New York artist Kat Cunning began studying dance, then moved into theater and music. This triple threat has released two singles and is taking her act on the road in support of her LP.
After graduation from dance conservatory at State University of New York, she performed in Baroque Burlesque Operas with Company XIV.
Broadway credits include Les Dangereuses and Cirque du Soleil's Paramour, which she co-wrote the score for her part of Lila.
Windy City Times: Do you go by the name Kat?
Kat Cunning: Yes. You can put known as Katrina Cunningham, but for friends and family I go by Kat.
WCT: Where are you from?
KC: Portland, Oregon. I moved in my adult years to New York for dance school. I have been there since I was 17.
WCT: So you dance, sing and act?
KC: Yes. I also take pictures, I'm bad at the dishes, and I cannot fly!
WCT: Tell me what being openly queer means to you? How do you identify?
KC: I identify as gay. When growing up in Oregon, my mom came out when I was 11. She was with her partner for 13 years while I grew up. She, and all these women around her, went by gay. They worked really hard to have that word, but it seems outdated. Queer is more accurate to fluidity of everything, but I like to go by gay because I am proud I can.
I'm an old-fashioned lesbian!
WCT: Why did you decide to be out of the closet in your career?
KC: I make this music and I tell stories that are true. They come from my life. My life includes a gay narrative.
My songs may not be specific to being gay, but I feel it is my duty to tell the truth and invite people that have similar experiences to hear my songs.
Besides the arty part of being inclusive, making a space where we belong, and continuing to beckon people like me to my music, it is also about sustainability. I want to perform my whole life and I don't want to have to come out again and again. I want to live as an open book so that I don't ever have anything to hide.
As an artist today, I am really lucky that it is much more acceptable. It is about making the path that is most sustainable to do what I am meant to do. I didn't want to set myself up for any sort of dishonest connection with my fans, my family or my girlfriend. I wanted it to be out there.
Because the stories are personal to me I can't imagine presenting them in a less honest way.
WCT: Well, many artists never come out…
KC: For some people it is a hard line to tow, because I don't want to be pigeon-holed as only a gay artist. I want it to be known that I am gay so I can express whatever I want. I totally respect artists like Sam Smith that make his lyrics more universal. That is not hiding. I feel that if we can have somebody say they are out and making music, while the world buys tickets to their shows, that is a win for us!
WCT: You have described yourself as "a sex-positive artist." What does that mean?
KC: I have a bit of a history in performance art. The last dance company I was in did burlesque. I feel most comfortable naked. The topic of most of my songs is sex in some way.
I say that I am sex-positive to draw people in who are like-minded.
If I wasn't in music I would like to someday have a sex talk show between two friends. I'm going to be the old lady talking about what kind of vibrator to use on a television show. I am interested in getting rid of shame about perversions. I am interested in defining what consent is. I hope we are better at those conversations in both queer and heterosexual communities. I think communication is the key to sexual health and safety.
I want my art to break that boundary. When you are honest with your message there is an elegant way to show it. I would consider Madonna a sex positive artist and Janet Jackson as well, people who are not afraid of stigma around sex.
WCT: Describe your live performance.
KC: I go from being really intimate and personal to being a huge presentation. I have a character with a corset and a big tulle skirt to make a pop opera. I am working on visuals to really tie in with the music.
During one of the first songs that is a break up song about first lesbian lovers. It is about desperation. The visual is a sun setting in the water and there are moments when I dip into the water. There are things we thought about really hard for each song.
There is a sexual song called "Make You Say My Name Again." There are visuals with flowers blooming, which is obviously a huge sexual metaphor.
WCT: Were there LGBT dancers in your video for "Wild Poppies?"
KC: Yes, pretty much everybody! [Laughs] They are my friends. I didn't put out a Craigslist ad to find gay people to dance for me. These are people I dance with on the regular. They got my vision and it was the most chill day ever, because just get each other's aesthetic.
It was really important for me to abolish the idea of gender in the video and to have everybody in their skirts. Those petticoats are not really women's skirts to me. They are the same as kilts. They are functional because they ground you to the floor. I have thick legs so I like really long skirts.
The point of it is about sexual awakening. The "I am blooming" line is a Dorothy reference going into a new world surrounded by people. I wanted the dancers to represent the characters taking me on that journey.
WCT: How did you wind up opening for LP?
KC: I could not be more excited. I put on a couple of shows in November. I had met some of her team in LA and hadn't heard of her yet. When I listened to her stuff I was so glad they found me. I couldn't be more honored to be accompanying her.
She represents strength and a women doing her thing!
WCT: Any new acting projects coming up?
KC: I had to turn down a couple of shows for the opportunity to tour. Music is short spurts and acting can be a 10 month commitment. I am auditioning for commercials here and there.
For the most part, I am trying to hit it with the music.
WCT: Have you been to Chicago before?
KC: I auditioned for the Lyric Opera five years ago. I was there for a day. This is my first time playing Chicago. This is my first tour ever so I am excited!
Look for LP and Cunning at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., on Saturday, Feb. 24, with tickets and information at MetroChicago.com and KatCunning.com .