Drivin’ N Cryin’ stick to what they know best for 25 years
by Sarah Richter for the Wilmington Encore
When asking someone their favorite musicians, peppered in with the Billboard Top 100 hits are always artists and songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. A sense of nostalgia exists in holding on to the purity and novelty of the emergence of folk music and rock ‘n’ roll. Things are no longer shocking to our generation. The drug references, the flagrant disregard for authority of any kind and the conventions of propriety that dictated social codes disrupted the foundations of Western society.
The hip-swinging of Elvis that incited a raucous generation would be child’s play today. In fact, music today has lost most of its shock value. From Madonna and Britney Spears’ lip lock at the 2003 VMA’s to more disheartening news, like when Chris Brown was arrested on domestic violence charges against Rhianna in 2009, society seems desensitized. Why people always find a connection to the iconic musical hits of the ‘60s and ‘70s is because they were revolutionary in their message, their legacy and their place in culture, all of which remains comforting in nostalgia.
Drivin’ N Cryin’ is a band that embodies many peoples’ favorite rock outfits. More importantly, they carry on a legacy of monumental influence. They can easily make up a compilation of musical sounds found in standard favorites. “We are a band that’s like your record collection,” Kevn Kinney, founding member, vocalist and lead guitarist, says of the Atlanta-based rock outfit.
And an excellent record collection they are. Drawing inspiration from The Ramones, The Clash, psychedelic bands of the ‘70s, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy and R.E.M., their influences run the gamut. Formed in Atlanta in 1985, Kinney met local rocker Tim Nielsen who was playing with a popular band, the Nightporters.
“When I moved to Atlanta, I was working at a sewage plant, and Tim tried to help me find a band to join,” Kinney says. “After a few months, we said to hell with it, and just got together and formed our own band.”
They started playing together in local venues, most notably the 688 Club in Atlanta, named themselves after a song written by Kinney, “Drivin’ N Cryin’.” The 688 Club was so impressed they quickly signed Drivin’ N Cryin’ to their label, 688 Records. The band recorded their first album, “Scarred But Smarter,” in only five days. A combination of rock and bluegrass, in 1986 it became an instant success, particularly on college radio stations, because it was devoid of much of the processed production styles released during the late ‘80s. Although the album was successful in garnering Drivin’ N Cryin’ a considerate base of loyal fans, they were a few years away from achieving wide commercial success. Some of their most well-known songs were released on their 1989 “Mystery Road,” including “Honeysuckle Blue” and the title track, which situated them as a standout in the music world at that time. The band would later define their musical direction, but was reflective of their influence as an eme
rging Southern band. With folk music’s influence on the South, alongside the radicalism of rock, much like the Rolling Stones and the rebellion of the punk movement inspiring them, DNC seamlessly fused their 1991 record,“Fly Me Courageous.” Certified gold, videos of its title track, along with “Build a Fire” and “Straight to Hell,” received extensive play on MTV. “Straight to Hell” gained widespread popularity among soldiers heading out on missions in Desert Storm.
While they never received celebrity on a national level, they have reigned supreme locally and most notably in Atlanta. They have come to epitomize the alternative music scene that emerged in the 1980s. Manager Ken Green states that most alternative punk and country bands likely would cite Drivin’ N Cryin’ influential in their musical maturation.
“Although their name doesn’t resonate highly on a general-public level, they have influenced so many musicians and have developed a devoted following in their 25-year career,” Green says. “They’re a genre-bending band Part of the reason they were never over the top is that they are well-versed in country, pop, folk [and] punk. They began crossing music in the mid-’80s before anyone else. They established the genre of alt-country before anyone else.”
Drivin’ N Cryin’ has lived the rock-n-roll dream: Selling out shows and breaking fire codes, the band has toured with legends like The Who and Neil Young. Having almost all but been ignored by the 20th century, DNC continue to practice no-frills rock and to perpetuate guitar tones and monster drums set to overdrive.
Twenty-five years since the release of their first album, the band is not slowing down. Having just finished a tribute to R.E.M. on a four-track EP, featuring Kinney on guitar and vocals, Nielsen on bass, Dave Johnson on drums and their newest member, Sadler Vaden on guitar, it will be released over the summer. They also are the focus of a documentary appropriately entitled “Scarred But Smarter.”
After almost three decades in the music biz, these guys are just enjoying what it is they do and reaching fans, new and old. Playing music inspired by every conceivable genre, they pay homage to the greats while staying outside of the lines of nostalgia. Listening to the musical stylings of Drivin’ N Cryin’ reminds us that rock-n-roll isn’t dead, and we don’t have to turn to the past to retrieve it. In a culture where top artists are rappers or pop stars whose most insightful lyrics discuss the party they attended the night before, DNC’s music utilizes lyrics that are relatable across the ages and remind us of youth, emotional obstacles and the simple joys of an epic rock album. Isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll is about anyway?
DNC will take over Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington, returning to the local stage for the first time in 10 years, on the 16th. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets for the floor are $15 in advance and $18 the day of; balcony seating is $25 in advance and $30 the day of.