Southern rock road dogs Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ still going strong after 27 years
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kevn Kinney isn’t exactly a slave driver, but the singer-songwriter and front man for Southern rock band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ sets some high standards for his bandmates.
Bass player Tim Neilsen has been with Kinney in Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ since the band’s inception in 1985 in Atlanta, but the two new additions — drummer Dave V. Johnson and guitarist Sadler Vaden — have some exacting expectations to live up to when Kinney steps up to the microphone.
“To be in the band that I’m leading is a difficult thing, because you have to know a hundred songs, and you have to know I’m going to play that song, and you have two or four bars to figure it out, if I don’t just shout it at you and count it off,” Kinney told The Daily Times this week. “These guys can play any song from any album, and they’re ready to do it, and it’s really great, because we don’t use a setlist. I did that for a tour once, and I wound up daydreaming about my laundry or how fast I can get done.”
With two new EPs (“Songs from the Landromat,” released in June, and “Songs About Cars, Space and The Ramones,” released earlier this month) out already this year and another (“Songs from the Psychedelic Time Clock”) on its way, the guys have a load of new material to learn, to say nothing about the band’s critically acclaimed back catalog. And if they dip into any of the songs from Kinney’s various solo albums ... well, let’s just say there are no slackers in this band.
Kinney, for his part, is just happy to be back at full vocal strength after a 2007 surgery.
“I had this cyst on my larynx, and after I had it removed, I could sing again,” Kinney said.
Not that it was broken completely prior to the operation. Kinney’s weary, tremulous singing gave Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s music a ragged sort of beauty that made the band the perfect Southern rock compliment to the Black Crowes, friends who came out of Atlanta around the same time. After becoming one of most beloved local bands in that 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 his surgery in 2007, 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.
“I envisioned this working-class rock opera, and everybody was interested in doing it,” he said.
“The Great American Bubble Factory” was released in 2009, and after supporting it, lineup changes shifted and Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ briefly functioned as a three-piece. Vaden was brought on board as the band’s permanent guitarist, and eight months ago, Kinney got the itch to make a new Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ project — but not so much that we wanted to commit to a full-length record.
“I just wanted to do these song ideas, these five- or six-song EPs, that people can listen to and are theme-orientated,” he said. “They’re all kind of rocking and jangly, and then I gave myself a deadline of doing one every 90 days, to keep me working and thinking.”
“Laundromat” was cut in the same studio as “Bubble Factory,” and the guys spent less than a week working on the material. Live and fast, Kinney said — the concept hearkens back to the band’s early days in “The Tree House,” an old office-turned-studio located on the third floor of an apartment complex in Atlanta. Back then, the feel was loose and the songs were monstrously entertaining, and the new EPs perhaps come closer to capturing that youthful vigor than anything else the band has done in the years since.
Certainly, the material is worthy of adding to the Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ catalog; but then again, Kinney doesn’t follow through on anything that won’t stand the test of time.
“I wouldn’t do it otherwise,” he said. “It dawned on me early in my career that I really shied away from singing anything that I wasn’t going to want to sing many, many times. Today, I’ll sing ‘Scarred but Smarter,’ and I can’t help but feel empowered. You can’t sing that and not think, ‘Everything’s gonna be OK, man.’ It takes me back to all the times I’ve had to sing that to myself.”