The WAE Q&A with Drivin’ n’ Cryin’s Kevn Kinney
by Brian Tucker
December 13, 2011
Drivin n’ Cryin’ is a band that has never exploded and never quit, continually making great American music.
Formed in 1986, their music remains timeless, from great albums like “Scarred but Smarter” and “Mystery Road” to their most successful “Fly Me Courageous” and the underrated gem “Smoke.” The band has frequented Wilmington for years, bridging punk and folk with rock and roll. Drivin n’ Cryin’ plays the Brooklyn Arts Center this week and here’s more of my interview with singer-guitarist Kevn Kinney.
Starting out in 1985 did your sound happen organically or did you go in with this idea of mixing rock and punk and folk and country?
We were doing the best we possibly could. There was a time when Americana was just starting, there were bands like Rank & File and The Longriders. There was Husker Du and The Replacements and Bad Brains. It was kind of cool to do punk rock and then do country. The Replacements were punk rock but they would acoustic stuff, and Bad Brains were heavy metal and then they did reggae, they did both. We were like if they can do it we can do it.
You’ve said that the band’s music was like a mix-tape.
To this day, even with this EP I just put out (“A Good Country Mile”), I just write songs that are singles and somehow I try to get them to fit together. Its one tough hard rock song like from the 70’s, one is a country song, one is a tribute to REM. They all sound totally different. That’s just who I am. That’s how I grew up, with a huge variety of influences. Like Elvis had some gospel and blues and the Beatles had Elvis, the gospel and blues. They had that bossa nova beat. I’m just influenced by tons of different stuff. It is very organic but its more of a I don’t care, whatever. We’re all stealing. Its all derivative. Country and rock and roll are not that far apart. It’s all pretty much American music.
For a band gaining traction in the late 80’s you were in the middle of pop music and hair metal that was followed by grunge music. Still, you carved your own path.
I hated hair metal but I loved metal. I like Motorhead. I think Motorhead is one of my gods. The Ramones. Motorhead. I hated Whitesnake. I like Aerosmith. Hank Williams. I was this funny sounding Hank Williams guy doing Aerosmith. We were like, Oh, well. Every time I made a record the amount of reviews were never more than 50/50, love it or hate it. I just got used to becoming…I was never a critic’s darling. Drivin ‘N Cryin was not in a category anywhere. We weren’t punk, grunge, metal, post punk, post Americana punk. No one will claim us so we had to claim ourselves.
The band never exploded, just like The Ramones. Only now are The Ramones “big.”
The Ramones, they never did. Motorhead didn’t either really. It’s weird because now they’re huge. The Ramones are much bigger now than they ever were. I travelled with The Ramones for years. We never had that many people come, 1000 at the most. It was very frustrating for the band. They were not a happy camper really. They
felt they deserved more. Everyone wears their t-shirts now.
I remember them arriving at The Mad Monk in a van back in the 90’s. The Ramones, in a van.
They only travelled in a van, never in a tour bus. They were aware of their money. They made good money but they didn’t make that much money. They were a frustrated that they never went on tour with a big band or no one asked them to tour with them. Yeah, they were a little frustrated actually. They saved their money. They made their money in the merchandising booth. They were very military, very serious about what they did.
A week on a tour bus together is not something they would ever do. Because they hated each other. They needed those hotel rooms to keep apart from each other. It’s what trained me too. We only tour in a van, not in a tour bus anymore. It’s a waste of money, $5000 a week.
You’ve written songs and mentioned record stores. You’ve worked in them. Is there disconnect between fans and bands because lack of record stores now?
No. The record companies ran the record stores out of business by raising prices a long time ago and making (albums) hard to get. With the return policies (stores) could only return so much. I worked in record stores for a long time – One Stop, Record Warehouse’s, things like that. I know how the record return policies are and how much it is to buy an LP that you sell. If you wanted a copy of (Drivin ‘N Cryin’s) “Whisper Tames the Lion” or “Mystery Road” you had to go find it. You to drive around and find it or get it on eBay.
But that music can be downloaded digitally today.
Eight years ago, maybe five or six, I was totally forgotten. I wasn’t on iTunes. I love the iTunes generation. I find myself communicating with people at concerts. If we go to see Ryan Adams or whoever, you talk to people and share ideas about bands you like. I think it’s great you can buy one song.
The thing is I’m never going to be forgotten now. I’m stuck out there in the cyber world or whatever it’s called and it’ll always be there and that’s a great felling. Ten years ago all of my records were cut out (the record
label stopped pressing new copies of DnC albums). You were never going to get a copy unless it’s used. That might be cool for collectors but it’s not a great way to build another audience. Now I can tell people at shows go to iTunes. It’s on there. I’m not interested in being the most collectible person I the world.
Do solo albums allow more for you creatively – working with other musicians or exploring new ideas musically?
I kind of get to do what I want. DnC is me and (bassist) Tim (Nielsen) basically. (With making music) There’s a certain amount of – do you like that? Should we do that? It’s good to have that partnership that you’ve maintained twenty years or whatever that you started with. Then there’s just feeling like doing what I want and do it fast and on the cheap. A lot less pressure.
Did you ever grow tired of playing “Straight to Hell”?
I did. I did grow tired of playing it and now I resolve myself to put it in the right spot so I’m not intimated by it anymore. But I was intimated by it. I’m more sick of “Fly Me Courageous” I think. We play songs from every record. We try to. We do stuff from “Smoke” – “Patron Lady Beautiful,” “Smoke,” “All Around the World.” We do all sorts of stuff. Like I said, we created our own world and we’re comfortable in our own world.