We know that Kat Cunning has a recurring role coming up on HBO—and we know what the show is—but we’re not allowed to tell you.
Last month, at the swanky, faux rich-person’s-living-room venue the Norwood Arts Club, Cunning hosted a private showcase for a rapt (and packed) crowd. Cunning’s voice is eerily specific, and with the moody, slow-danceable music, Ellie Goulding would be a quick comparison (and not a terrible one), but one could easily see her giving Katharine Whalen of the Squirrel Nut Zippers a run for her money, or sitting in with The Hot Sardines and trading licks with Elizabeth Bougerol. It’s that shift from ’20s-style back-of-the-throat to searing, modern hook head voice that keeps you on your toes and gives her music a moving, cabaret feel that feels a few carats richer than average pop.
But you’ve probably already seen her around. She cut her teeth with the cirque/burlesque/opera troupe Company XIV, appearing in Rococo Rouge and Nutcracker Rouge and garnering praise from The New York Times in the process. She then went on perform on Broadway in Les Liaison Dangereuses and in Cirque Du Soleil’s PARAMOUR. And yes, Insta-gramaniacs, she was the only live component in 29Rooms.
As an actor/dancer/choreographer well-trained to blend disparate influences, Cunning’s genre-bending music seems natural. Just coming off a North American tour opening for LP and Noah Kahan, she’s released a few singles, appeared live on Paste, and is gearing up for her first big hometown show at the Mercury Lounge on June 12. We caught up with her via email to see how she’s taking it all in.
Sure is! It’s the medium where everything I love can live. I think people are afraid that “pop” means conformity, but there are so many daring artists right now breaking the rules, involving new mediums and representing the diversity of the world. As a kid, I was eerily religious, quiet and prude. Beyoncé’s “Beyoncé,” is my new Holy Grail. It was there for me like a Bible had been, and I am totally in awe of how an ingraining pop hook can do that. I’m gonna play a part in that if the world will have me.
You’ve got so much going on. Do you worry about the risk of being too multi-faceted? If your acting career takes off, you might not have time for music, if music takes center stage, you might not be able to choreograph your own videos…?
Never! I’m a curvy, curly queer weirdo from a small town in Oregon. If Mindy Kaling and the other Gods of the Universe present me with challenge of the Super Bowl and the Oscars in the same year… I’m gonna make it work.
I am literally having the time of my life in my role in the upcoming HBO show that I sadly cannot name. I’ve never been a recurring role (or a speaking role for that matter) in a TV show and my co-stars are drool-worthy, brilliant and collaborative. I can tell you that the show really speaks to me, and the people working on it are hugely inspiring, including a number of female directors. I’ve never been on such a supportive set, or played such a fun role.
Besides the dizzyingly positive response I got to my own music, the best part was seeing LP side stage waving, and watching her play every night. Our society encourages women to compete against one another, not to elevate each other. I don’t take it lightly that before belting at the top of her lungs for a full set every night, she checked out our set and shouted us out. She even brought me and Noah and our whole crews on stage closing night of the tour. I definitely have first tour glow around all these memories, but I don’t think that everyone is so lucky. I can’t wait for the next one… Janelle Monáe? I’m lookin’ at you.
Funny you ask. I say that as a prompt to the fact that the song is about phone sex! I suppose, in that specific context, I am nostalgic for the way that when phone-sexing on a landline you have the very hot constant sense of risk and fear that your dad will pick up the phone and both parties will have to pretend they are talking about homework. Anybody remember sharing a line with your family!? I thought I was so smooth but I probably wasn’t and for that I would like to offer my parents my sincerest apology.
Oh and yes. Re: full migration to cell phones. Hold a landline. It cups your ear and you can feel the mechanisms jangling inside. A strange and wonderful relic of the past. I look forward to making that music video.
Anyway Café is a 7-minute walk. I don’t usually like vodka, but this little bar infuses it with everything you can imagine (horseradish) and I have spent many formative nights singing with a guitarist for vodka, tips and a delicious borscht.
Kat Cunning plays Mercury Lounge on June 12.