Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chicago singer-songwriter Brandon Cunningham releases new EP, will perform at Schubas


On his new EP, Chicago singer-songwriter Brandon Cunningham shows why he is an artist to watch.

Cunningham's songs have an emotional connection that few other artists come close to matching. In celebration of the new EP, Cunningham will perform Aug. 21 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Quinn Tsan and Adia Victoria also are on the bill. Tickets are $10.

I had the chance to talk to him about the EP.

Q - Great to talk to you. Of course, you will be playing at Schubas this month to celebrate the release of your new EP, "Give Out."  In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Essentially, I wanted to make something that was better than what I had done before and keep it to the point. Musically, I wanted to keep it simple but still make it interesting, and thematically I wanted it to be true to my life over the last few years.

I think it accomplished that much. I definitely think it's better than the last record I put out.

Q - It seems like you tried to step up the intensity both instrumentally and lyrically on "Give Out" compared to your full-length album. Was that one of your goals?

Definitely. The first album was recorded when I was 19 or 20, so there's been a lot of time between that album and this one to develop and improve. I think a lot of it has to do with age as well. 

I'm much more critical of everything these days. It used to take me 10 minutes to write a song, whereas now it might take me months to actually finish one, which might not actually be a good thing.

Q - I understand you sang in a gospel choir as you were growing up in Texas. How do you think your gospel roots play a part in your music? How was it opening for MC Hammer and what did you learn from the experience?

I think that gospel music is all about the soul of it. You can't be in a gospel choir and not be soulful. 

You can't sing a solo in front of hundreds of Baptist church parishioners on the south side and it not be soulful. I think that's kind of stuck with me, even though I definitely don't play that kind of music. 

As for Mr. Hammer, I learned that he is indeed awesome…and parachute pants will rise again. Maybe.

Q - I understand that you really didn't think of music as a career until you heard Bon Iver when you were 19. What was it about the band that had you hooked? What do you try to express through your music and would you like people to get from your music?

I think it was how minimal that first Bon Iver record was. Musically and lyrically. 

But somehow it conveyed more feeling than stuff that was much more grand. I think I was listening to a lot of post rock before I heard Bon Iver, so to hear this record that was so emotional and mostly acoustic with this crazy falsetto; it kind of rocked my world. 

I wanted to do that. I wanted to write simple songs that would connect with people on such a basic level. 

I still try to do that. I hope people hear my stuff and think that it's honest, but ultimately I want it to be hopeful too.

Q - How does the Texas music scene compare to the Chicago music scene? What made you want to move to Chicago?

It's different for sure. Where I'm from (San Antonio) everybody knows everybody, and half of the people you know have probably played in your band or you've played in theirs. 

It's very concentrated, which is kind of nice. You know everyone that's going to your shows, and you always go see your friends' bands. It feels kind of small.

Chicago is much more spread out. You might see a band from here play a show and then not hear from them for a few months until they play the next show or put out the next album. 

It's a very big city after all, with lots of good bands. I'm still basically a newcomer though so I don't know if I've totally figured out the lay of the land. 

I think there are a lot more opportunities for bands here to play good shows and branch out, which definitely contributed to me moving here. Smallish town kid in a big city. They could make a movie out of it. 

Also, I love deep dish pizza.

Q - How do you think your music fits into the Chicago music scene?

People here want honest, rootsy music, and aren't typically that into trends or fads, which is what I like about it. There's a lot of room for songwriters, so I think I fit well.

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

My short term goals are pretty simple: I want to put this EP out and keep making strides here in Chicago and maybe branch out a little bit outside of Chicago. My long term goals are a little more complicated - I want to keep writing and recording, tour, and find some ways to make it all sustainable.