Thirty-four years is a long time to navigate the intricacies of a rock ‘n’ roll partnership, and for Drivin N Cryin founders Tim Nielsen and Kevn Kinney, the road has sometimes been a bumpy one.
And yet they continue to ride on. The next pit stop, in fact, is the June release of a new album, “Live the Love Beautiful,” but first the Southern rock four-piece will take a detour through Maryville this weekend, where the band plays a free show on Saturday as part of the “Black Dragon Breakdown” weekend.
“It’s tricky, communication, and it’s very important to keep that going. Sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we do,” Nielsen told The Daily Times recently. “It has its ups and downs, like any other relationship would. We’re like brothers, kind of, and every brotherly relationship has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, you’re still brothers.
“Musically, I think we’ve grown as musicians, from the beginning to where we are now in our career. For me, I feel like instead of being a punk rocker or a rock ’n’ roll guy or somebody up there flopping his hair around, that I’m more of a musician than I did back in those days. I think the music is more important, to me anyways.”
Kinney and Nielsen met in Atlanta, where the latter played in a band called The Nightporters; Kinney came through town with his band, and after the show, the two struck up a conversation based on shared musical interests. The Nightporters broke up, the two formed Drivin N Cryin and the same city that birthed the Black Crowes added another rock band to its roster. With Nielsen on bass and Kinney’s ragged vocals adding a whiskey-scarred patina of sorrow and beauty to the band’s songs, the group became one of most beloved local bands in the Atlanta-Athens scene, releasing its debut record, “Scarred But Smarter,” in 1986.
“Back in those days, the songs were written in the practice room,” Nielsen said. “Some of those songs, Kevn had written before I met him, and then when we started being out on the road all the time, we would write on the road, run the songs through at soundcheck, perform them at shows and basically had the whole record written before we went into the studio again.
“For this one (“Live the Love Beautiful,” due out June 21), there were a lot of bits and pieces of concepts that Kevn had, and then we all met up in Nashville a couple of times to write and play. When we showed up to start recording the album, we came up with four or five more songs, so it was a lot of spontaneous stuff.”
“Scarred” led to a deal with Island Records, college rock radio discovered Drivin N Cryin and the band 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 album. They’ve released a number of EPs in the years since, but “Live the Love Beautiful” stands to be a high-water mark in a long and distinguished career, Nielsen believes. Recorded with former band member and noted Nashville artist Aaron Lee Tasjan, it finds Kinney, Nielsen and their bandmates — Dave V. Johnson and Laur Joamets, a veteran sideman who’s worked with Sturgill Simpson — riding in the fabled catbird seat.
“Lyrically, this new record is really personal for Kevn,” he said. “He really dug deep, and I think people are going to get that. He’s not holding anything back, and it’s kind of heavy-duty and intense. It’s like an autobiography, and I know our fanbase that we already have is going to eat this stuff up. It’s always a challenge to try and find those new listeners and younger listeners, but I think that’ll happen along the way.
“I think there are just a lot of people in the world that would appreciate our music and our story if they have the opportunity to hear it. That’s always the challenge, but at the rate that everything is going in this career, we can’t complain. We’re very happy with what we’ve achieved, and we have the luxury to go out and make music and play it for people. We’re happy with what we’re able to get done, and anything else that happens is kind of like a bonus.”