Madeline Kenney on “Sucker’s Lunch” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, February 20th, 2024  

Madeline Kenney on “Sucker’s Lunch”

Finally Writing That Love Song

Jan 21, 2021 Issue #67 - Phoebe Bridgers and Moses Sumney
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Madeline Kenney didn’t recognize herself—or at least her work.

The latest album from the Oakland, CA-based artist, 2020’s Sucker’s Lunch, is every bit as mesmerizing as her acclaimed first two albums (2017’s Night Night at the First Landing and 2018’s Perfect Shapes), but thematically speaking, Kenney herself is a bit surprised by the final results. That’s because, contrary to what she’d like to be writing about, the album is full of love songs.

“I fell super in love,” says Kenney about life between album releases. “To be quite honest, I was just really smitten in a way that I hadn’t been before. When you realize you can actually be in a good, healthy relationship, you’re like, ‘Holy shit! What? Is this possible?’”

Sucker’s Lunch isn’t so straightforward, of course. Anyone familiar with the first fruits of Kenney’s catalog will appreciate the beautiful textures and expansive interests at work once again. With Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack serving as co-producers (and players), Kenney’s layered approach has never sounded better—or as tender.

“On the whole, there was a lot more tenderness coming out,” says Kenney. “When I finished [the album], I would think, ‘Fuck it’s a love song. Who am I?’ I’ve written things about caring for people in the past, but I don’t even like hearing the word ‘love’ in a song. It’s so corny. You can say everything about love but just don’t say the word. But then here I am, writing songs about holding someone. That’s gross.”

What makes Kenney’s version of a love song so compelling is her authenticity to include all the emotions and responses that romantic love calls forth—including fear.

“I was feeling pretty good in this whirlwind of falling of love with somebody, but the crux of the record or thesis is that I am an extremely logical person—to a fault,” she says. “I could logic my way out of anything good. It can be good or feel good and I can think of 10 million reasons why it will go wrong. So even though that love was there, I was still deeply fearful and still am. The more vulnerable you are with someone, the more you open yourself up to getting hurt. It’s scary and crazy-making.”

For Kenney to allow herself to write and record songs that include the L word, she opened up about a process of letting go. It wasn’t about staying true any longer to some invisible set of rules that kept her music precious or protected from mainstream ideas. Instead, it was about allowing herself to open up even if it meant embracing what could be seen as cliché.

“I think I had to let go of a lot of the preconceptions I had about myself as a writer,” she says. “My last record was about not wanting to be a mother and dealing with societal expectations of women performers. Then it almost felt like, ‘Here we go. Now you’re just like everyone else. You’re writing about a person you like a lot. You loser.’ Oh well, not everyone can be David Berman.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 67 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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