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MADISON CUNNINGHAM on her newest album Revealer

press conference

WORDS by Tessa Swantek  TALENTMadison Cunningham PHOTOClaire Marie Vogel PR°182

In "Sara and the Silent Crowd" on Madison Cunningham’s newest album, Revealer, she sings “Do you stand in a room full of mirrors now? Horrified at how they sharpen the image,” one that reflects much of the album’s identity. Cunningham says, “The record is constantly showing what it’s trying to hide,” as if she’s trying to camouflage herself in a room lined in mirrors. A person can hide amongst a kaleidoscope of reflected images, however “The Revealer,” who Cunningham personifies, “turns you in front of yourself” in the end.

 Her album is as if she is walking around that room while the images around her are dependent on the curve of the looking glass. Some are concave, revealing an image that is magnified in extreme detail, and some are convex, revealing an image that distorts and minimizes. Others are flat and express how people think they look, while very few are true mirrors that don’t flip or distort. 

When speaking of her album, Cunningham personifies the title, saying “I pictured ‘The Revealer’ to be this character that’s actively shedding light on who you are as a person and what’s happening inside.” The Revealer’s light source comes from grief, soulful instruments, and audience contribution, which then bounce back against the glass surfaces to create an animated portrayal. Even though the mirror images are intangible, there’s a life inside the glass that breathes, moves, and changes. Like the album’s artwork and track’s visualizers, motion and life lie at the core of the visuals, even in still images that create an optical illusion.

Instruments take on a life of their own in Revealer, as if being magnified by a concave surface. When speaking about being a female guitarist, Cunningham says, “It’s actually a fun time to be a female guitarist. There’s a cultural moment for it. Culture has made gender an issue but it’s just not one. Sometimes the instrument does a lot of the talking and I don’t have to.” While she can attempt to hide herself behind instruments, the sound waves breathe life into the glass and magnify the image. The back end of “In From Japan,” and “Your Hate Could Power a Train,” both hold a cinematic, larger than reality sound.  In “Your Hate Could Power a Train," in particular, every beat is like a step in a heist gone right. In the track she sings, “What does it say about me/ Your love can get away with anything?” as if the heist’s target is always her better judgment. The track’s instruments are amplifying both the scene that the narrative creates, and herself.

“I pictured ‘The Revealer’ to be this character that’s actively shedding light on who you are as a person and what’s happening inside.”

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It’s hard to pick out the imitation
From the real thing
Out from the West
The city sparkles like a sequined dress
You’re sitting right across from a lifeless
Animation of yourself

Madison Cunningham

This cinematic quality is one that is present in much of Revealer as Cunningham says, “A huge thing that inspires me is watching cinema. Two big influences for the “Hospital” music video was The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The cinematic nature of The Truman Show is perfect, but there’s a creepy ‘nothing to see here’ feeling with a sinister reality bubbling under the narrative. I wanted to draw from that feeling.” She mostly relates this syncopated atmosphere to “Your Hate Could Power a Train,” as she says, “I wanted the music to feel like a playground and satisfy people’s sweet tooth. Songs like ‘Your Hate Could Power a Train’ is when all the screws come loose from this structure that you’ve been trying to build and you realize this person is losing their mind. I like that it happens more towards the end because it’s implying that you’re trying to keep things even keeled.” Like looking into a mirror that amplifies your fears or insecurities, the instruments in many of the tracks inflate the image that is trying to blend in.

The Truman Show.webp
“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”


The image that The Revealer creates from grief exposes itself in a true mirror. When discussing her song “Life According to Raechel,” about the passing of her grandmother, I asked her, “With the song being about grief, I imagine it would have been hard to decide when the track was finished since the feeling that inspired it doesn’t have an end. Do you agree with the sentiment that art is never really finished?” In response she said, “100%. That is such a good question and so beautifully put because in the making of that song I had so many issues with my vocals and I thought ‘ugh it’s not perfect!’ and that was my own perfectionist mentality which can be really dangerous especially in a song like that. If I had gone in there and tried to autotune it would have taken away from the imperfect feeling that grief is. I kind of let that song go to be a thing that was bigger than me, and my abilities. This isn’t about me, it’s about her. I want to pay tribute to her in the most respectful way but there was a time and space that it was right to record that song and to tamper with it would have taken the pain out of it and the imperfection of actually losing someone and how clumsy everyone gets around those feelings. So I think I had to reconcile, this song is never gonna feel done to me because this feeling will never be resolved.” Grief is a person who never grows old and a song that never ends, it simply changes tunes and tempos. She continues, "You know, it’s funny, at times the song has felt perfect to me and at other times I’m like ‘ugh but my voice!’ and that’s kind of how grief is- it’s this feeling of I’m okay now and then suddenly you’re met with this wave of overwhelming sadness and you have to just sit with it. I think that’s a beautiful comparison to make. Grief is never done, and neither is art, it should be this living breathing thing like we are- we’re never going to be perfect, we just have to keep moving and growing.”

This sentiment that music is this entity that lives and changes over time is present in Revealer’s purpose. She says, “The more you know, the less you know. That’s what I wanted this record to be- to hug all of those questions. I don’t intend to give an answer because I don’t know if there is one- all we have is dialogue and conversation…all we’ll ever know about adulthood is how to learn on the fly and pretend. I’m 25 and I feel the youngest I’ve ever felt in my life.” Your own image in a true mirror breeds confusion because the portrait you see is a great contrast to the reflection you thought to be true. Cunningham holds onto this idea in her album, and says “I hope my music is a conversation starter,” to create a life past Revealer.

"Grief is never done, and neither is art, it should be this living breathing thing like we are- we’re never going to be perfect, we just have to keep moving and growing.”


Like all art, the album’s tracks balloon once they are released into the air. She says, “It feels kind of funny to let those things about yourself hang out for everybody to see. What has been cool and surprising about it is how much people relate to those conversations- in that way it doesn’t feel lonely like I’m going out on a limb and hanging there- a lot of people have met me there and said they feel the same way about these things. I suppose it’s always a gamble when you put music out and things that are true for you and you wait to see if it’s true for anyone else. So far that’s been the overwhelming reaction to it.” Like a funhouse mirror that curves several bodies together, once music is released, it merges with audience narratives to create an idea that is broader and lives communally. This is most evident during live performances. Cunningham opened for Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden in 2021 of which she shares, “Specifically playing in front of  Harry Styles’ crowd showed me what the songs could be and how they could survive in a room like that. It was about the performance being for them and not just perfect- no audience is stupid.” It is important to an artist to understand how their music “survives” past themselves and their own experience, revealing a portrait of the audience and culture at the same as revealing the artist.

Madison Cunningham's Website


Revealer came out on September 9, 2022 - listen to it here! 

To see Madison Cunningham on tour, buy tickets here

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