Kat Cunning on Being Romanced by Music and Marrying a Record Label

For the past two years, Kat Cunning has been a regular on our TV screens — if not physically, in the roles they’ve taken on as an actor, then sonically, in the music they’ve created that appears on shows like Riverdale and Trinkets. Playing Brianna Hildebrand’s love interest, the singer Sabine, on Trinkets, currently streaming on Netflix, allows the multi-hyphenate artist to bring both those roles together —using their own words and the words of others.

“It’s all storytelling!,” Cunning, who identifies as non-binary, tells American Songwriter. “The big difference is that music is my business that I’m crafting every day, telling my life story, with my face and body at the center of the brand.” Born in Oregon, the 27-year old SUNY Purchase Dance Conservatory graduate originally began their career as a dancer, performing in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Cirque Du Soleil’s Paramour, and Sleep No More in New York City, before diving into acting and singing. Cunning’s latest single, Supernova (tigers blood) — a full-bodied pop ode to reckless love has just been released on Lava Records.

Want to get your songs in front of Kat Cunning?

It was at a dance gig that Cunning first sang. “I told the director I could sing even though I had only really done it in the shower,” says Cunning. “I was cast and arranged two covers (Daughter’s Youth and Drunk in Love by Beyonce) that were received emphatically by the New York Times. It was a total shock to me; after years of banging my head against the wall of the dance world, music embraced me like a romance.”

The courtship led to Cunning recently signing with Lava Records, home to the likes of Lorde, and Jessie J, which has a partnership with Universal Music. “I try to look at signing to a label as more of a marriage than a birthday party,” says Cunning. “Parts of it are a real dream and I want to enjoy the first dance, but the part I’m really excited for is the commitment we’re both making to seeing something through together. I think [founder] Jason Flom has an ear for artists who have staying power and an interest in well-rounded people. Making the Supernova video with Lava was real affirmation of how important it is to have the support of a team that believes in your vision.”

That vision includes more acting — after appearing alongside James Franco in The Deuce, Cunning will next be seen with Jennifer Lopez in Marry Me — and putting out more of the soulful pop songs that showcase Cunning’s lilting voice. With it, comes the chance for Cunning to write songs that allow their voice to shine. “I used to be a quiet kid,” says Cunning. “I don’t know when the switch flipped — probably moving to NY and falling in love/finding my community — but I guess I talk so much now because I spent so much time quiet. I don’t identify as female anymore but I’ve lived a pretty female experience. Our society has a tendency to quiet women and I guess I reached a breaking point and had to let my sound out.”

Want to get your songs in front of Kat Cunning?

Cunning’s current single, Supernova, is personal for Cunning. “It’s all about the way that destruction begets growth, through the lens of a love story,” says Cunning. “The girl I was seeing at the time, to put it like a grandpa, was trouble. She was stunning and impulsive and reckless and (bad at texting back) and I fell for her anyway. The song is a portrait of the moments before our demise, when the beauty made it worth the downfall.”

In a time like the one we’re currently living through, there’s an added meaning to the song too — a passionate embrace of all that comes our way, in love and in life. “This is definitely a tragic time with a lot of disappointment, heartbreak and upheaval,” says Cunning. “But, it’s also a really important time for social change and a reworking of some vestigial social structures. Slowly but surely, 2020 will beget a better year, but I hope we can hold onto some of what it’s taught us: Black Lives Matter, you should think twice before kissing a stranger, and whatever it is, I can probably do it from my house in my underwear instead.”

Want to get your songs in front of Kat Cunning?

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