Madison Cunningham talks about falling in love with guitar, her latest album ‘Who Are You Now,’ collaborating with the Punch Brothers, and heading out on the road

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Orange County, CA native songwriter and musician, Madison Cunningham, picked up the guitar at age seven and by age twelve began singing and performing alongside her siblings in church. When she was fifteen, she decided to pursue her passion of songwriting with Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan as her sole inspiration. She recently performed as a duet partner with the Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile, and was the band’s sole opener for their 34-stop North American tour.

Her latest album, Who Are You Now, released on August 16 on Verve Forecast, and Cunningham performed three of her song on “CBS This Morning: Saturday.” She’s currently on the road touring with fellow musicians and fans, Calexico, Iron & Wine, Andrew Bird, Lake Street Drive, Amos Lee and Milk Carton Kids. A full list of tour dates can be found here.

What are your earliest memories of picking up the guitar, and ultimately falling in love with playing?

Watching my Dad play in a Costa Mesa, CA in our house we lived in on a street called Princeton. He would teach me chords in the morning and after he left for work I would sit in my room all day and figure out more.

You just released your latest album, Who Are You Now. What was the writing and recording process like for it?

It was certainly as challenging as it was rewarding. I had written and recorded a few records independently before this one but this was my debut on a major label. So the nerves were constant for a good year. It felt like an entirely different game than the one I had been in, which it was. I learned a lot about fear and how unless it’s turned into ambition, it’s paralyzing. I had good people around me to remind me of that.

You’ve been a duet partner with the Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile on APM’s Live From Here, and toured with them. How did that collaboration come about, and what was it like working with Chris and the group altogether?

Chris and I share a manager, so the week I happened to sign on with my management they got me a gig as the duet partner on what was ‘Prairie Home Companion’ at the time, now known as ‘Live From Here’. I met Chris at the show rehearsal. He was so kind and gracious, having never met me and taking the chance that he did. Since that trial run, I’ve been lucky enough to be on that show twenty times or more. It’s been one of my favorite musical experiences and stretched me in ways I couldn’t have expected.

Shortly after your album release, you’ll be on the road with Andrew Bird,Calexico, Iron + Wine, Amos Lee and Lake Street Drive. What do you like most about touring, and what are you looking forward to most on this particular tour?

I love playing live! It’s an individual experience each night that you have and get to give your audience, whether it’s your best or the best you could give and that is a special thing to make a living off of. I also like passing through different cities, and traveling with friends. Nothing better than that. On these upcoming tours I’m mainly looking forward to watching these bands do what they do best and taking cues from them.

Which female musicians and/or female guitarists influence you the most?

Juana Molina, Joni Mitchell, Feist, and Bonnie Raitt.

Fun Questions

Who was your first concert, and which one has been your favorite, so far?

Brook Fraser at the El Ray in Los Angeles. Still one of the best nights of my life. Little did I know that her bass player at the time would become my longtime producer and mentor. But, I have to say, Tedeschi Trucks put on one of the most flawless shows I’ve ever seen.

What was your first album on CD and/or vinyl?

First album on CD was Rubber Soul and first album on vinyl was Nothing Is Wrong by Dawes.

Which five albums and/or artists would you not want to live without?

1.Grace (Jeff Buckley)
2. Court and Spark (Joni Mitchell
3. When The Pawn… (Fiona Apple)
4. OK Computer (Radiohead)
5. Pet Sounds (Beach Boys)

Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?

There’s certainly some pop out there that I dig. Can’t say no to ‘Levels’ by Nick Jonas when it comes on or ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears.

Guitar Gear

What guitar do you play, and is there a guitar you’ve been wanting to play, but haven’t yet?

I play a Mexican Jazz Master reissue that I’ve played for three years now. I would really like to try a Nachocaster.

Do you use different guitars for when you record and when you play live?

We tried a handful of different amps and guitars in the studio, and some of them we used, but mainly I kept coming back to my old faithful. It’s familiar and comfortable under my fingers and translated best on recording.

What strings do you use?

D’Adarrio Nickel Wound 11’s

What picks, and how about mics?

I don’t really use a particular mic, at least for live shows. As for picks, I use Dunlop MAX grips.

Find Madison on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Stream her music on Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music and YouTube.

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  1. I saw MC warm up for Calexico in Phoenix 8/16. I was impressed and bought her CD in the lobby. I do wish the CD had as much punch and volume as the live set, but no matter. Still a solid CD with no stinkers.


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