Kevn talks to On Milwaukee
Gig Roundup: Kinney Comes Home
Milwaukee native Kevn Kinney comes home to play Shank Hall with Drivin’ N Cryin’ for the first time in years on Wednesday, Jan. 19.
Although Kinney has been a relatively frequent visitor to his hometown to play material from his solo records, this time expect to hear Kinney and company focus on Drivin’ N Cryin’ music.
Last year, after Kinney got back up to speed after suffering voice woes, the band released its first disc of new music in a dozen years, “Whatever Happened to The Great American Bubble Factory,” is on the road in short bursts to promote it.
We talked to Kinney — whose band here, The Prosecutors, is still legendary — about Drivin’ N Cryin’, and especially about Milwaukee…
OnMilwaukee.com: Did it feel good to get the band back together in the studio to record “The Greatest American Bubble Factory”?
Kevn Kinney: It was great to rehearse more. We play so many shows we rarely rehearse so it was great getting together and playing and changing things around. Dave (V. Johnson) brought his old ADAT recording set up. We went down to Tim’s (Nielsen) basement, had some beers coffee and Coca-Cola and just jammed. We put a poster on the wall listing the things we wanted to accomplish on the wall a reminder to ourselves to stay true and make a record for Drivin’ N Cryin’ fans; make a record that could represent the spirit of a live show.
OMC: Why was there such a long period — 12 years — in between?
KK: Well, I had lost my voice about five years ago, so it was not only hard to record but impossible to do press or interviews of any sort. Before you could type interviews. But I also put out a few solo records and was in Europe a bit.
So after I had surgery about three years ago I discovered I could not only sing all of my songs but better, so that was exciting to know. I went in and did a spoken word record right away.
OMC: That’s the upcoming “Pre Approved Pre Denied”? Can you tell us a little about what we can expect?
KK: It is half rambling spoken word inspired by my friend Todd Snider. He would send me a word a day and I would write him some prose.
OMC: How do you decide what material goes to the band and what you hold back for your solo records? Does the band ever say, “hey, why didn’t you give us that one?!”
KK: I’m not sure. In a kind of a twilight zone answer the songs will tell you where they want to be.
OMC: Can folks expect to hear music from both at the Shank show or will you stick strictly to music from Drivin’ N Cryin’ records?
KK: I will play mostly Drivin’ N Cryin’ songs. We have over 100 songs we can play at any given moment so we like to mix it up a good bit; try to play at least one song from every album. We don’t ever use a set list, we just kinda feel our way through it.
OMC: Can we talk a bit about Milwaukee and your connection? Was it exciting being a part of the rock and roll scene around The Starship and those places back then?
KK: Oh yeah, nothing like listening to Die Kreuzen soundcheck and playing the Gorgar pinball machine. Between The Prosecutors, Die Kreuzen, Oil
Tasters, that was very much our home and safe zone. Kenny Baldwin was our (CBGB owner) Hilly Kristal except he was a brilliant drummer and super nice guy. He created an atmosphere that was essential to my musical education. I mean you can see X and then Sun Ra. I know now after marrying an ex-club owner the bullshit and egos you deal with on a daily basis. The permits and general backlash in the community that you’re not a real business. Europe is eye-opening in that respect as well. Musicians and clubs are seen as a legitimate way of working and contributing to the community.
OMC: What led you to leave Milwaukee for Atlanta in the early ’80s? Did you plan to return or did you know you were saying goodbye for good?
OMC: Have you maintained any kind of connection to the music scene here?
KK: Not really, music scenes change monthly. I don’t even keep in touch that much with the music scene in Atlanta. I live in Brooklyn now and I go out about three times a week.
OMC: Have there been Milwaukee bands that have caught your attention over the years?
KK: I really love the Scarring Party. They stayed in our apartment here in Brooklyn. Really great macabre crooner styling. I wish my friend Vic Chesnutt was still with us, he would have loved them.
OMC: I know you’ve come back regularly to perform but do you get back much to visit friends and family?
KK: I get back mainly to stay with my mom. It’s funny she still flashes the bedroom light when its time to get up! Love it. Family is very important to me. I am bringing my daughter and granddaughter with me. I spent so many years dedicated to touring and huddled down, plotting the career, ever aware not to miss any opportunity so that it might destroy all you worked for. Its great to get together with all my sister and extended family and just f*ckin’ play Scrabble. Then I will call Peter Jest and say, “Hey, man, any way I can play down there tonight?” I did a show at Shank Hall recently with Sam Llanas and it was fantastic.
MC: What do you think about the state of the city now when you return? Does it look familiar?
KK: You know I love it when I meet another musician and it comes up in conversation that I am from Milwaukee and the tell me what great and beautiful city it is. I try my best not to wax poetic on the late ’70s recession era but it does occasionally slip out.
OMC: What do you like to do when you’re visiting? Any places you’ve got to go (restaurants, bars, sights, etc.)?
KK: I like to take my mom to Pieces of Eight, cause growing up it just seemed like a place we could never go. It looked so private. It’s amazing how few lakefront restaurants there are. I love Pete’s Pizza — still the same after all these years. Still the best crust. And I live in Brooklyn! And I always get Mexican, of course. I always drive by The Haskel Hotel on Arlington and tip my hat to all of the great mentors that took me under their wing and taught me so much about everything. (Like) music; (it was the) first place I ever heard the MC5, (and) life; (I) was practicing with The Prosecutors when we heard John Lennon had been murdered. Friends Doug Lavalliere was my best friend and roommate and co-roadie of The Oil Tasters. Relationships: lost my virginity there. Recording: recorded my first session there with Marty, (the Haskells sound man and my ex-boss at Peaches. Break ups, make ups, cars blowing up in the back yard. No wonder I’m so f*cked up. THANKS MILWAUKEE!!!