Madison McFerrin: A story of family, community, and self-awareness

Interview by Anne-Sophie Rasolo
Genres and styles : House / Pop / soul-pop / Soul/R&B

Additional Information

Madison McFerrin turned 31 a few days ago and she also ended her European Tour. Her soft voice and her sense of humour go with a thoughtful and kind spirit, turned towards people, the belief of music as a healer and the importance of being part of a community. Pan M 360 asked her some questions about her last few projects and her personal growth since the pandemic.


Pan M 360: In 2018, you were cited as a rising independent artist. Where are you now in this process?

Madison McFerrin: I am still independent, which I think is great. We are in a day and age where you can actually have a viable career and stay independent, so I really have been trying to build this in a sustainable manner, that’s where I am. The team has expanded, and new music is coming, so it’s definitely building wax.

Pan M 360: Alright, that’s great. Where and when did you learn to produce on your own?

Madison McFerrin: I really just started in the pandemic, so 2020 is really when it started. I was producing my acapella stuff but in terms of adding different instrumentation that really started during the pandemic, in my living room. Since we weren’t going out or anything, I was like “alright, here we are”.

Pan M 360: The EP “You+I” was made with your brother.

Madison McFerrin: Yes, he produced No Room, Try, Unwise, and Fallin, and I did Re:intro and Know you better.

Pan M 360: What did the collaboration with your brother bring you?

Madison McFerrin: Working with my brother is something I really wanted to do. I look up to him and I think he is incredible, you know, just sibling love. I appreciated.

Pan M 360: Speaking about Know you better, we talk about your vocal dexterity. How do you build your harmonies? Where do you pick your inspirations?

Madison McFerrin: I think my biggest inspiration is just life in general. I always start with chords first and whatever melodies I come up with are definitely also an inspiration. They kind of motivate what the topic is going to be about because since I write my melodies first, I really find the words that fit with the melody and that reveals what the song is from a lyrical standpoint when I write.

Pan M 360: About the song Stay Away, which came out recently, this is a mix of soul and house music. What are your current tastes and influences?

Madison McFerrin: A friend of mine who goes by the name L’rain. She is really incredible. I wrote the song before Beyonce’s album came out, but in terms of dance house music, this has been big for me at this moment. I think it is really fantastic. I am a big fan of Jamila Woods, and Nick Hakim. I am grateful that a lot of people that inspire me are also my friends.


Pan M 360: This song’s musical mood is contrasting with the topic. I saw you were very involved in mental health promotion. How much is this subject important to you?

Madison McFerrin: It’s majorly important to me, especially now. In this time, we are still living through a pandemic, there’s a lot of collective grief and trauma and I don’t think a lot of us have been able to process, especially in the United States, you know there’s been a big emphasis on just getting back to work and getting back to life as usual without allowing people the space to really process what we have gone through. I mean over a million people have died in the United States and people have lost their entire families you know the idea that we are just supposed to move on is pretty sick in my opinion. For me, music helps contribute to my positive mental health and I recognize that it is true for so many other people and so I really see myself and my music as a conduit through which people can find healing in happy songs or sad songs, or songs about anxiety, I am taping into what I feel understanding that so many other people feel them as well and maybe my music can put words to their feelings that they have been unable to articulate.

Pan M 360: Does that help you?

Madison McFerrin: Oh, totally!

Pan M 360: How easy is it to show yourself and your feelings?

Madison McFerrin: For me, showing it in music is probably the easiest way. I write in a journal just about every day and that is helpful, but I think in terms of really getting all of the expression out, music is definitely the place where I feel I can flow the most freely with my feelings. Music is the best place for me to be able to do that.

Pan M 360: You said in your song “undefined is a reminder I ain’t done so stay away,” what does that mean?

Madison McFerrin: I have been spending these last few years trying to define myself and my art and trying to figure out who I am, and not just as an artist but as a person. So the idea is that like if you are undefined, if you haven’t figured out what it is, it just means that you are not finished yet and it doesn’t mean that this is the end and so the “stay away from me”, what I am speaking to is that anxiety, that pressure of like “you don’t know who you are,” it’s like “you can stay away from me” because I am figuring myself out and I recognize that I am still on this journey and being on the journey is okay.

Pan M 360: You named two of your EPs “Finding Foundation,” did you find yours?

Madison McFerrin: Yeah, I think so. The meaning behind those titles was, I had taken some time to really figure out how I want to express myself as an artist and as a solo artist specifically because I have done some stuff in other groups. I come from a rich legacy of vocal music and even the first song I wrote in college was one where I couldn’t figure out the chords on the piano so I’d sing them and I ended up writing an acapella song and kind of getting back to that original root of my songwriting and that coupled with my familial roots, that’s what “finding foundation” was really about.

Pan M 360: Can you tell me more about your familial roots?

Madison McFerrin: My grandfather was the first African-American to sign a contract [editor’s note: Robert McFerrin was a baritone singer who sang negro spirituals] to the Metropolitan Opera. His wife, my grandmother was a renowned vocal teacher who was recognized by the state of California. My father is obviously a ten-time-grammy-winning vocalist, my oldest brother Taylor is a producer, and my middle brother, he’s an actor but he can sing too, he played Hamilton on Broadway. I am sure that it goes even further back than that. The musical legacy is incredibly rich in ways that tap into my familial roots.

Pan M 360: So finally, how do we learn to get true to ourselves?

Madison McFerrin: That’s a good question! If I could answer that, I think I would be a much more fortified human being [laugh], but ultimately, I think it comes down to really tapping into yourself, taking time for yourself, meditating, and journaling. I think also community is really important to that. Self-discovery doesn’t only come through yourself, it also comes through the dynamics that you have with the people around you and how they motivate you, how they push you because we are kind of told that we are supposed to be highly individual when, really, we are supposed to be communal, so I think that all that self-discovery comes through having a positive community.

Pan M 360: About composing, you said that you first sing before you play?

Madison McFerrin: I always start with the chords whether that’s me singing them in loop fashion or playing on the piano. Interestingly enough sometimes with production now I start with a drum beat and then I add chords to it but I definitely need some chords in there to be able to sack the melody and ultimately write the lyrics.

Pan M 360: Do you have some new projects coming or any projects aside?

Madison McFerrin: Some new music is on the way. Stay tuned.

Pan M 360: Is there something else you would like to add?

Madison McFerrin: I am just grateful to be back on the road and if anybody wants to connect with me, shoot me a DM, I am always down to connect with my fans. I am really looking for to be back in front of audiences.

Pan M 360: Have you already played with fans?

Madison McFerrin: I have done some lessons and I also have people joining for soundchecks. People will send me stuff in DMs and I do my best to listen to everything, give some advice, and I also have like a texting number where people can text me and we can chat that way, that has been useful during the pandemic.

Pan M 360: Thank you very much!

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