Interview: Kat Cunning Looks for the Best in Others with Their Passionate “Heart of Gold”

Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen
Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen
Singer/songwriter and recent LA transplant Kat Cunning catches up with Atwood Magazine to discuss their upcoming tour with G Flip, dream collaborators, and their latest single “Heart of Gold” – a captivating synth-soaked song calling for empathy, kindness, and humanity.
Stream: “Heart of Gold” – Kat Cunning

I want to believe we can be good. I want to believe we can be kind to each other. I want to believe that there are some very basic human needs we all deserve and want for each other.

Are you one to always try to see the good in others? Are you the type of person who tells your friends, “I swear they can change”?

Kat Cunning desperately wanted to believe someone had a “heart of gold” when their actions time and time again told a different story.

We have all been there, blinded by compassion. Cunning’s shimmering, synth-soaked single “Heart of Gold” reminds us to keep our kindness intact, while also remaining weary of others who may lack that same consideration. With soft, ascending beats and raw, ethereal harmonies, the powerful meaning is emotively brought to life.

Heart of Gold - Kat Cunning
Heart of Gold – Kat Cunning

A Greek American, queer, and non-binary artist, Cunning was featured previously on Atwood Magazine with their stunning 2023 single “Bedroom Angel,” which we praised as a “voluptuous blanket of synth sounds.” That mesmerizing piece has a delicate, divine style – and “Heart of Gold,” Cunning’s follow-up release, emits the same sensibility.

There is a crisp quality to Cunning’s voice that is utterly enchanting. They leave listeners begging for more. In the same way that they have faith in a heart of gold, fans are led to believe unapologetically in their vast talent. Their skills go beyond just singing, they are a songwriter and actress as well. In everything they do, they exhibit so much conviction. That property is infectious.

In addition to “Heart of Gold” focusing on yearning for a person to have one, it is also an illustration of being empathetic in a sometimes hate-filled atmosphere.

With everything going on in the world today, this concept could not be more relevant. From the war in Ukraine to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and beyond, it can be hard to see the good in those we disagree with. This track is a plea for humanity to obtain the “heart of gold” we so urgently need. Atwood Magazine spoke with Cunning about their song’s message, dream collaborations, and so much more.

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:: stream/purchase Heart of Gold here ::
:: connect with Kat Cunning here ::
Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen
Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen


Heart of Gold - Kat Cunning

Atwood Magazine: Kat, your latest single is titled “Heart of Gold.” What does it mean to you to be kind and possess a “heart of gold”?

Kat Cunning: I think that culturally, the idea of a heart of gold is something I don’t really trust because it sounds sort of puritanical. I think that to have a heart of gold, if we’re taking the phrase seriously as an idiom, is to receive people by witnessing them and not trying to impose your own judgment or beliefs. When I think of the actual phrase, heart of gold, it sounds based in or used often in religion and puritanical cultures. I’ve been having a lot of conversations around how religion ropes people in with the concept of being altruistic or trying to be the best person you can be, but then ending up in a situation where you’re actually judging people or pursuing your own agenda or working from the concept of punishment or judgment or reward.

I think to actually move with a heart of gold is really hard to do, but that the best approach is probably to try and listen and receive people for who they are and be non-judgmental. But the song is not even really about that, so I don’t necessarily have any authority to speak on what a heart of gold is. It’s about wanting to believe that somebody is good. The song is about, for me, wanting to believe that someone can be moving from good intentions when you’ve desperately sunken an investment into them, and you are begging for it to reward you with kindness, goodness, health, happiness, when it’s actually looking quite dismal.

“Heart of Gold” is all about hope and compassion in a time when so many are faced with violence and division, but it also expresses the idea of wanting to believe someone has a heart of gold. Can you explain the song’s meaning and inspiration in more detail?

Kat Cunning: There are definitely two different sides to the way that I write. One side is that I write really super personally for myself. If you really dig into the Easter eggs of the lyrics, then you’re going to find the trick to the lyric. Then I also write knowing that people are probably just going to pass a song by and hear a couple of words and take it at its face value. The idea of ‘I want to believe in your heart of gold,’ I feel good about releasing that right now from a worldview place, because I feel like there are so many conflicting beliefs, there’s so much division around everything, and we’re all inside algorithms that help us double down on our myopic views, and to depose people.

I wanted to release the general concept of ‘I want to believe in your heart of gold,’ to beg that we’re more compassionate to each other. I wrote it about a relationship that was toxic. I was begging the person to be what I needed them to be. In a wider lens, I feel that way about our culture. I want to believe we can be good. I want to believe we can be kind to each other. I want to believe that there are some very basic human needs we all deserve and want for each other.

Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen
Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen

I love how the track showcases your gorgeous falsetto over dark piano keys. How was the piece’s sonic constructed?

Kat Cunning: I really improved this song. It was over guitar in a house with two friends, one of whom had really been there for me in this lapse in mental health. Tracy Le really became a very close friend, literally helped me open up my computer and find a therapist. We were in the room together for the first session ever. She introduced me to Ryan Hughes, who had been her longtime collaborator, and we were just in his house. An afternoon in Los Angeles, he started playing the guitar and the whole thing just fell out of my face, which is always a good sign, and the way I write most of the songs that I end up putting out.

It started on guitar and the whole melody just was written as an instinct. I really appreciate you appreciating my falsetto, because every time that pre-chorus comes around I think…”Oh, it feels so good. That sounds so good.” It was just what the chords pushed me to, what I was feeling, and I love it because it feels like it’s very delicate. I felt really delicate. I felt really weak, and the song goes from being that delicate to being something far more sizable, which is my own will to summon… I’m trying to summon the courage to make it through the situation, and I like how the song represents that.

I understand that the release was co-written with Tracy Le and Ryan Hughes what was your experience like collaborating with them both?

Kat Cunning: They are friends. Ryan was a new friend, but it was a very comfortable environment. I like to write with people who aren’t going to impose their ideas too early on and give me a second to make a footprint and respond to the sense of place that the sounds are giving me, because I really am a storyteller. I don’t like to choke the math out of a chord and be like, what’s the poppiest thing to do? If I feel it and I connect to something real while I’m writing it, then I can trust that the audience will connect to something as well. It’s always great when I’m working with a musician who I can trust to be making interesting chordal choices and listening to me while we write too. Tracy Le is just a writer that I really respect. She is a really interesting lyricist and a multi-hyphenate in terms of also directing things and just an artist whose taste I have a lot of respect for. I pretty much wrote all of the lyrics and really trusted their feedback on whether they were good or bad and whatever they contributed to nudge here and there. It’s just super valuable to have someone who you trust to not dismantle your sense of voice in how they contribute, but just nudging you into the faith of the choices you’re making naturally.

Mentioning collaborations, who would be your dream musical collab?

Kat Cunning: The first people that come to mind are Pharrell and Timbaland, but also Lana Del Rey. Timbaland is especially so inventive and has changed the game with rhythms and just being playful. He’s so playful in the studio, and Pharrell too, he’s nuts. They are both a little nuts, and they’ll throw out ideas and they make them work. Lana Del Rey too. Lana Del Rey is always herself. She’s literally been herself in this character of artistry that she crafted. I have so much respect for all these people. I think they really eat, sleep, and breathe an actual thing they have tapped into that’s magical, playful, and not trying to be anything.

It’s just super valuable to have someone who you trust to not dismantle your sense of voice in how they contribute, but just nudging you into the faith of the choices you’re making naturally.

What artists have greatly influenced your unique style?

Kat Cunning: Lana Del Rey definitely did. She’s the first songs that I sang live in a dance show that I was in, which is awesome because I really didn’t know how to sing, and most of her songs are not vocal range challenging. It’s cool that I learned my own voice in really simple, vibey songs. I think Fiona Apple influenced me. I love Fiona’s delivery. Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, Annie Lennox, all these people who are really raw in their delivery and they’re more storytellers than they are singers, and they create music that holds their storytelling.

Has being Greek American played a role at all in your sound?

Kat Cunning: I feel like we’re all influenced by our ancestors to some degree, somewhere along the line. I’m not super influenced directly by Greek music. I’m not super educated in that realm of my history. But I do feel like I identify so much as a storyteller, I feel like I have a culture and generations of storytellers and poets in my family. I’m wearing my great-grandfather’s ring right now, and he was the original soft boy short king, because it fits me, which is hilarious. There’s this famous story of him finding my great-grandmother while she was walking with flowers, and he said, “How dare you insult those flowers with your beauty?” I feel like I got that lyrical swag. That’s what I’m influenced by.



I hear you are set to embark on G FLIP’s 2024 Drummer Tour. How did that opportunity arise?

Kat Cunning: I love this story. I feel like “Heart of Gold” really is the end of the era of not only emotional stuff that I went through, but also my first professional swing at music, the team I was working with for that. When I wrote it, I got dropped from a label, I ended up leaving a manager. I had to overturn who my band was because it was my longtime girlfriend who changed her career and we broke up. There was just so much going on that really defined that era. Recently, with my song “Bedroom Angel,” that was my first single that I released with a new team, and gender equality.

Everybody who’s good at their job should do their job, but it’s awesome to be working with a woman. Her name is Sera. Basically, we did one release that just got things started again. I’m the type of person who really needs a manager. There are some amazing independent artists out here who read their own contracts and hustle their own stuff. I’m the type of person that I took a year off to try and do that for myself, and all I did was write 100 songs with no plan to release them. I was so grateful to find Sera and to know that she’s just such a good person. But we were still getting to know how we work together after one release under our belt.

Then this was post-holidays. She’s said, “I think I’m going to start sending out some emails just to do that part of tour stuff.” I hadn’t booked a tour in a long time and was forgetting what that even feels like, because we had been through a whole pandemic. It had been a really long time.  She sent out three emails, got responses from everyone, and they were all pretty big, cool people. One of them was Muna, who I think would also be awesome for me to pair with at some point. The other one was Vérité, who I have had the pleasure of going out with. When I talk about artists who can handle their own shit all the way by themselves, I’m talking about Vérité. Anyway, all this to say, the third email was obviously to G Flip’s team, and she heard back right away.

I had been in Miami and came back here to Los Angeles, literally to fly in on the day of UMG’s Grammy party, which I crashed. That was funny because I didn’t even put two and two together that I used to be on that label. A friend that I’ve known from New York for 15 years invited me to go. The next morning I wake up. I’m so hungover and it’s 9:00 AM. I wake up to Sera calling me and she goes, “Kat, wake up. Kat, wake up.” I thought, “What did I forget? I forgot something.” Then she said, “You’re going on tour with G Flip.”

That’s how I heard the news. I think it’s such an incredible match. I don’t think there’s anybody out there right now that would be a better fit for me, not only because we’re both non-binary heartthrobs, but because I have so much respect for G. Number one, I’m just obsessed with drummers. You ask me which musicians I know, I can name several hot drummers I can refer you to right now. I have so much respect for drummers alone. Then on top of that, G Flip as a performer, as a writer, as a human telling their story, it’s just so compatible, and I love that I am going out with a big performer because I don’t have to worry about being too much as an opening slot, which is just in an era… no dissing anybody, but there’s so much whisper pop out right now that’s been ushered out because Billie. Billie Eilish is the G.O.A.T. she brought us that genre and so did Lorde.

There are a lot of people I would be a bad fit for because of that, because I’m a really big performer. Even though I write a lot of soft, slow songs, I’m still a very anthemic, big stage presence. I’m so excited, and I think these are going to be the best shows of the summer.

Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen
Kat Cunning © McCall Olsen

What other things are in the works for Kat Cunning?

Kat Cunning: Mostly I’m so stoked about the music that I’m writing. Which coincidentally, they’re all new relationships. They’re here in Los Angeles, and that’s really fun that it’s such new energy in this new chapter. So many of them are randomly Greek, which is exciting. I have a lot of Greek collaborators right now. I’m mostly excited to be diving into delivering my debut EP. I’m so excited to be genuinely finding my sound. Also I’ve got a couple movies in the can. One of them is On Swift Horses with Jacob Elordi and Daisy Edgar-Jones. That is a gorgeous queer period piece based on the novel of the same title.

If you were to curate a playlist that perfectly depicts your personality, what are some songs you would include?

Kat Cunning: Gil Scott-Heron, Annie Lennox, “I Put A Spell On You.” James Blake, “Retrograde.” Dijon, “The Dress.” “The Thong Song.” Billy Joel, “Movin’ Out.” I love it. Really anything by Phil Collins. Then it’s got to be “Pony,” Ginuwine.

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:: stream/purchase Heart of Gold here ::
:: connect with Kat Cunning here ::
Stream: “Heart of Gold” – Kat Cunning

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Heart of Gold - Kat Cunning

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? © McCall Olsen

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