Few musicians living outside of Athens have local ties that run as deep as Drivin’ N Cryin’ frontman Kevn Kinney. Flagpole pinned him down for a chat before his show this evening at the Melting Point The World Famous (ed. note: This show has been moved) with Chuck Mead and Angie Aparo.
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Flagpole: There seems to be a resurgence of Kevn Kinney-related activity here in Athens as of late. Are you happy to be back?
Kevn Kinney: I’ve spent a lot of time in Athens. I’ve written a lot of songs about Athens. I lived on Boulevard from ’93 to ‘03, so I spent a good deal of time there. It was the only small town I’ve every lived in, and probably the only small town I ever will. I have a lot of good memories, so it’s nice to come back. The 40 Watt’s still the 40 Watt, and looks exactly the same. I live in Brooklyn, so I see from the outside how popular Athens bands have become.
Speaking of the 40 Watt, you had a pretty legendary cast of characters on stage with you when you played this past November with Peter Buck. Was there a rehearsal for that show or were the sit-ins with Mike Mills and Bill Berry improvised?
It was rehearsed. We rehearsed with Bill [Berry]. The stuff I did for my set, I rehearsed with Mike Mills. Peter and I came over to the R.E.M. practice room and we rehearsed. We did the same thing two years ago at a show when I turned 50 and opened for the Baseball Project, when Bill Berry played drums with me, but that was totally a surprise. I looked back and he had taken over the drums, so that was improvised. But this one was rehearsed. I know the word “honor” gets used a lot, but for me, it was a real pleasure. You know, I was a construction worker listening to Reckoning in Atlanta. My girlfriend at the time was manager at the Record Bar in Cumberland Mall and bought that album and Murmur. I wasn’t even in a band—I was just a construction worker playing folk shows.
“A lot of people say, ‘Don’t you want to be famous again?’ Is it okay that I don’t? Because I don’t.”
Drivin’ N Cryin’ seems to work because the band is active when it’s convenient for everyone. Do you think that’s why the band has been able to stay together for so long?
Drivin’ N Cryin’ is a different kind of statement. It’s my power-pop side. It’s half of what makes me tick. It is important to keep me whole. I have to play electric guitar. Drivin’ N Cryin’ is more of a treehouse band—a bunch of kids that love to get together and play.
The Hardworking Americans [a supergroup consisting of Todd Snider, Neal Casal, Dave Schools and others that recorded at John Keane Studios in Athens] recently recorded “Straight to Hell.” I’m wondering if you could comment on having one of your songs recorded by musicians of that caliber.
Well, Todd is one of my oldest friends. I met Todd when he was working on his first demo and I was doing Fly Me Courageous, so we’ve been the best of friends for a long time. I met Neal [Casal] in New York, and Dave [Schools] is, of course, one of my favorite Athenians. He’s a good soul. But I was honored when Todd sang it. When he was recording it, he called and I went there and hung out over at John Keane’s. I’m honored that he did it. It’s a song with a fun chorus with lyrics that are much deeper than when I started writing it.
I want to ask about the Drivin’ N Cryin’ documentary, Scarred But Smarter. I want to ask about the final product and what you thought of it. Was it difficult to watch the film, and was that a different experience than listening to your voice played back on tape?
Yeah. It was pretty brutal. If [director Eric Von Haessler] wasn’t a friend of mine, I probably wouldn’t have seen it. You know, I don’t really like to watch video of me doing what I do or talking. But there are some funny parts in it. I liked it. It’s impossible to get everything into two hours without skipping over and picking… If they would have filmed another year or two, they would have the EPs in there. And I think the EPs are a real resurgence for the band. The band is playing better than it ever has. I’m singing better than I’ve ever sung. I’m writing a record every 90 days. I just produced a country record with us playing on it. When we started doing the documentary, maybe we were dialing it in. I don’t know if we were or not. I don’t know if I got my point across, but it wasn’t mine to make. I’ll probably make my own one day, including my solo career, which isn’t really in there.
From where I’m sitting, Drivin’ N Cryin’ is the fun thing to do, and the Kevn Kinney solo thing is what I do. Drivin’ N Cryin’ is fun, so that’s why I don’t care to put rock songs and folk songs together, because it’s just a fun mixtape. My solo records are a little more focused and wordy. But I don’t think the film gets across some of the points. Like, why do you want to be famous? This is what I don’t like when people talk about me. I’ve had a good life. I got everything I asked for in 1992-1993. I’m good with that. A lot of people say, “Don’t you want to be famous again?” Is it okay that I don’t? Because I don’t.
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