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Madison McFerrin Takes Control Of Her Music And Her Legacy

Written by on June 12, 2023

Madison McFerrin spoke with Vocalo’s afternoon host Nudia Hernandez about her debut album, going on tour and more. McFerrin performs June 13 at Sleeping Village in Chicago.

Independent artist Madison McFerrin is revitalizing R&B with her soulful and emotive vocals, complemented by minimalist arrangements to create her lush and ethereal sound. With a deep connection to the music industry from an early age — thanks to her father, 10-time Grammy Award winner Bobby McFerrin — Madison McFerrin has captivated audiences with her soulful sound and empowering lyrics since her first EP in 2016. After touring with her father as part of his band for his last album in 2019, gaining invaluable experience along the way, she is now taking center stage on her own tour in support of her debut album I Hope You Can Forgive Me this summer. 

While McFerrin released her first EP, Finding Foundation, Vol. 1, in 2016, it wasn’t until May 12 of this year that she unveiled her highly-anticipated debut album, I Hope You Can Forgive Me. This long-awaited release showcases McFerrin’s artistic growth and marks a significant milestone in her musical journey. The album allows her to highlight her mesmerizing blend of soul, R&B and experimental pop, characterized by her distinctive and soulful voice.

Being an independent artist hasn’t always been an easy path for McFerrin. Navigating the ever-evolving dynamics of the music industry while maintaining her independence required her to learn the ropes on her own. In a world where many artists rely on major labels and industry machinery, McFerrin has chosen to forge her own path. She embraces the freedom to create music on her terms, without compromising her artistic vision. This autonomy allows her to explore her unique sound and connect with her audience in an authentic way. The creative freedom and control which goes along with being an independent artist makes every challenge worthwhile.

“I knew that I always wanted to retain control, it was just a matter of how that looked, and how I would go about doing it,” McFerrin said. “I’m really grateful for the ability and opportunity to be able to do this independently, it’s really taught me a lot.”

McFerrin’s international tour to promote the album kicked off on May 20 in New Jersey, with stops across various cities, including a show at Sleeping Village in Chicago on June 13. 

While on the road, Madison McFerrin joined Vocalo’s afternoons host Nudia Hernandez on-air via phone to delve into the musical odyssey behind her debut album. The two also discuss the inspirations and experiences that shaped its creation, McFerrin’s rich family history and experiences on tour.

Nudia Hernandez: Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM, Chicago’s only NPR Music station. 1:35 on your clock, Nudia in the Afternoon here with you! You know we love to bring you the best music in the city, shows that are coming into town. And I’m super excited to have our next guest on. Throughout her fruitful independent career, she has earned so many accolades, with the New York Times, NPR, the Fader, Pitchfork — and now we’re gonna have her on Vocalo, right now, to talk about her debut album and coming to Chicago. Her new album is called I Hope You Can Forgive Me, it was released May 12. And on the line, we do have Madison McFerrin. Hello!

Madison McFerrin: Hi, how you doing? 

NH: I’m doing great. How are you? 

MM: I’m doing well. Thank you. 

NH: Alright, so I have to say, this morning, I was doing my makeup. And I was listening to the new album, I Hope You Can Forgive Me. And it was giving me goddess, ethereal vibes. You couldn’t be in a bad mood when you listen to it. 

MM: I love to hear that. That’s exactly what I was going for. 

Album cover for ‘I Hope You Can Forgive Me’ shot by Justin French, courtesy of the artist.

NH: I was wondering, as an independent artist — we’ve talked a lot about it on Vocalo; we are an NPR Music station, which means we do play a lot of people that are independent. Now, for you, was that always going to be the option, you were always going to have full control of your whole music? Is that what it means to really be independent?

MM: Well, I think it was definitely an evolving idea. Because I grew up in the music industry that was very much like, “Oh, you get discovered, you get signed. And that’s how you start your career.” But as I was coming up, so much of that landscape changed. And I think also because there were less conversations about how little people actually owned their own art, in that previous dynamic. And so as the industry has changed, my views have definitely changed about what it is that I want, what it is that I don’t want. And I knew that I always wanted to retain control, it was just a matter of how that looked, and how I would go about doing it. I’m really grateful for the ability and opportunity to be able to do this independently, it’s really taught me a lot.

NH: And what I love; a lot of people listening may be thinking, “Madison McFerrin? Any relation to Bobby McFerrin, 10-time Grammy Award winner, author of the little tiny hit, called, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ which is actually massive?” And you are the daughter! When I was listening to the album, I loved the collaboration, and I was reading online … Is it true that he was behind the scenes of this album, as well?

MM: I mean, he’s somebody who I always go to for advice. So, in that regard, yes. But that’s pretty much the extent of that. Plus, the collaboration that we did, which was really special for me. 

NH: I loved the collaboration. Can you talk to us about that track a little more?

MM: Sure. So that’s the track, “Run,” which I learned, in the pandemic, that my great-great-great grandmother had escaped enslavement. And it was a really amazing thing to learn during this time, where I was trying to figure out how I was going to push through losing all of my gigs and not knowing what was going to happen with my career. And so when I understood that I come from a legacy of a woman who took her future into her own hands and escaped such a traumatic, horrific situation, I felt like I was obligated to create something in her honor. Because without her making that brave act, who’s to say that I would even be here? And so I wanted my dad to be on it, as well, because he is also her descendant. The track is meant to be, from a lyrical standpoint, like the Creator giving her the strength to run away. And my dad kind of serves as the spiritual juju as she’s fleeing.

NH: Oh my gosh, I love that. Listening to the track, it’s such a beautiful track and I loved, when it came up, to see that collaboration. Do you and your father work well? Because, look, if I had to work with my dad, I’m not sure how it would go, honestly. [Laughs]

MM: Yeah, no, I used to be in his band, for the last project that he put out. So I toured the world with him, and it was very special. I’m really grateful to have such an amazing human as my father. I think that that’s a really special connection. And, you know, first and foremost, he is my dad and he’s been a great dad. So I’m really grateful for that. 

NH: I love that. And we see this a lot in the entertainment industry, when you have a huge family name, sometimes some artists want to kind of distance themselves, maybe change their names. I kind of love seeing that you really kind of embraced it, had him on the album as well. Was that ever an idea for you? Did you ever feel that way, like you wanted to kind of make your own name?

MM: Yeah, no, I totally toyed with the idea of a stage name. But ultimately, I really love my name and how it sounds. I think there’s a nice alliteration to it. So I ultimately was like, “I’ll keep my name.” But I definitely toyed with the idea of going elsewhere — less so to, like, distance myself from him and more so to kind of create a separate persona for myself, because that is a thing that is not always the easiest. You have to, especially in this day and age, you kind of have to think of yourself as a “brand.” And so to have my actual name be also my quote, “brand name” has been difficult at times. And sometimes I’m like, “If I had a stage name, it’d be so much easier to be like, ‘Oh, this is x but, like, I am still Madison.’” But you … go with what you got, you know?

NH: I love that. And I love that I’m getting to talk to you because, of course, you are an independent artist. This is your first debut album, and one of the songs I loved and I kind of wanted to hear a little bit more about was “God Herself.” That’s the one, when I was listening to it I was like, “Oh, I’m feeling myself today,” you know?

MM: [Laughs] Well, that’s the point. That was fully the intention behind that, so I’m glad but that’s what you said. Because I was 100% trying to make a “I’m feeling myself” song. I had actually … made a beat that was like, more so in the vein of, like, “Savage” and “Feeling Myself,” and that’s the angle I was going for. And nothing was really sticking, melodically or lyrically. And then when I decided to pivot, and I was like, “You know what, there’s not an acapella song on the album yet, let me try and see if I can come up with something this way.” I wrote that song in like two days, and was totally in love with it from the jump. It’s my favorite song to perform off of the album. 

NH: Oh, I love to hear that. Because you should’ve seen me walking to the bus stop this morning. People were like, “Who does she think she is?”

MM: That’s the point, though! That’s the point.

NH: That and “Red” are definitely some of my favorite tracks, when I was going through the album. And you are coming to Chicago, one of my favorite venues to see music in, Sleeping Village next week, the 13th. And you’re on your tour right now! Is touring second nature to you, because you said you’ve gone on tour with your father and things like that? Or are you still feeling like you’re getting the hang of it?

MM: Well, I feel pretty adept at it, at this point. It took a second. My first tour, post-pandemic — I mean, we’re still in the pandemic, but I did a lot of touring up through 2019. And then all of a sudden, there were no shows at all. And I went back on my first tour since then in November. And that was definitely like, “Okay, let’s get back into the saddle of what this means.” But I feel like I do pretty well on tour… The hardest thing, I think, about tour is actually making sure that I stay healthy. That’s the biggest thing, because my voice is the main part of this, and so I have to make sure that my mind and my body are really in-tune throughout the whole thing, because otherwise if I get off, then I can’t have a show. And that can be difficult when you’re on a different plane every day, you’re in a different hotel, you’re just constantly on the move. So being really mindful of that is the most strenuous part of tour, but I enjoy the, “GO, GO, GO.” Makes me feel alive.

Madison McFerrin by Justin French, courtesy of the artist.

NH: I love that. You know, what’s life about … just a little stress of “I gotta catch his plane and stuff.” … It’s a pretty long tour, you’re gonna be on tour until the end of October. What is the one thing you need to make sure is on your ride? Is it hot tea? Is it green M&Ms?

MM: Always tea, there always has to be tea and honey. That’s a big one. I usually ask for some whiskey, because that’s a nice coat, like, throat situation before I head right on stage. But tea is definitely number one, for sure, tea and honey. 

NH: I love that. And also, if you are listening right now and you want to go to the show, well guess what? We’re giving away tickets on our Instagram @Vocalo you could check that out, how to win it, to go see Madison, and we want to get into one of your songs before we put you on the air. I asked you which one, and you said “Stay Away,” right?

MM: Mmhmm, yeah.

NH: Awesome. So I would love — to finish off this interview, I’d love to just have you introduce a song and we’ll get into it.

MM: All right. My name is Madison McFerrin. I’m going to be at Sleeping Village on the 13th. Come through, I want to see all of your beautiful faces. And, as a nice little taste before the show, this is my song, “Stay Away (From Me).”

Keep up with Madison McFerrin on Twitter and Instagram.

Interview and audio production by Nudia Hernandez

Introduction written by Omi Salisbury

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Omi Salisbury and Morgan Ciocca

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