Kevn talks to the Great Southern Brainfart

Posted on: 17 December 2010

Blowin’ Wind With Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’

Folksinger, songwriter, punk rocker and Southern Rock Indie icon. For over 20 years, Kevn Kinney has lived a life as diverse as the music he creates. Whether he’s performing loud, intense rock & roll with his band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ or doing solo acoustic shows in quaint listening rooms, you can count on one thing from Kevn Kinney; to get the best songs and the best show he can possibly give you. As a long time fan of Drivin’ N Cryin’, it was a real treat to have a phone conversation with Kevn from his New York City home. We talked about the new Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ album, his Warhol fame with “Fly Me Courageous”, his current projects with renowned New York musicians and the vocal issues that put his career on hold. It was a real treat to have Kevn let me in and touch on some deep topics. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview and maybe learn a thing or two you didn’t know about one of Georgia’s favorite adopted sons.

Kevn, you’ve been living full time in New York City for a few years now. Is it kind of a culture clash for you being that you lived in the South so many years?

Well, I’m originally from Milwaukee so it’s like going home being in the North. I’m very familiar with the weather and the attitudes a little bit. I don’t ever get to play golf so that kinda sucks. I’m not a great golfer, but I enjoy the zen of it. You’re not playing against anybody but yourself and it’s kind of fun. It’s a very zen game. I miss it, but I like the public transportation here so that’s good.

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As a singer/songwriter, is being in New York more conducive to your art then living in Georgia?

Yeah, I guess so. I’ve been rehearsing with these guys who are all world class musicians, who are all

real musicians and they’re kind of slumming it for fun, but yet it’s kinda serious [laughs]. It’s Anton Fier (drums) and Andy Hess of Government Mule (bass guitar) and this guy Jim Campilongo who’s amazing on the guitar and Tony Sherr. They are a little more serious here in some respects when it comes to opportunities to play. I’m playing with these guys tonight (at The Living Room). They have filled up the Blue Note for 6 nights in a row and tonight they’re playing with me. There’s a level of musician you can get to sit in and jam with you that you don’t really get in other cities outside of like New Orleans or Chicago. It’s pretty intense, but it’s good though. I gotta keep my chops up. I can’t just be the dreamy whatever guy. I have to stick with a certain game plan and set lists. I’m not used to that. [laughs]

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Kevn, let’s take a giant step back in time. At what point did the music bug bite you and make you realize that this is what you wanted to do?

I think probably right around 1976 when I was about 15. I loved music and I used to get concert tickets for acts like Johnny Winter, Robin Trower and The Rolling Stones. I just loved going to shows to see music. I wanted to be a writer so that’s really what I was doing then. I had a fanzine that I’d leave on the tables at the record stores. I would make them on my grandpa’s old printing press that he had for making his literature about union meetings. It was the beginning of an era of musicians who actually looked like you could be in their band. Bruce Springsteen, The Ramones and Patti Smith seemed like they could just play one chord to get their point across. That’s when I thought I should try this. I was determined to play my first gig before I turned 18, so I started my punk band The Prosecutors and I think we did a show when I turned 18 in ‘79.

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You’re still doing it after all these years and you probably never want to stop doing it.

Oh, I could stop [laughs].

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You don’t want to stop do you?

Well, it depends on the day. I aint gonna lie to ya. I turn 50 in March. I definitely love the new Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ record and being with them this year. I’ve been inspired because I actually have something to say. I enjoy talking about the Bubblegum Factory (Drivin’ N Cryin’s latest album) and I like talking about the recession and things that I know about. It’s been inspiring and I feel rejuvenated this year. It’s hard for me to make a record of something I’m not really interested in.

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I’ve noticed that you have been embracing the modern technology side of music by keeping a Facebook page. This is something I never thought I’d see you do. Was it hard to move into that territory?

So I’m really not in touch with my Facebook. I’m just being honest [laughs]. I can confirm people on Facebook, but my wife and my manager are the ones that really know how to do it [laughs]. Every so often I’ll say something, but I haven’t mastered it yet. I would love to [laughs]. When I’m touring I don’t want to carry a laptop. I’ve got too much crap with just my gear. I have been enjoying my Garageband (recording software on Mac computers) though. That’s great for making demos and whatnot.

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The new album “Whatever Happened To The Great American Bubble Factory” is fantastic and probably my favorite album since “Mystery Road.” What took so long?

I couldn’t really express myself because I lost my voice for a few years. I didn’t have a voice for a long time.

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That had to be really scary.

Yeah, it was scary for a couple of weeks. I thought I was just singing hard because I was doing the Sun Tangled Angel Revival at the time. It turned out to be cyst on my larynx and they just cut it off and a couple of weeks later I was talking again so that was really great. I feel really lucky. It was very frustrating trying to communicate.

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Especially when your voice is the tool of your trade!

It was really weird when I would try to sing. I would just think to myself “Oh my god I suck!” [laughs] I would even have dreams where in my dreams I could talk normal and then I would wake up and I couldn’t say anything. By the time I would make it to a show I could kind of scream a little bit, but between 10am and 7pm I couldn’t say anything. Everybody kept telling me, “Drink a little tea with a little honey” and I was like “Noooo! It’s not the tea or the honey! Jesus Christ!” [laughs] I can’t even eat Ricollas anymore. I can’t take it. [laughs]

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I was so happy to see you touring again after your surgery and you sounded awesome. I picked up your solo CD “Pre-Approved, Pre-Denied” at a Kevn Kinney Band show a couple of years ago. It’s an amazing album. Are there any plans to release this one in full?

Well thank you. No, it was just a limited release. It was just something I really wanted to do after my voice came back to prove that I could do it. I’m not at the top of my game on it and I had really just got my voice back. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to last so I went into a studio and did a bunch of spoken word and laid down a few tracks and that was pretty much it.

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How does it feel to be influential to other songwriters (like myself) in the same way Dylan and others inspired you?

I think if I’ve done anything in the songwriting world I think I’ve just been myself and hopefully that’s what carries over. If I do for somebody what Bob Dylan for me, that’s great. Dylan really influenced me because he was good at telling stories. I’m very flattered, but I’m also confused. [laughs] My songs mean something different to me so I might have written something that somebody can identify with. Maybe they got a totally different picture in their head that’s unique and means something special to them. There’s a song that I wrote called, “I’m Just Here To Sing To Myself” (also known as “Song For Me”) that goes, “I’m just here to sing to myself what I took off the shelf, from under my bed, etc.” That song is me just saying, “I’m going to sit in this chair and I’m just singing to myself. You guys are voyeurs and if you happen to identify with it, that’s cool and if you don’t then that’s cool too.”

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What was the most star struck you’ve ever been meeting someone?

I did this thing here in New York before my surgery with Lenny Kay from the Patti Smith Group. We did “Reason To Believe” from “Nebraska” for a Bruce Springsteen tribute night and it was in this big atrium right across the street from 9/11. We did an encore which was a Woody Guthrie song and Bruce Springsteen came up the stairs and he was at the microphone just to my right so we were singing this Woody Guthrie song together. That had to be the most starstruck I ever was. This is the guy that got me out of the bedroom. He was rehearsing for his Pete Seeger project and nobody thought he would show up but he did. It was pretty great.

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Drivin’ N Cryin’ had a mainstream hit with “Fly Me Courageous” back in the late 80’s. Did you guys go into that album with the intention of trying to make a hit record?

It was intentional because it would have been our last album for Island Records if it didn’t sell. We did what they asked us to do. We made the videos, wore funny hats, rocked out and grew out our hair. We were the embodiment of what it was to be a popular, successful band. We said, “Let’s just buy into it.” I figured if I didn’t do it I could wind up without a record deal for 15 years or I could do it and wind up with a record deal for 15 years, but at least people would know who I am [laughs]. After 1995 Drivin’ N Cryin’ never really had a record deal. We only made independent records. We’ve been making our own records for 16 years. All my solo records are independent and I either paid for them for made them for free. “Fly Me Courageous” was out for like 6 or 7 months before it became a hit.

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It sounds like it was a stressful period for you.

It wasn’t really fun for me because what I learned was that when you have 2000 people in a room and you only have one song that they’ve ever heard, you’ve gotta fill 55 minutes full of shit they don’t know. You figure the first song, they’re going to cheer for you but then you’ve got to think of something to do for 55 minutes before you play the hit. That was really stressful for me. Now I’d rather play to 300 people and have them know my songs. It wasn’t worth it financially because you still wind up a million dollars in debt somehow with the record company. [laughs] It was my 15 minutes of Warhol fame and I enjoyed every minute that I could of the surrealism of it, but I didn’t perpetuate it because I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like the size of the venues or the tension of all the things to do. I tried to get a certain audience or reach a certain intellect and it didn’t really work. It only works when you’re yourself. Where I am right now is where I really want to be and I wouldn’t have this if I wouldn’t have had that. In my years of minor fame I tried to write songs like other people or for other people and it didn’t work.

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Over the years Drivin N Cryin’ has opened for acts such as The Who, The Ramones and R.E.M. Which acts stand out as a personal favorite for you?

The Who was cool because we got to see The Who every night. R.E.M was great. That was a really great era for arena rock and that was our first big arena rock tour. The R.E.M “Green” tour was probably one of my favorite tours. I thought the band was amazing and I thought their set list was amazing. I was so glad to be on that tour. We did a Lynyrd Skynyrd tour and that was ok. That tour was interesting because we really tired to get on every other tour. Lynyrd Skynyrd was the only band that wanted us to tour with them and this was back on their reunion tour. Most of the members were there and it was cool. It was their first comeback tour which was kind of exciting. It was a cool tour, but it kind of sent a message to critics that we had given up, so that tour hurt us. It was years later before Lynyrd Skynyrd became cool again, but back then they weren’t considered cool.

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I saw you guys open for The Ramones here in Atlanta on their last show here. How was that experience opening for one of your favorite bands?

The first time we ever opened for them was before “Scarred But Smarter” came out and that was great! We were just a young 688 (Atlanta punk club) punk band so that was great. That last show, not so great. They had asked us to do it to help get more people in because tickets weren’t selling and so we did it. Ya know, Ramones fans are Ramones fans and they don’t want to see Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ before The Ramones. I didn’t want to be on stage before The Ramones. Johnny (Ramone) and I were friends and he was really happy that we did it and brought some people out. I hate opening bands at Ramones shows and then I was one of them and I was like, “Oh crap!” [laughs]

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2010 has been a great and busy year for you. What can we expect from Kevn Kinney and Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ in 2011?

We are finally going to California for the first time in January and we haven’t been there in 10 years or more so it’ll be fun to see what it’s like and how many people come. I’m doing a folk cruise in February so that’ll be fun. This band that I have with Anton Fier and Andy Hess is the next thing I’m working on. We recorded a record, but now we just have to have it mixed so we’re working on that. We’re starting a Kickstarter campaign in January to raise money to do some mixing and mastering on it.

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Is this album going to be all new material?

It’s a little bit of redone stuff but also some new stuff that I’ve written here. I think if you’re a Kevn Kinney fan you’re going to love it.

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Drivin’ N Cryin’ has their big post holiday show coming up in Atlanta on December 26th. I’ve been seeing the holiday shows for years. Tell us what we can expect from this show.

That show is always a nice departure from our usual touring schedule. Atlanta’s always fun to play because it’s a nice hometown gig. We get to play a variety of stuff and we’re planning some really cool visual things. It’s fun to have all our friends there and the Tabernacle is a cool place to see bands too. The opening bands will be great too. Son’s of Bill have a great vibe and they’re playing early and Jason Isbell’s playing too so it’ll be a great night. We’ll have a cool encore too with them all.

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Well Kevn, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. As always, it’s been a pleasure!

Thanks Don. See ya soon!

by Don de Leaumont

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