It's impossible not to like Kevn Kinney. He's funny, self-deprecating and honest. When you interview him, he spends a second or two thinking about the question, then turns the answer-spigot on full blast, hardly stopping for breath until he figures the subject has been covered.
Kinney is also a passionate music fan, and something of an historian, and he can lob fab facts and trivia back and forth like so many enthusiastic tennis balls.
As the founding singer, songwriter and guitarist for the seminal Atlanta band Drivin N Cryin, Kinney is a keystone fixture on contemporary Georgia rock 'n' roll's mighty pantheon. Here's why: A potent mix of hard rock, jangly pop and countryish eclectro-folk, Southern blues/rock and psychedelia, Drivin N Cryin had a few great commercial years, in the late '80s to mid '90s. At one point the band was as justifiably heralded and beloved as the state's other key musical export, R.E.M.
Kinney and company gave us "Straight to Hell," "Fly Me Courageous," "Scarred But Smarter" and a handful of great and eclectic albums like Whisper Tame the Lion, Smoke and Wrapped in Sky.
The ever-prolific Kinney has also been a solo artist, poet and music biz raconteur who's collaborated with the likes of his old pal, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, and Anton Fier and the Golden Palominos. Drivin N Cryin's chronic state of evolution, and their spotted legacy, is explored in the new documentary film Scarred But Smarter: Life n Times of Drivin N Cryin.
They could have been Big Star. They could have been the Replacements.
They could have been R.E.M.
And the wheel continues to turn: Over the last 12 months, Kinney and his bandmates have independently issued three EPs: Songs From the Laundromat, Songs About Cars, Space and The Ramones and Songs From the Psychedelic Time Clock. There's another one in the immediate pipeline.
Why are you releasing four EPs over the course of a year?
Kevn Kinney: The main thing is that I'm pretty prolific lately. That's A. And B, I usually write so many different kinds of songs, as everybody that's ever bought a Drivin N Cryin record knows. That's the first two reasons. The third reason: I get albums from friends of mine all the time, and I just never listen to more than just the first five songs. I get in the car, listen for 20 minutes and then I'm where I'm supposed to be ... if you've ever given me a CD of your band, I probably have never heard the last song.
When albums came out, they were really two 15-minute records. You had to get up and change it, and the by the time you got up to change it you'd probably switched over from Sinatra to Trini Lopez or Johnny Cash. I'm kinda into that thing where I'm actually selling sides of albums. And I love the 45 — I can listen to "Yummy Yummy Yummy," 12 times over and over, but I don't know if I want to listen to 14 songs by the Ohio Express.
The EPs are stylistically different. Was there a plan at root there — "Let's cut this bunch of songs this way"?
Kevn Kinney: I started off with the first one as "This is a regular old Drivin N Cryin demo." If I was sending it to the record company, I would send them these songs to start. I did the "R.E.M." song on there, and that was fun to do, a fun song in a different style. When it came to the second one, we switched producers, and I thought "I don't want a pretty song." So the opening song is the prettiest it's gonna get.
These are all "What would Drivin N Cryin would have done if they took this fork in the road?" records. Psychedelic Time Clock, that's really my roots, going back to where me and (bassist) Tim Nielsen met. We met as fans of Nuggets. We're Nuggets fans. You would never really know that through our music. I'm pretty well versed in the psychedelic movement, and I grew up listening to psychedelic bands in Milwaukee, who I roadied for. So I just wanted to show that side of me. It's kind of an essay in psychedelic.
What's the fourth one going to be?
Kevn Kinney: The next one is a pretty traditional Drivin n Cryin/Bad Company record. It's got kind of a pop hit song on it, it's got a little bit of our Zeppelin ... it's kind of what I wish Whisper Came the Lion would have been like. It's coming out in September or October, only on 10-inch vinyl; it's called Songs for a Turntable. It's got a picture of an aerial view of a train turntable on it that we bought from this photographer.
What generally happens is that some sharp guy at a label is going to convince you to put all the EPs together on one CD, right? "The EP Collection."
Kevn Kinney: Well, I'd prefer to keep them all separate. If some sharp guy at a label wants to put them all on 10-inches as a box set, and pay for it, that'll be cool. They're all available on iTunes. These 20 songs that I'm giving everybody, 21 songs, this a pretty traditional thing that R.E.M. or Collective Soul, everybody does. If I had a record deal, these 21 songs are what I would present to our A&R guy. And they would pick the 10 that they thought fit together best.
I guess they were all recorded rather quickly?
Kevn Kinney: Records aren't supposed to be over-thought. Every record you've probably ever loved was made in a day or two. Everything at Motown was done in a matter of hours. Once Pink Floyd hit, people deconstructed and reconstructed ... I don't work well that way. I hate being in the studio longer than I have to. It's like going to the dentist.
It's certainly possibly to lose the spirit of the song if you over-think it.
Kevn Kinney: I think so. I'm a music fan. I don't know how My Morning Jacket makes records, if they spend three months making 'em, that's great. I like how they sound. I know that Peter Buck released an album-only record last year, only on vinyl, he made it in a week. It's basically the touring version of R.E.M. except for Michael (Stipe). With Lenny Kaye on guitar. And it's really great.
"Instant Karma" was written and recorded all in one day.
Kevn Kinney: "Wild Thing" was recorded in 20 minutes! They didn't have enough money, so the producer said "We have 20 minutes left on the end of this session." So they went in, they did "Wild Thing" twice, they did the B-side twice, and that's it! That's what you hear.
That's all about atmosphere and spirit.
Kevn Kinney: That's right. Which is what I'm trying to get. I mean, what do I have? If I spend a month singing, is my voice going to get any different than the weird, whiny, nasal whatever thing it is? I'm never gonna sound like Soundgarden.
Tell me about the movie.
Kevn Kinney: I didn't have anything to do with it. It's Eric, the director's vision of what's important about Drivin N Cryin. If I was going to make a film about Drivin N Cryin, there'd be a lot more puppets in it.
He got a lot of great footage that I probably never would have got. It's a little sad, actually, when I watch it. It goes through the rise and fall, you know — Local band does good, and then loses it because of chaos and exhaustion and drugs. Which is a typical story, a pretty normal rock 'n' roll story. I'm not afraid to be honest about what it is that I am.
But why did it make you sad?
Kevn Kinney: Well, I'm looking at myself, I'm kind of overweight ... I'm rooting for the guy, but I am the guy, you know? In all honesty, I'm watching the movie, and I'm going "I wonder if that guy lived?"
Where: Coach's Corner, 3016 E. Victory Drive
When: At 7 p.m. Friday, July 19
Tickets: $20 advance, $25 at the door (opens at 6 p.m.)