Q&A: Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ N Cryin’ talks vinyl, folk music, legacy
Kinney (first name stylized Kevn) formed Drivin’ N Cryin’ in 1985 with bassist Tim Nielsen and drummer Paul Lenz. In 1986, the band released its first album “Scarred But Smarter” on 688 Records which led to national attention and a new record deal with Island Records, a division of Universal Music Group. With numerous albums released, including one certified gold, the band signed to the Universal Music Group label Geffen Records in 1994.
The band is known by most Atlantans for its 1986 song “Straight To Hell,” which is off the band’s “Mystery Road” record. The song, now more than 30 years old, is still a fixture of commercial radio in the city.
Kinney, a Milwaukee native, and Drivin’ N Cryin’ are touring and still making music. The band was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2015 and is currently promoting “Best Of Songs.” Kinney will play a solo show at Eddies Attic in Decatur March 15 and Drivin’ N Cryin’ will be in Atlanta to perform at The Vista Room March 31 and April 1.
Atlanta Business Chronicle: Drivin’ N Cryin’ has been around for more than 30 years. What is different about your show today compared to when the band first started?
Kevn Kinney: Well, it’s a lot better. (Laughs) The thing about doing it for 30 years is that you can’t help but to get better. The band is tighter. I wish I sang and played as good when we had all of the attention on us.
After 30 years, you decide you’re in it for the right reasons. If you’re not in it for the right reasons, you won’t stick around. We enjoy playing music together. We enjoy the touring now. We run the business our way so that we don’t do Mondays and Tuesdays in Salt Lake City or Omaha anymore. We do weekends now and make every gig count. I play every gig like it’s my last show.
ABC: Looking back at your career, what is one business decision you wish you could do differently?
KK: There’s a lot of ‘em but I don’t know what the one decision is that I would have done differently. I have this song called “One by One” that goes ‘One by one, seeds they fall. Plant themselves like feet down in the ground. And one by one those seeds they grow into something new.’ Everything [expletive] turns into something nice, you know? (Laughs) Sometimes you have to fall flat on your face to understand where you’re going to be some day. Did I get bitch-slapped a lot in business because of the stupid things I did? Absolutely, but I wouldn’t be here doing this today if I hadn’t. And I think where we are today is really great. We’re happy, we’re professional and we’re out here to win it.
ABC: Why did you decide to hold your next Atlanta shows at The Vista Room (story on The Vista Room here)?
KK: I really love that place and love the idea of those guys opening a room in that neighborhood. Drivin’ N Cryin’ just wants to support it. We have a lot of fans in that neighborhood so we’ll try to get them all to come out. Drivin’ N Cryin’ always tries to play a different room every year. We try to not to play the same kind of show so I think these shows are going to be great ones. It’s going to be cool to see Drivin’ N Cryin’ on LaVista Road, you know?
ABC: Was there a business reason as to why you only released “Best Of Songs” on vinyl?
KK:“Best Of Songs” is an album with the best of our five EPs. It actually just came out on CD last month but vinyl sells better than anything else these days. People don’t buy as many CDs because they mostly download music or stream it. If they want to buy a physical copy, they like to by vinyl because vinyl is chic, popular now. But, vinyl also sounds amazing. A lot of people have record players again. Having vinyl is kind of a trendy-hip thing to do but it also looks cool because you get the full-on album cover. I prefer vinyl. I personally don’t own a CD player or a steaming device. I only listen to vinyl at home.
ABC: I met you for the first time at Alex Cooley’s Celebration of Life (story on Cooley here) and reconnected with you backstage at a few of Col. Bruce Hampton’s (interview with Hampton here) shows. They are two pillars of Atlanta’s music scene. Other than your time in the scene, how did you connect with the upper echelon of Atlanta’s music industry?
KK: Alex courted us when we got bigger to do larger rooms. He took us out to dinner and started mentoring us basically, helping us develop a strategy. Up until then, we were doing whatever we wanted and took every gig. I met him and Peter Conlon (interview with Conlon here) together and they were both great for us.
The Col. was there the first day we got a lawyer. I think he just got done playing tennis with Charlie Phillips, who was our lawyer. We went over to Charlie’s house to play him some music and the Col. was sitting there. That’s how I met him but he’s a legend. Even in Milwaukee, a lot of my friends were his fans and Zappa fans. They’ve heard of the infamous Col. Bruce in the avant-garde scene, the Captain Beefheart scene. I had heard of him even when I was in Milwaukee in the early 80s.
ABC: You lived in Athens, Ga., for a bit then moved to New York and moved back to Georgia this year. What brought you back to Georgia?
KK: I got tired of banging my head against the wall in New York. It dawned on me one day that I should play where people know who I am instead of trying to play every Monday night for people who don’t know who you are. It dawned on me that a lot of younger people in New York City aren’t looking for a 55-year-old folk singer to turn them on. (Laughs) You know? It’s a young person’s town. I played in New York when I was a young person and I played it in 1985 when Drivin’ N Cryin’ started but it’s not a place to try to reinvent yourself, especially if they don’t know who you are. I kind of got tired of it. My family is here; my roots are here and my company (Drivin’ N Cryin’) is here. After 10 years, I really got tired of the snow. I grew up with that stuff (snow) and don’t want it anymore.
ABC: You just classified yourself as a folk singer. There is a reemergence of folk in the commercial music industry. Why do you think folk music is popular again?
KK: I’m not really popular (laughs) so I wouldn’t know! (Laughs) People know who I am in Atlanta but I’m not a national folk hero. I have a lot of diatribe about the word folk. I meant acoustic mainly.
ABC: Tell me what you think about folk music.
KK: Folk music to me is music that is indigenous to an area. Reggae music is folk music. Classical Indian music is folk music. The Ramones are folk music. Nirvana is folk music. It’s music that sounds like it’s indigenous to an area — that’s what I think folk music is. I think I represent the Eddies Attic-scene and hard rock part of Atlanta. All of that is in our Drivin’ N Cryin’ music, you know? It’s hard to tell people that if they come to Atlanta they’re not going to find “Gone With the Wind.” They’re going to find a multi-cultural open-minded society with many different layers of people, attitudes and politics. It’s easier for me to show you great Vietnamese food than it is for me to find a Southern mansion. (Laughs)
ABC: What do you want your legacy to be?
KK: That I was honest. What you got is what you got. I never tried to put on airs or tried to write songs that weren’t me. Some of our lyrics are autobiographical. When you see Drivin’ N Cryin’, you’ll feel like some of the lyrics are autobiographical or you can feel like you just saw a 15-year-old kid practicing in the basement — it’s one of the two. I just love to pretend I’m in a rock ‘n’ roll and sometimes it works. (Laughs)
Mar 14, 2017