A while back, local singer-songwriter Madeline Kenney fell in love, and it was a beautiful thing. But it was also a scary, vulnerable and painful experience. She was inspired to write about this experience but didn’t feel connected to the syrupy sweet love songs that dominate the pop landscape.
“How are we to accept the fact that we are falling for each other, but we might not believe in love?” Kenney asks. “That’s so fucked to experience. You can be reduced to a pathetic mess when you’re falling for someone.”
The thing about love that struck her the most was how foolish it was to dive in with both feet. And that’s what she was: a fool, knowing full well she’d likely get hurt. She did it anyway. And, she’ll most likely do it again.
Falling in love dominates her latest album,
Sucker’s Lunch, which released on July 31. While working on the album, she realized that many of her life experiences, such as her decision to become a professional musician, had similarly naïve timbers. This topic takes center-stage on the track “Sucker,” which was inspired from meeting a musical idol of hers. She was devastated to learn that even they were scraping by financially and were considering returning to construction work to make ends meet.
The record, Madeline’s third full-length, is a shift, sonically. Unlike her confident, synth-driven earlier material—much of it produced by Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick—Sucker’s Lunch is a warm, guitar-driven record with lush vocal harmonies; a self-reflective affair. She sounds tentative and vulnerable on the album, searching for the right words and the meaning buried within those words.
Kenney wanted the album to sound like a “sonic hug” and for it to have the feeling of “making out in a cabin.” “Sucker” is a peaceful, gentle folk-rock song, accented by noodling guitars and tender piano chords. “Double-Hearted” is a down-tempo contemplative rock song, with anthemic moments, disrupted by staccato marimbas and percussion.
It’s easy to see why the album has such a good sound; Indie rock powerhouse Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack were the album’s credited producers. Kenney wrote the material back in late 2018 and early 2019 while living with Wasner and Stack in Durham, North Carolina. As she fleshed out ideas, she ran them past Wasner and Stack, often jamming them out to get the right feel. She also discussed the album’s concept with them.
“I love them; I think they’re brilliant,” Kenney says. “They are psychically linked when it comes to a rhythm section. They have been playing together for so long. We all collaborated on everything together. When I was talking to them about the idea of the sucker and being an idiot for something and diving headfirst into whatever you’re a fool for, it resonated with them, it didn’t take much explaining.”
Kenney, Wasner and Stack, and a few guest musicians recorded the album in early 2019. The irony is that the time she chose to get it out into the world ended up being in the midst of a pandemic where booking a tour is not an option.
There was some consideration of delaying the release further because to her it felt weird to be promoting a self-examining record during a time of so much social upheaval. But she also felt she needed to get the songs out so she could move on.
“Those songs are a part of my person that exists in a specific time; it would artistically or psychologically feel gross to wait [any longer],” Kenney says.
She is proud of the record and the work everyone put into it. As she gets ready to put the word out about this beautiful record she recorded, she continues to contend with what it means to promote an album in this strange new era.
With everything happening in the world, she doesn’t have a big campaign planned. But she’s hoping that the album will be important to the people who find it right now.
“I hope that the record, being as honest as I have been in my writing, personally, hopefully that’ll resonate and be enough for people to listen to it and not forget about it by the time I can play shows again,” Kenney says. “I’m proud of it, and I want to share it with people.”
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