Charlie Cunningham

Interview: Charlie Cunningham on new album Frame

With an expressive use of acoustic guitar, lushly layered arrangement and autobiographical lyrics, Charlie Cunningham has made a stamp as an artist with a distinct personality. With album number three, Frame, set to land in March, we caught up with the Buckinghamshire-born songwriter to learn about a unique creative process.

With delicate ripples of acoustic guitar, heart-tugging melodies and soothing vocals, Charlie Cunningham’s latest album, Frame, is just the kind of musical respite that many of us will appreciate in the midst of these uncertain times. Since his debut LP, Lines established an acoustic and flamenco-leaning signature to his work, Cunningham has expanded his textural palette. 2019’s Permanent Way brought wider instruments and atmospherics to the table. On his new record, Charlie continues to augment his emotive approach, peppering his mixes with allusions to golden era jazz and neo-classical music. We spoke to Charlie to find out more about the making of this latest entry…

AMI: Hi Charlie, what was the starting point for Frame?

Charlie Cunningham: It will have been getting back home after a long tour in 2020, one that was cut short by the pandemic, and then being suddenly faced with this indeterminate stretch of time ahead. And, with the world being as it was, it was a particularly unique set of feelings to try and get my head around. Writing these songs was probably my way of doing that, or at least attempting to.

AMI: Which songs on the album took the longest to get right, and which didn’t develop much from their initial form? 

CC: More often than not a song will go on quite a substantial journey, I’ve learned to be more open to that – lots of trial and error. Some of them I wrote on the guitar and ended up on the piano and vice versa, or what I think is going to be something stripped back and understated can turn into something much more expansive, with the opposite also being the case sometimes.

AMI: How long did the recording process take, and did you have a particular sonic tone/aesthetic that you were trying to conjure on Frame

CC: The recording itself didn’t take too long, it was more the writing that took up most of the time, I don’t write very quickly unfortunately, especially lyrics. The initial ideas can come quickly but saying something is finished can be a real challenge for me, though I’m pretty sure that’s the same for a lot of people. 

I was listening to a lot of the late 50s ‘golden era’ jazz records and embracing the opportunity that time was allowing me to learn more about that world, both culturally and artistically. It was a wonderful and shamefully overdue period of discovery, and it reinforced my desire to make something warm and ‘classic’ sounding, though through a modern lens, so to speak – and in a way that feels authentic to me and my sound. 

AMI: Going right back to the start of your story, how did you first discover music? 

CC: It would have been through the music my parents were playing, which was always really varied. I’m grateful for that in hindsight. We also had an old piano in the house which I spent a lot of time sitting in front of, trying to work things out. Another significant moment was the Beatles Anthology documentary and albums which all came out when I was 11. That coincided with my next-door neighbour giving me his old acoustic guitar, that was a big moment, the piano took a back seat for a good while after that.

AMI: The centrality of flowing acoustic guitar is a notable USP of yours, we really love the zoomed-in focus on your hands moving around the fretboard during the So It Seems video. How do you get the best out of acoustics when recording and mixing?

CC: Thanks very much! I like how that video came out too. As far as acoustics, we used a pair of Schoeps MK2 microphones, and then we spent a long time listening to different placements of them and then also the room positioning, trying to get the best of all worlds. I also do a lot of takes, improvising ideas, letting the parts develop naturally.

AMI: Do you typically write and record in a home studio? If so, what is the core of your setup?

CC: I really don’t have much of a home recording set-up at all. I had a Zoom Digital 8-Track for years which did me well, I found it much more intuitive than a computer. With writing, I tend to get things to a certain level of semi-completion, and then go and put that down at a studio, usually quite crudely and with the intention of taking it away and refining the lyrics etc. Sometimes those early recordings are the ones I end up using which can feel special, but that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. 

AMI: What would you say has been the most vital music production technology (software or hardware) for you as a creative? 

CC: The Schoeps Microphones were fairly pivotal, we used them for both my piano and acoustic guitar, and they complimented them both beautifully. Would highly recommend!

AMI: What’s next on the agenda for you? 

CC: I have a couple more singles coming out ahead of the album release, and then I’ll be getting back out there and touring it, which I’m really excited about. If you’re reading this… please come!

Frame is released on March 31st. Head to for tour dates and more information.

Charlie Cunningham

Welcome to issue 7 of Audio Media International