Orange County, CA native, Madison Cunningham, has an ear for melody that is reminiscent of early Joni Mitchell and approach to guitar and vocals that isn’t far off from long past heroes of Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake. She 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, Madison realized songwriting was a passion she wanted to pursue. It was a happenstance meeting with producer, Tyler Chester (Blake Mills, Sara Watkins) six years ago that helped Madison start to develop her approach as a songwriter. Now at the age of twenty-two, Madison has toured with Punch Brothers, Andrew Bird and Lucius among others. Our Annie O talks with Madison about her debut full length Who Are You Now coming out on August 16, ahead of her show at The Standard, East Village on July 22.
Where did you record your new album and when is it coming out?
The band and I traveled to El Paso, Texas to record on a pecan farm out there called Sonic Ranch. The fruits of our labor will be released on August 16th.
The title of the album Who Are You Now. What does it mean to you?
Who Are You Now seems to be the reoccurring title of my day to day. A question I imagine I’ll ask myself for the rest of my lifetime. From structure to change, young age to old age, from triumph to tragedy, there is only your character to speak for you. And how we respond to that inevitable question, is an answer we have to keep on chasing.
Is it true that you started playing guitar when you were 7 years old and played with your dad in the local church in Orange County?
Yes, that is true. I started playing guitar at 7 and playing in church at around age 12.
Tell us about your collaboration with Tyler Chester.
I met Tyler by happenstance at a convention known as the “Namm Show”. My Dad, who was there with me, put a shameless plug about my music in his ear which lead to us meeting up and playing my songs for him. That then lead to six years of making records together. From age 15 until now, Tyler has produced every piece of music I’ve released. He’s been a mentor and dear friend to me.
In the song Plain Letters you use Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar as a reference. Tell us more about why?
I was taken by her story and the way she described the struggle of being an artist and a young woman in her time. I saw myself in her writings. Her hilarious and quirky understanding of herself. Her life ended young and tragically as she battled with depression for many years. So the song describes and sympathizes with that, but seeks to empower those like her, or those like me. “I hope you find a weakness that you’re stronger than.”
Do you still play guitar with Andrew Bird? How long were you in his band?
I’ve been playing guitar in Andrew’s band for a year now. I’m on tour with him as we speak, and opening some of the shows.
Where are you based now?
North Hollywood, Los Angeles.
Do you like touring? What are your summer plans?
Touring is just as exhausting as it is thrilling. What’s not to love? I’m thankful I get to do this for a living. As for my summer plans, I intend to read books, sleep, and swim when I can.
What tracks are you listening to these days?
A lot of Chilly Gonzales, lately.
What can we expect from your performance at The Standard, East Village as part of the Annie O Music Series?
You can expect some new and old songs, and some of my favorite musicians backing me up.