspire or impact your songs and music in any way.
KAT: For the most part, I write really literally about my life. I draw from experiences in my life life. And even as an actor, I feel like I draw from my life life to go into the roles. So I don’t write super fictionally but I am kind of method so sometimes I’ll be in a certain mood for a role. Sometimes I feel like the characters inform which side of my life is shining while I’m playing that character. If they’re chaotic and dating five people, somehow my life gets chaotic. So I will say they kind of inform each other for sure but whenever I’m writing about a character they do kind of stay on separate sides of my brain. That being said, the music and acting often mesh together like Trinkets for example where I got to sing my own music and that’s always really exciting when it does especially if the character is otherwise a lot like me.
Q (For the Punks): In your recent music video for Could Be Good, you say that it really showcases things that brought you happiness in a really dark time. Can you explain what some of your favorite memories are that are in that video?
KAT: The video is largely a dedication to the time that I spent with my partner who I met over the pandemic. What I got to enjoy in the time of the pandemic was not having to put my energy out and getting to receive the world. So a lot of that imagery is road trips, a lot of the imagery is nature from my hometown in Oregon and just peaceful candid moments with no makeup on. And I know that’s just like not a crazy thing but I never thought I’d put my second music video with a label out with literally looking a mess. It felt like the song to do that with because the song is the story of hope and enough peace and space to feel hope for quality of life and the simple things. Some of those memories are taking a road trip to Oregon where I got to see my family and revisit the nature there that I haven’t for like 15 years and like I love being in a car. It’s where I love to listen to music and I’ve lived in New York for so many years and I haven’t been in a car much so that’s the other theme throughout the music video. The pace and patience and peace of being on a road trip and looking at America around you.
Q (For the Punks): What inspired the name of your upcoming EP?
KAT: Idol Hands. So since it’s my debut EP, I wanted it to just represent things that really matter to me overall as a statement kind of what you can expect from my whole career. My most consistent obsessions is religious iconography. I looked around my house the other day. It’s my first that I’ve lived in myself and decorated all by myself and I was like “the only things I own are Jesus themed. I have neon prayer hands and a hundred of the same weird Spanish Marys. And I know that that’s going to be a theme in my career so Idol Hands is a shout out to that religious aesthetic and also because some of these songs were written in the pandemic, I love the pun of “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” like this is what I did with my hands when I had nothing else to do.
STREAM “COULD BE GOOD”:
STREAM “SUPERNOVA (TIGERS BLUD)”:
STREAM “KING OF SHADOW”:
STREAM “FOR THE LOVE”:
FOLLOW KAT CUNNING: