Like a wild dance in the forest, Madison Cunningham’s take on the folk genre is liberating. Following her two Grammy nominated album, her latest full-length record Revealer is breathtakingly cool and diverse. In there, mesmerising melodies blazing natural beauty haunt listeners to their souls; a touch of guitar carries out the soulful expression of disobedient, percussive rhythms that are amplified with drums and bells. Whispers come in harmony, light and elegant, climbing up the wall like vines, being blown in the wind. Cunningham’s voice is as silky and breathable like the feather, dancing in the wind. She opens her arm and walks into her emotions in a full embrace. Revealer feels like a sensational transformation, so vibrant, unapologetic, and vulnerable, like the blazing fire that burns brilliantly and purely.
“Hospital” is a genre-bending track that walks between the line of alternative rock and folk. It’s creative and full of personality with the like of PJ Harvey. Though the topic the track tackles is the blood and tears, Cunningham built her fictional world from the ground up. A bit abstract, but full of contrast. Her sonic palette explores the most daring colours with a touch of teen’s spirit. Though the instrumentation in there isn’t thickly layered, she manages to achieve a stadium-filling texture through the intensity of emotions and diversely rich songwriting.
“Sunshine Over the Counter” is as intriguing as it is bizarre. Like walking into a different world, having your eyes filled with awe, the Twilight-vibe track really pushes the boundary of imagination to a new level, all while connecting deeply to our earthy, human experience. One of Cunningham’s unique metaphors is her use of marionette puppets in her music videos. To her, it’s all about “ways we perceive reality.” The child-like perspective that marionette puppets share similarities with Cunningham’s aesthetic in music. There’s a bit of surreality and optimism in bright contrasting colour in the way she orchestrates her art.
“Life According to Rachael” slows down, taking an introspective walk in Cunningham’s story-soaked vocal. Light strings and plucked instruments give the track a golden, tender cinema touch, drawing listeners into a more personal space. “Who Are You Now” immediately calls back to a more liberating and rebellious rock n roll vibe, but following the precious “Life According to Rachael,” the track continues the focus on expressive storytelling, providing diversity to the album. “You Hate Could Power A Train,” on the other hand, deals with dissonance and atonal music, adding the much deserved avant garde flair into Revealer.
Written by Katrina Yang
Press Q&A with Madison Cunningham
Q (The Luna Collective): Would you say the writing process of Revealer brought forward some contradiction of yourself as an artist and as a person?
Madison Cunningham: Definitely. The whole process was me trying to get back to the love of the music. The whole time. Sort of making music and then trying to sell it is a thing that’s always at odds with each other. It was me trying to ditch the fear of what it would mean to not be able to sell it or to not make money out of it. The contradiction was always there. I was wrestling with the things as an artist and as a person. The record is constantly trying to show what I’m trying to hide, and that’s ironic that I like in music. Immediately takes the edge of the seriousness. You can’t take too seriously in that kind of context.
Q (Riot Rage Magazine): When did everything start to click for you?
Cunningham: In retrospect, I have spoken a lot about how hard it was to make it because the good break through moment come, there’s another hurtle immediately after that. The stop and go progression over time. When you’re so buried in something, become the most important to finish it. HYou start to wonder, I put all this work into this, I’ve cried and bled, is it good, is it worthy? I think towards the end of last year, when all the songs were together, I made the sequence of the album. I felt the relief. It was more evidently given how hard it was to make it and what it took to make it and still be proud of it.
Q (KSDT Radio): How do you merge spontaneity while maintaining coherence throughout this album?
Cunningham: That’s a good question. I don’t know I was very conscious about doing that. I think what I would say was towards the end when all the pieces had to come together as one thought, it was a lucky happy accident. All of it works. I recorded in Portland, Nashville, and LA, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of everything, but I think ultimately it was all written from the same place, so it didn’t matter who was producing it. It was all thematically linked because of where I was. It was nerve wrecking, and I was worried about how it would all work together in the end, but I think it all worked out.
Q(Bluehouse Magazine): Artists are often inspired by real life events, another time by other musicians, going into Revealer, would you say that you lean towards one of these?
Cunningham: I felt like I kept trying to write outside my own experience in a way. From my experience because it was the most honest way for me to write. It has to come from somewhere, the urgency does. If I have written exactly what my life would look like at that time, the record would have been really boring. I don’t think anyone would have cared to listen to it. I think there’s a lot of me having to think about myself in broader terms, think about other people’s advice for me, words of encouragement and having to write in a way to leave room for other people’s experiences to fit into the narrative. To answer your question, it’s experience based but also drawn from metaphor and themes.
Q: You’ve done late night shows, tiny desk concert, and opened for Harry Styles. How has it helped preparing for your upcoming headlining tour?
Cunningham: I think it has helped me shed some nerves, being in those circumstances. Touring was what I did last year, I think you start to understand how to wield an audience as a part of your instrumentation really, that’s a whole different set of skills that you have to come to learn. Specifically playing for Harry Styles’ crowd, it showed me what a song could be and where it could go, and it could survive a room like that, learning how to play to that amount of energy is difficult but exciting. Learning how to not to just think about yourself in the performance, actually looking out and paying attention, knowing the song enough to where you can actually pay attention to the audience. How to make them feel like the performance is for them, not just you making sure it’s perfect, and audience can feel that.
Q: Each of the music video seems to be accompanied by a series of marionette puppets. Is that a metaphor?
Cunningham: I think the metaphor is just trying to create these people and audiences. I like the idea of building the reality around people’s opinion about you, but in reality they are just marionettes. I thought it was a really cool metaphor the way we perceive reality, the importance we give to people. Break it down, they are just people, they’re just puppets. My therapist is a marionette.
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