“No one’s holding you back now,” sings Madison Cunningham on the chorus of “In From Japan,” the third single off her forthcoming album Revealer (arriving this Friday, September 9th). According to Cunningham, the line is intended to have two meanings.
“One way to view it is in a positive manner. You’re like, ‘oh, yeah, that’s true — no one can really tell me what to do. I am my own person, I can make my own choices,'” she tells Consequence. “And then there’s the other side of that coin, where anyone who deals with anxiety can probably relate to viewing a statement like that is like, ‘Oh, no, I’m gonna mess it up. When’s the mistake going to happen?”
The conflict between feeling liberated and using that freedom “incorrectly” is a big theme on Revealer — but luckily, Madison Cunningham always seems to make the most interesting musical choices possible on each of her songs. Verses give way to choruses in flexible ways, with Cunningham’s unique guitar tunings and chord phrasings guiding each track.
Her lyrics are revealing, featuring imagery-heavy meditations on the loss of her grandmother (“Life According to Raechel“), frustrations about an unnamed manipulator (“Your Hate Could Power A Train”), and vows for independence (“Hospital”).
But Cunningham’s poised deliveries are always offset by her creative, free-flowing songwriting. Not only is she a master of arranging inimitable indie rock gems, she’s an incredible guitar player, period. Having got her start playing music strictly for worship purposes in church, she formed her first band while still in high school in Orange County, Southern California.
“At some point, I started a high school band. And that’s when I felt like, ‘Okay, there’re some people that I feel like-minded with, we’re all interested in the same things musically,'” Cunningham reflects. “The genre was kind of singer-songwriter, but I want to say we were a little bit neo jazz-esque. It was very different from what I do now, but it inspired a lot of the more complicated instincts that I have.”
It’s been quite the journey for Cunningham leading up to the release of Revealer: After putting out her breakthrough project Who Are You Now back in 2019, she toured with Andrew Bird and received a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album. She then hunkered down throughout the pandemic to craft Revealer, nabbing another Grammy nom for Best Folk Album for her 2020 EP Wednesday and being selected to open for Harry Styles on his two “Harryween Fancy Dress Party” dates at Madison Square Garden in Fall of 2021. (John Mayer, Sara Bareilles, and many others are also enchanted by Cunningham’s excellent songwriting.)
With each song on Revealer, Cunningham is proving that she can satisfy and surprise her audience all at once, and it’s one of the most delightful albums released so far in 2022. Below, she discusses the album’s enigmatic songs, the musical community she found growing up, and more.
Ed. note: You can catch Madison Cunningham on tour in 2022; get tickets here.