The Grammy Award winner plays Calvin University’s Covenant Fine Arts Center on Friday. Dig into her background, interests and music in this Local Spins Q&A and check out a recent music video.
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When Madison Cunningham answers the phone from Los Angeles, she’s sitting in the middle of her office, wrangling a herd of unruly instrument cables.
When she tells me this, I picture a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” situation where the cables come to life, leaving her to valiantly fend off an entanglement of slithering foes with only a torch. But it doesn’t sound quite that perilous. Just tedious.
On this particular day, Cunningham is prepping for her upcoming two-month tour which includes a stop at Calvin University’s Covenant Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids on Friday (Sept. 15), the day after she opens for Hozier at Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights.
The Grand Rapids show begins at 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $10 for students and faculty; $25 for the general public, available online here. Storefront Church will open the evening.
The 26-year-old has garnered both commercial and critical acclaim for her innovative guitar playing and refreshing lyricism. She’s shared stages with John Mayer, Harry Styles and Chris Thile, performed on nearly every late-night TV slot and was revered by Rolling Stone for putting a “new spin on West Coast folk-rock.”
Earlier this year, Cunningham landed a Grammy Award for best folk album for 2022’s “Revealer.”
In a recent interview, Local Spins caught up with the California-based artist for a Q&A that explores her fascination with airplanes, favorite tour snacks and love of 1960s music.
Local Spins: In a previous interview, you mentioned that you’re somewhat of an airplane enthusiast. How did that begin?
Madison Cunningham: It’s funny, my obsession for planes actually came from a fear of them. When I started seriously touring and traveling, I realized that I had a lot of anxiety around flying and got really nervous anytime we hit turbulence or during takeoff or all those things. I think my fear turned into curiosity, and I just researched a lot about planes to make myself feel better. And then it became this love of aerodynamics and watching planes take flight. There was an airport near my house and I would go there and sit next to this chicken wire fence and watch planes take off all day. I actually ended up getting this radio that could tap into the traffic control tower. Which was totally illegal.
Local Spins: What’s your favorite aspect of flying?
Madison: Maybe it’s melodramatic, but I still get teary-eyed every time I take off. It’s this feeling of insignificance, which is powerful. I am truly just a speck in this cylinder and anything could happen and I have no control. It’s a kind of beautiful feeling of surrender. Didn’t expect to get so existential on the first question.
Local Spins: Would you ever fly in a small plane?
Madison: I kind of have a no-small-plane policy. I don’t know. It makes me a little bit more uneasy. Not to say that I never will in the future, but I feel like it doesn’t really pan out well for musicians specifically. So I kind of have a no-small-plane policy at the moment. I’m about to be 27 in a couple of months also, so I just have to get through that year.
Local Spins: What are some of your favorite parts about touring and traveling?
Madison: I love rolling into a city that I don’t totally understand or know, and just putting on my shoes and walking for a while. That’s always extremely exciting to me, and, you know, getting to play for audiences that I’ve never played for before. I truly love that feeling of not being tethered to anything.
Local Spins: How about some of the challenges?
Madison: I think the hardest part of touring is the feeling of being detached from any sense of routine. I started running which has been helpful. It makes my brain feel a little bit clearer. There’s a lot of waiting around, trying to figure out what you’re gonna eat. Trying to avoid eating pizza every night.
Local Spins: Favorite tour snacks?
Madison: OK, so right now we’ve all been on this granola kick. It’s this brand called Purely Elizabeth. Really obsessed with that. I also started using these instant coffee packs, which have been helpful. They’re actually really, really good. I’m kind of a black coffee snob. And coconut water.
Local Spins: Maybe pizza?
Madison: Usually, yeah, unfortunately. Yes.
Local Spins: Suppose you wander into a questionable Waffle House on the outskirts of town. You get lost looking for the bathroom and discover a portal of temporal displacement that transports you back to the year 1969. What do you do first?
Madison: I would go see the Beatles play. Or maybe Joni Mitchell. I think that’s my biggest regret of the age that I live in. Obviously, it can’t really be a regret because there’s nothing that could have changed it. But I’m sad that I didn’t get to hear some of the greats in their prime. I would have loved to have heard the Beach Boys or Jeff Buckley. Seeing Jimi Hendrix would have been un-f—ing believable. And I probably would have gotten a waffle.
VIDEO: Madison Cunningham, “Inventing the Wheel” (Live)
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