RH Interview: Madison McFerrin On Soul Music, Confronting Fears, And Her Ancestral Spirit

Madison McFerrin enters with a small cup of tea that visibly soothes her as she sips gracefully onto the stage. She kicks off her shoes and greets with crowd with a boisterous Heyyy asking how is everyone doing tonight? Immediately, she captures the audience’s attention and in moments, we were under the spell of her mellifluous voice. From her popular songs like “Insane” and “Shine” to “Can You See?” and “No Time To Lose” to a rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, Madison bravely reveals her inner truth into The Promontory crowd. Between her selections, Madison offers small anecdotes that kept the crowd engaged and responsive to her witty vulnerability to concentrate on her vocalization. To say it was impressive would be an understatement to the talent and brilliance that Madison symbolizes. As the daughter of world-renowned, Grammy winner, Bobby McFerrin, and sharing the same kin as musician Taylor McFerrin and her history making opera singer grandfather, Robert McFerrin, Sr., Madison’s precision and focus as she sings reminds me of Lena Horne and Jill Scott. I had the wonderful pleasure of having a conversation with the Future Soul, Madison McFerrin, after her performance at The Promontory in Hyde Park. Read below for our conversation!

rubyhornet: I want you to introduce yourself and who do you want to show yourself to the world as?

MM: So, my name is Madison McFerrin. Currently, I do Acapella Soul–QuestLove dubbed it Soulapella. I’m really just trying to spread joy and uplift people through my music. I really think that music is magical and has some crazy powers. I’m trying to just send positivity to the world through my art and say the things that are necessary for all of us to say and hear. As an artist, I want to be able to hold a mirror to society. There is so much happening right now and I don’t want to be a point of stress– but a point of letting go and happiness for people.

rubyhornet: I definitely get that from your music. Just listening to “No Time to Lose” and “Learn Your Lesson”. I’m interested in understanding the different emotions you experience while you are creating your melodies? I feel it takes a lot of dedication, focus, and awareness of yourself while you’re on stage while you are creating your loops. I’m curious, how do you experience those different emotions while you’re on stage, at home creating your music and writing?

MM: I’m always tapping into my purest self. When people ask me what type of music I sing, I tell them soul music because I really do write from the soul. It’s actually really difficult for me to write frivolous stuff–I’ve attempted not even just for myself but for other people. It’s really hard for me to write simple shit. I listen to my gut and I stay true to what I’m feeling. Singing on stage or not, singing is definitely when I’m most present especially when I’m singing music that I’ve written for myself. It’s a meditative experience for me because my brain is all over the place–it can be really detrimental for other areas of my life. For me, singing is an experience where I can hone in on how I feel. It’s really important for me to express how I feel, so melodies and lyrics are really how i go about this.

rubyhornet: What is it like in a day of Madison McFerrin? What do you do for self-love? How do you become present and away from the distractions of the world?

MM: For self-love I make love, that’s one thing. Being an independent artist, a lot of the focus is learning about the business end of things. That’s taking up most of my day-to-day as of late, trying to be more present and figuring out what it means to be an independent artist. Particularly in this day and age, you really don’t need a label to get to where you want to go. There are a lot of benefits to being able to hone your craft and not on someone else’s time or vision. Day-to-day, I’m trying to get more comfortable in it–being more comfortable in that area which I’m very uncomfortable in. Doing my best to be in that discomfort rather than run away from it. Not really much else but trying to get some singing in when I can.

rubyhornet: Throughout the conversation, you kept mentioning “running away” and confronting your fears”, what was that process like the first time you stepped on stage? How did you confront that, overpower that urge to run away?

MM: I think every time I go on stage it’s me confronting it. That first solo show, I was so nervous before hand.  Of course, it just so happen that the week leading into it, I had a lot of work outside of the show. I really felt like I was doing a lot of stuff at once. I practiced a lot especially the day of–I, practically, wore myself out. I think we all have those moments of self-doubt and fear. It’s really about facing it. Every time I run away from fear, it’s has not served me no way, shape, or form. Every time I faced my fear, it has only done me good, benefited me, and improved where I am in life. Even though so many times when I don’t want to face my fear, I forget that. I do my best to try to remember that “when you face your fears, you do dope shit”

rubyhornet: I love how candid you speak about the things you’ve overcome. Artist don’t really speak about that and try to conceal their hurt and the struggle they’ve been through in order to make their art. I did a little research on you and found that you describe your music as Future Soul as something that is the past looking back into the present. Has there ever been a moment where you’ve experienced your ancestral spirit in your music while writing or on stage?

MM: I think every time I’ve done music it’s my ancestral spirit because my father is a singer and his father was a singer. I would assume that their parents were singers. Especially being Black, music is a deep part of our history and I’m sure it was a part of how we overcome as a people. Every time I get on stage that’s honing some ancestral vibes. I know for sure that when I wrote “No Time to Lose” after I wrote the melody–that melody is jazzy as fuck–I was like “this is my daddy, right here”. I had a moment that was like, this is my daddy coming out right here. I should also mention my dad’s mother is also a singer too.

rubyhornet: Has there ever been a moment where you’ve been mesmerized by your own voice, music, and art you’ve created? What was that like?

MM: I would say yes. I opened up for Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote in October of 2017. I’m a big fan of her, she’s a good friend for her. The night after she asked me to do it, I had a stress dream that everything went wrong. The day of the show, I rehearsed for four or five hours before my set. When I sang, I fucking killed it. I slayed the shit out that show. Everyone was in the palm of my hand. The audience was so attentive. There was one point where I had practiced so much earlier that I sang the melody a little different on purpose to try something a little more impressive, like me doing some vocal tricks. The audience, when I did it, made this very vocal reaction, and it through me off for a second because I was like “oh y’all really like this?” That was one moment that was defining moment just in terms of my own confidence. After that show, I felt so confident about my performance that I was beaming. I always try to be humble and gracious but that was one time where people would ask me “how did it go?” and I would say “I fucking killed this, I wasn’t good, no I was great. I did wonderfully” That was a moment, for sure.

rubyhornet: What is the significance of performing with your shoes off?

MM: It allows me to control my peddle a little better. When I practiced for my first solo show, I practiced without my shoes on. I made a decision the day of my show that I couldn’t wear shoes. I had been practicing without shoes, I didn’t want to fuck up. Shoes are off! Also, I control levels with my toes in a way that I would not be able to do with my shoes on. Also, it’s a subtle nod to my dad. He used to perform barefoot all the time so it’s a point of good luck.

rubyhornet: How are you performing for your upcoming show at Earshot Jazz Festival this October?

MM: I gear up with every show I have. My friend SassyBlack is on the show as well. I will be practicing and do my best. Do everything I can to give a dope performance and receive a good performance

rubyhornet: Last but not least, what can we expect next from you?

MM: I have this European Tour coming up. It will be great because it’s the first time I’m heading to Europe by myself. Actually Georgia (Ann Muldrow) and I will be on a show together in Dublin. I will be working on a produced project to hopefully come out Spring next year. I’m doing a concert series a weekly residency in New York called Brown Skin Lady that will be honoring Women of Color in January. Really just honing the craft more and being the best artist I can be

After the interview, Madison requested that I share the word about her music! Check out Madison McFerrin’s music on Spotify. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @madmcferrin.

Athena Paige