SCARRED BUT SMARTER: Kevn Kinney and his Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ bandmates get nostalgic on ‘Psychedelic’ new EP
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kevn Kinney won’t be releasing a double album any time soon, but he has no problems putting out four smaller ones one right after the other.
The Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ frontman, who brings his band back to “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson on Friday night, recently released “Songs from the Psychedelic Time Clock” and has completed work on two more, “Songs for a Turntable” and “Songs for a Late Night Morning.” Those are fresh on the heels of two EPs released last year, “Songs from a Laundromat” and “Songs About Cars, Space and the Ramones.”
The idea, Kinney told The Daily Times this week, is a sort of musical “choose your own adventure” for Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ fans.
“What usually happens, if you take these 21 songs on all three releases in a 12-month period, is that I would write them, and then we would sit down and pick the best 11 that work the best together and make one album,” he said. “We’d pick some of the rock, some of the folk, and the weirder stuff always got left off. Now, with the EPs, we’re letting people create their own setlist at home with their iTunes or whatever it is they have.
“I like the idea that they’re asking, ‘What are the 11 songs I would pick if I was Kevn?’ Everyone is different, and the one thing I can tell you is that I will never give you 19 songs on a record. I don’t know why people do that! No matter how much I love your band, I don’t know if I love it 19 songs worth. Personally, it always comes out contrived to me.”
Of course, Kinney’s at a point in his career when he can pick and choose how he wants to release music. Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ aren’t exactly household names, but for anyone who paid attention to the radio in the late 1980s, the music made by the band is the perfect Southern rock compliment to the Black Crowes, friends who came out of Atlanta around the same time. Kinney’s weary, warbling vocals and the driving power chords of his bandmates gave Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ a ragged sort of beauty that was at once a throwback to “Life’s Rich Pageant”-era R.E.M. and a step in a new direction.
After becoming one of most beloved local bands in Atlanta-Athens scene, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ released its debut record, “Scarred But Smarter,” and landed a contract with Island Records. College rock radio latched onto the band, which earned some commercial play as well over the course of albums like “Whisper Tames the Lion,” “Mystery Road” and “Fly Me Courageous.” After a 1997 self-titled album, however, the guys put the Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ name on the shelf. Kinney released several solo albums, many of them featuring collaborations with his old bandmates, and after surgery in 2007 to remove a cyst on his larynx, he and his wife went into the studio to cut a folk record. One of the songs from that session, the working-class rocker “Preapproved, Predenied,” became a jumping off-point for a new Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ project.
“The Great American Bubble Factory” was released in 2009, the band’s last full-length and one that Kinney feels is one of its best. Made at the height of the recession, it takes themes he’s worked with for so long — small Southern towns suffering as progress passes them by and the people who live their with the ashes that remain of their dreams — and ends up sounding like a record that Bruce Springsteen might’ve made had he grown up in rural Georgia instead of New Jersey.
“I love it; it’s a great album, it’s very cohesive, it’s got a message and it makes sense,” he said. “It’s about the factories, about growing up. It’s about my early life, and my eyes through a windshield watching a town around you close. It’s about seeing welders, these guys who used to drive nice cars and have good jobs when I was a kid, now driving delivery trucks. This album was my homage to them.
“If you grew up from 1958 to 1964 or ’65, you saw that change. I specifically remember as a young boy, around 1966 or ’67, starting to become aware of things. Until then, I was just excited to be alive and riding my back, but then I started to notice things, like people’s outfits changing, and by the time you’re 13 or 14, it dawns on you when you walk to school in the mornings that the classes of 1949-60 pretty much all look the same: crew cuts, girls looking like Betty from the sock hop. Things are changing, and now there’re colors, and hair is longer. Then you hit the ’70s, and there was this inherent sadness of everything closing around you, and everything is dark and grey.
“I think ‘Bubble Factory’ isn’t sad or too preachy, because I was trying to write something that was a little more Clash-influenced,” he added. “The (title) song itself is like a pop song, because I wanted it to be an optimistic funeral march.”
For the band’s “Songs” EPs, the subject matter is all across the map. The most recent — not counting the folk-tinted “Songs for a Late Night Morning,” which he just finished, and “Songs for a Turntable,” which is written and recorded as well (and which Kinney describes as the “James Gang and Grand Funk Railroad hanging out in Jimmy Page’s basement and having a party on the shag carpet”) — is a throwback to the “weirder” material that often gets left off of full-length records. Trippy guitar scales, drenched in reverb, chiming melodies from a variety of instruments ... all those sounds go back to his love of the Fab Four, Kinney said.
“Not only do I have the rock and the folk bipolar, dual life in my makeup, but in the rock life, I’ve always had a collection of records that span from Beatles psychedelia,” he said. “‘Sgt. Pepper’ spawned a lot of bands in a lot of small American towns to try and be like that. They couldn’t came up with their own kinds of things, so they started using electric sitars and things like that and created this whole other sound that didn’t come from anywhere but America, this American psychedelic sound.
“That happened right when I was a kid, in 1968 and 69. I remember seeing The Messengers from Chicago, who dressed like Paul Revere and the Raiders, and even though I kind of grew out of that era, if you go back and listen to (Drivin’ N’ Cryin’) songs like ‘Can’t Promise You the World’ or ‘Straight to Hell,’ they’re kind of a little bit of weird psychedelic country.”
Ideally, he said, he’d like to do a tour of just the EPs — small shows, charge only $5 a head and play no hits. Getting venues — and even fans — to sign off on such an idea is a long shot (even though he recently did two such mid-week shows in Atlanta), however, but a guy like Kinney can’t help but smile at the thought.
“Doing that was really fun for me, because it was like it was 1988 again,” he said. “Back then, we had no hit songs. We were kind of selling ourselves as a band, and people were coming out to see Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, a band from Atlanta. They weren’t coming to hear one song from the radio that was their favorite.”