Interview with Athens’ Red and Black
DRIVIN’ N’ CRYIN’: Band releases first album in a dozen years
It’s not uncommon for rock bands to be relatively finite. They put out a few good albums and then fade.
Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ seemed to be one of those finite groups – but now it is back on tour to promote its first studio album in 12 years, and the economic state of America has given it something to talk about.
“I kind of predicted this would happen; a lot of people did,” said Kevn Kinney, lead singer and founding member of Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. “Anytime anything’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.”
The band’s new album, “The Great American Bubble Factory” released on Sept. 29, is a sort of tribute to America and its current economic woes. From outright rockers such as “Detroit City” to acoustic, almost bluegrass ballads like “This Town,” the album maintains the band’s eclectic Southern rock legacy.
For 24 years, Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ has fused traditional rock with elements of punk and country to make music that took them on world tours with music legends.
Circa 1985, Kinney had just relocated to Atlanta from Milwaukee seeking a higher-paying job.
Media Credit: JAKE DANIELS
“I’d been in punk rock bands [in Milwaukee],” Kinney said. “Then I kind of retired and … worked construction down here for a couple years.”
Kinney would play at the occasional open mic night or step onstage for a few songs with a band he knew from up North. Bassist and co-founding member Tim Nielsen saw him on one of those nights. The two talked after the show and became friends.
By Oct. 1985 they had formed Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ and released its debut album “Scarred but Smarter.”
Several national tours and two albums later, the band was seeing moderate success stemming from its third release, “Mystery Road” but was under pressure from its label.
“We came back home and it was time to make ‘Fly Me Courageous,’ and [the label] was like, ‘Look, this has gotta sell, guys, or we’re cashin’ out,’” Kinney said.
And sell it would. Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ headed to Athens to perform, since R.E.M. had established the town as an important tour destination.
“On the way to Athens for our very first ‘Fly Me Courageous’ show… they started bombing Iraq,” Kinney said. It was 1991 and the first Gulf War had begun, and the title track off “Fly Me Courageous” struck a patriotic chord nationwide. During the next year, the band was suddenly a national force.
“We were getting invitations to play Naval and Air Force bases and getting tours of airplanes and pilots telling us they were listening to it before takeoff,” Kinney said.
The band also found mainstream success, with the music video for “Fly Me Courageous” appearing in daily rotation on MTV.
“It took a war to get us over the hump,” Kinney said.
In the years following that success, Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ continued to put out albums as it bounced around record labels and embarked on major tours with huge names such as Neil Young and The Who, but was never able to match the commercial success of “Fly Me Courageous.” After the group’s last self-titled studio release in 1997, Kinney was in turmoil.
“I just felt like, ‘I’m kind of running out of things to say … I’m not excited about playing any of these songs anymore,’” he said.
Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ started work on what would become its new release as far back as September 2001, when the infamous events of Sept. 11 would once again crash down on the band.
“We all just felt really uncomfortable – I mean, everybody in the world did,” Nielsen said. “It just felt like this wasn’t the right time to do this, so we just kind of shelved it.”
Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ played occasionally until about two years ago, when Kinney discovered a cist on his larynx.
“I could do one show, but then it would take me three days before I could talk again,” he said. As his voice began to recover from surgery, the band’s creative spirit surged.
“As soon as that surgery happened it was like a rebirth,” Nielsen said.
So far, Nielsen said the feedback from the audience has been overwhelming, from first-time listeners to fans from 1985.
“We’re all really taking our musical careers seriously again and we’re really trying to make some history, trying to revive ‘rock ‘n’ roll music.’”