Two-time Grammy®-nominated artist Madison Cunningham performs live on the Club Congress stage.
Madison Cunningham, Who Are You Now With its sharp storytelling and bursts of electric guitar, Who Are You Now is Madison Cunningham’scoming-of-age record — a diverse album that’s modern, melodic, and rooted in the 21year-old’s observations of her own fast-changing world. “The past year was a largely transitional one for me. It felt like all at once I was living in a newcity and a new era of my life, trying to find where I fit, what I believed, and who my people were. It doesn’t matter how many great examples you have to look up to, when it’s your turn toface adulthood, you feel like you’re scrambling for the right tools. Writing this record reallyforced me to take an honest look at where I came from, what my dreams and fears were, andwho I was becoming as a result.” Cunningham began searching for answers during her childhood in Orange County, California. Aguitarist since the age of 7, she began performing alongside her father — a worship pastor andlifelong musician — at a local church. By 15 years old, she was writing her own songs andexploring her own voice as a musician. Playing an integral role in that process was TylerChester, a multi-instrumentalist and studio guru who’d worked with artists like JacksonBrowne, Blake Mills, and Andrew Bird. Later, after leaving home and moving to Los Angeles,Cunningham’s list of champions grew to encompass the likes of Sara Watkins, Chris Thile, andthe Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan. “When I met 15-year-old Madi and she played one of her early songs for me, it struck me withinthe first 15 seconds that I was witnessing one of the most purely musical human beings Iwould ever meet,” says Chester. “She was young and her skillset unrefined, but already at hercore was that same unteachable magic that you hear amplified in her today.” By 2018, magazines like Rolling Stone were taking note of Cunningham’s sound, calling it “anew spin on West Coast folk-rock, with classical tendencies, electric guitars, jazz-school chordchanges and alt-rock strut all living beneath the same roof.” She hit the road that same year asthe Punch Brothers’ opening act, using the opportunity to test her newest songs in front of alive audience. She stood out — not only for her unique melodies, elastic voice, and deft approachto the electric guitar, but also for her honest storytelling. Recorded at Sonic Ranch — a remote studio in El Paso, Texas, located on a pecan farm —Who Are You Now finds Cunningham contemplating her life after big changes. These 14 songsare filled with sharply-detailed observations about romance, relationships, self-reliance, andthe pursuit of her muse. On the moodily cinematic “Something to Believe In,” she deliverswords of assurance to her husband. On “Plain Letters,” she uses Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”as the launchpad for a song about anxiety and self-empowerment. “Pin It Down” sets a lovers’quarrel to a funky sound- track of pop hooks and rotating time signatures, while “L.A. (LookingAlive)” finds Cunningham maintaining a sense of perspective and humility, even as her musiccareer continues to ascend. “Doesn’t it feel good to laugh at yourself, turn your back on the business and leave it to sell itsown worry?” she sings during the latter song, accompanied not only by her FenderJazzmaster, but also by contributions from Tyler Chester, drummer Abe Rounds and bassistAlan Hampton. The four-piece recorded more than a dozen songs during a week’s worth oftracking sessions at Sonic Ranch, with Cunningham serving as their bandleader. Theyemphasized the raw, real appeal of live performances, too, keeping overdubs to a minimumand tracking everything to analog tape. Cunningham’s vocals and amplified guitar led the way,resulting in an album that mixes sweet, contemplative moments with the unhinged punch ofsongs like “Trouble Found Me.” “‘Who Are You Now’ was the title of a song that never reached the finish line,” she explains.”It became a reoccurring question, an unrelenting pressure touching every part of my life andwork. I didn’t have the words for it at the time. It was just a feeling I woke up with every morning— the feeling of jumping into a lot of change in a short amount of time and not alwaysknowing what was propping me up. The songs came from a place of feeling challenged and sothey embody that same challenge in the stories they tell. A challenge to myself, as well as thecharacters in them, to know where they’ll land when the branch that holds them breaks.” The musicians allowed themselves room to experiment and explore during the recordingprocess, too. Some songs were tracked outdoors, with the rural sounds of the El Paso landscaperinging in the background. Others were partially recorded inside a local water tower, tomimic the effect of a reverb chamber. Throughout the process, Cunningham pulled triple dutyas the album’s songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, driving each song forward with a unique pickingstyle that focuses on hooks rather than virtuosic solos. Even so, it’s her songwriting thatshows the true depth of Cunningham’s musical approach. “Madi ascended to another level at Sonic Ranch,” Chester adds. “She arrived at the ranch anuber-talented, young singer-songwriter-guitarist, but she left that week a young master, in totalcontrol of her musical identity and skillset. Even as someone who’s watched her progress forthe last six years, it was breathtaking to witness.” With Who Are You Now, Madison Cunningham traces her own path from SoCal teenager to independentadult, setting that paradigm-shifting transition to a soundtrack of honest, heartfeltmusic. It’s a revised spin on the singer-songwriter format, as well as a jolt of electric energy ina genre often ruled by acoustic instruments. Thanks to Cunningham’s autobiographical writing,Who Are You Now also answers the question posed by the album’s title, introducing a youngmusician who’s learned to balance the fresh with the familiar