Madeline Kenney – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In
“The government’s quick and militant response to Black Lives Matter protests versus the slow and ineffective response to COVID-19 really has shown where their priorities lie.”
By Mark Redfern
We are checking in with musicians during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to see how they are dealing with everything. What has their home quarantine experience been like so far and how is the crisis impacting both their career and art? Here we check in with Oakland, CA-based singer/songwriter Madeline Kenney.
We’re living in future history right now, unprecedented times that will define our era. At some point we will be living in a forever-changed post-COVID-19 timeline, but right now we’re deep in it. Many have had their livelihood interrupted by the pandemic and included are most musicians, who make a lot of their money by touring and performing, two things they can’t do right now. Most record stores are closed and vinyl factories are shut down, so album sales are depressed too. Our intention with this series is to highlight the challenges musicians are going through right now to hopefully encourage our readers and their fans to rally around and support each musician (financially if you can, but we know it’s tough out there for many people).
We’re all in this together, a whole planet united in this fight, and we hope these interviews will help illustrate that. We put together the same set of questions about the current crisis and emailed them to several musicians and will be posting their responses as they come in.
Kenney is releasing a new album, Sucker’s Lunch, on July 31 via Carpark. Itis Kenney’s third album and is the follow-up to 2018’s Perfect Shapesand her 2017-released debut album, Night Night at the First Landing(which was produced by Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bear). Perfect Shapes was produced by Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Flock of Dimes. Wasner returns as producer for Sucker’s Lunch, but this time she’s joined by her Wye Oak bandmate Andy Stack (aka Joyero). The album was recorded in Durham, Oakland, and San Francisco.
A press release explains that “thematically, Sucker’s Lunch sees Kenney soberly contrasting the risks and rewards of falling in love, eventually deciding to dive headfirst into her own foolishness and relish in the unknowing.”
Kenney elaborates in the press release: “I’m not interested in something easy or immediately apparent. My experience writing these songs wasn’t easy, it was painful and difficult. I was terrified of falling in love, and as much as I’d like to write a sticky sweet song for someone, it doesn’t come naturally to me. Instead I wanted to explore the tiny moments; sitting alone in my room guessing what the other person was thinking, spiraling into a maze of logical reasons to bail and finding my way out again. When I spoke with friends about the theme of the ‘idiot,’ it became apparent that everyone understood that feeling and was relieved to hear it echoed in someone else.”
Read on as Kenney reflects on her COVID-19 experience so far.
Where are spending the quarantine and who are you spending it with? If you’re spending it with other people, have you found that the quarantine has brought you closer together or caused tension?
I’m at my place in Oakland with my boyfriend. We’re doing okay; taking turns being present at protests, working on projects, trying to stay sane. I feel so thankful that I have someone to spend quarantine with—I can really spiral into my own brain when I’m alone.
Is everyone in your family safe and healthy so far?
Yep! My mom is a midwife so she has been working since the outbreak; it’s been wild to hear what the hospitals are like from her, but I’m so happy she hasn’t gotten sick and is staying safe.
What’s your daily routine been like? Have you spent much time outdoors? And since musicians spend so much time on the road, have you found it hard adjusting to so much time at home?
I do a lot of gardening, which feels really calming and rewarding (I have a bunch of terrifyingly gigantic zucchini right now, someone help). I definitely miss life on the road. I love everything about touring, and it’s mostly just left a big hole in my heart. I didn’t realize how much I rely on travel and playing live for my mental well-being and sense of self.
What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term?
I had to cancel an upcoming tour with (Sandy) Alex G, which was so disappointing on so many levels—I love his music, I love traveling with my band mates, and I love all the cities that were on the tour route. We almost decided to postpone the release of my upcoming album, Sucker’s Lunch, but I decided it was best to continue releasing music and moving forward in that way. I hope having the music out will give people something to look forward to in the future—I dream of being able to play this new record live.
Do you trust the government and our leaders (such as President Trump) to effectively deal with the pandemic?
I absolutely do not trust Trump, or really feel anything toward him that could remotely resemble trust. The government’s quick and militant response to Black Lives Matter protests versus the slow and ineffective response to COVID-19 really has shown where their priorities lie—no care or concern for American citizens and an obsession with dictatorial suppression of our voices and rights.
Which sources of news have you been turning to most during COVID-19 and which social media platform have you found most useful?
I like listening to The Daily podcast—I feel like they do a really good job of succinctly covering current events. I also am on Instagram and Twitter all day, especially recently, but it can be tiresome to wade through the myriad different takes on everything happening to find helpful resources to provide aid to protestors and Black organizers. I follow People’s Breakfast Oakland and the Anti Police Terror Project to get up-to-date info on bail funds, protests, COVID-19 resources, petitions, etc.
What do you think will be the lasting effects on society of all this isolated time at home?
I really worry for everyone’s mental health. I think it will be years before we really get back to “normal,” and when I say “normal” I mean mentally stable, able to see friends, able to see live music—I don’t mean a return to the white supremacist and systematically racist “normal” that our country has been operating under since its inception.
Are your parents, grandparents, and others in your life who are at risk taking social distancing seriously? If not, what lengths have you gone to in order to convince them to stay inside?
I can’t answer this question without publicly calling my family members out, but let me just say—take this shit seriously. Are you kidding??? EITHER GET BACK INSIDE OR GET YOUR (MASKED) ASS TO A PROTEST.
What other steps should record labels, music streaming platforms, and other music industry entities be taking to help struggling musicians through this time?
Everybody should be following Bandcamp’s lead. They put their money where their mouth is. I hope streaming platforms follow suit.
What is the best way fans can support you financially right now? Buying vinyl and CDs, downloading and streaming your music, buying merch, supporting your Patreon page or other crowd sourcing platform (if you use one), or some other means? Is there a particularly cool piece of merch you’d like to highlight?
I haven’t really had the bandwidth to create more merch or special items lately—I just hope people listen to and enjoy the new album. Get the songs stuck in your ears and heart and maybe I can sing them to you one day.
Which albums, songs, films, TV shows, books, podcasts, live streams, video games, board games, etc, have been helping you get through the quarantine?
I’m obsessed with the game Dominion. Can’t play enough. I’ve also been reading the Ferrante novels, watching Nathan For You, and listening to old Jim O’Rourke albums.
Have you been doing any live-streamed concerts during COVID-19 or do you plan to? A lot of artists have been doing them, do you think it’s a challenge to make them original and interesting?
I think it’s absolutely a challenge. With the snap of a finger, all these artists have been forced to become online content creators, in addition to the arduous work of writing, producing, recording, and performing music. Some people are talented and can do it all. I, personally, feel exhausted by it and also don’t have the patience to be live-streaming a concert to a screen with bad sound coming out the other end. It breaks my heart a bit. I am doing a few one-off streams, but not making a habit of it. That space is saturated already and I’ll leave it to the experts.
Has the quarantine been a fertile creative time (are you writing or recording new music, for example) or have you found it hard to focus on creative endeavors?
It comes and goes in waves. It mostly goes. I feel depleted of creative inspiration, but I have the energy to be making things, so it mostly just feels defeating. I have been putting my energy (and government check) towards hiring and donating to other artists/causes instead.