Kevn Kinney, front-man of Atlanta rock band Drivin N Cryin, swears by never letting a moment pass without playing to your full potential and expressing gratitude towards your support system.
Not only is he a dedicated musician, Kinney knows the life of a working-class citizen firsthand, which is evident in his music. Made up of multi-generational music lovers that span far beyond the Mason-Dixon Line, DNC listeners find solace in Kinney’s pensive alt-ballads amidst the daily grind. Shamelessly drawing inspiration from Alice Cooper, T. Rex, R.E.M., and John Denver (to name a few), Kinney’s edgy, twangy vocals and thoughtful lyrics perfectly complement DNC’s psychedelic instrumental solos and musical builds.
Gearing up for his winter tour, southern rock guitar legend, vocalist, and singer, Kinney took a moment from his own drive (pun-intended), en route to Athens to tell us about the group’s newest album, Live the Love Beautiful and more.
Laughs were shared over the Milwaukee native’s coming of age story, how he authentically made a name for himself in rock music along with his Drivin N Cryin bandmates, and his steadfast mindset as a performer of over the last 30+ years.
So kick back, grab a brew (or other beverage of choice), and learn a bit more about this ATL rock legend.
Music Mecca: At what point in your life did you know you were going to devote yourself to a life of rock and roll?
Kevn Kinney: It was in the 60’s when I was like 8 years old, and I was in the front yard of my house and I heard a band playing like, blocks away – I could hear the drums. So I followed the drums and I kept going and going, and five blocks away it was [coming from] a park. And in the parking lot is this rock and roll band, and I think they were called Light From the Messengers- a Chicago band. Just watching them, a real band close-up, doing what they do…it was like seeing The Beatles. And I think that’s when I probably went home and grabbed a broom and pretended to be in Paul Revere and the Raiders. (laughs).
MM: What primary artists really triggered your desire to make music?
KK: The first batch was Springsteen’s 1970’s-vibe “Born To Run” kind of Springsteen. It was right up my alley, because I wasn’t really into smoke machines or the glam. I like Alice Cooper, T. Rex, John Denver…[Springsteen] was the first time I spent fifty-cents on seventh row seats. Then that led me to the artists on Stiff Records, like Elvis Costello. The first band that really charged me up was The Ramones when I saw them in 1976, and I was 15. I could not believe it – no guitar solos, no drum solos, and I thought it was funny! Then it dawned on me that rock and roll was really cool.
MM: Can you talk about the influences and inspirations behind your latest album, Live the Love Beautiful?
KK: There’s some records, production-wise, like the last two Aaron Lee Tasjan records, that sonically I was like, “I want to make records like this.” And there’s a couple other guys, like Miles Nielsen out of Rockford, Illinois, and he makes these gorgeous records. He’s a producer and writer. But Tasjan, Nielsen, and also Chuck Prophet’s last two or three records too. I wanted to let the songs have a personality. So I really wanted Aaron to do [Live the Love Beautiful] because it’s hard for me to think like that. So Aaron added that sparkle.
MM: Do you have a particular song or songs on the album that meant the most to you, or that you were most excited for the public to hear?
KK: I really like “What’s Wrong With Being Happy,” and the “Ian McLagan” song was one of the one’s I was really most proud of. I like songs where people think I’m singing about other people, but really, they’re about me. I think “Live the Love Beautiful” was one of my favorites, and “Step by Step” was probably one of my more honest-takes.
MM: Where was it recorded and who was involved in the production?
KK: [Tasjan] was the producer, and it was recorded at Welcome to 1979 in Nashville. The record was mixed by Jake Byrnes at Quad Studios.
MM: I see you’ve got a winter tour approaching. Do you still get excited for certain shows, or is it just business as usual at this point?
KK: It starts on the 30th [of January]. Every show is different; we play from all 150 songs that we have done. In all honesty, I play every show like it’s my first and every show like it’s my last; I’m nervous. When I leave the stage, I’m like “That could’ve been my last show.” I really want to impress you and leave you with a good impression.
MM: Are you the type to dread playing your old classics that everyone wants to hear, or do you still enjoy pleasing the masses with the hits?
KK: I have to play the hits, you know? First and foremost, I’m a hard-working working-class guy. If I go to see Rush, I want to see “Working Man,” and “Fly By Night.” So I dedicate at least forty minutes playing what [you] want to hear. I created an environment where I feel bad because people are paying money for a babysitter or a dog-sitter, and I just don’t feel comfortable not playing Drivin N Cryin hits.
MM: Do you think the Atlanta music-scene is underrated, and what would you say makes it unique?
KK: The music scene in Atlanta and the people that are 20 to 30 is a great music scene. It’s a do-it-yourself music scene with artists like GG King, Dinos Boys, The Coathangers and stuff. I think it’s pretty vibrant right now, and it’s doing really well. There’s a really healthy underground punk-rock scene in Atlanta!
MM: Do you have any secrets or tips to maintaining the longevity of a 35-year career in music?
KK: For me I have to pace myself so that the shows are great, and I try to balance myself. I have to lead a very moderate life. I have to just keep everything in balance, just like any other job. Don’t over-indulge. Stay focused on what it is that you’re going to do. If I’m going into a show like it’s my first or last show, obviously I’m not going to be high or drunk.
MM: Do you feel your songwriting style and routine has evolved over the years, or do you stick to your tried and true methods?
KK: Nothing has really changed. I see myself as the Bilbo Baggins of rock and roll. (laughs)…I steal everything! I don’t think I’ve ever had an original idea; I think it was an amalgamation of things that I love. I can tell you where every song that I’ve written comes from. It could be a little bit of John Denver and Ozzy Osbourne. The Beatles had like four influences; the generation after that had seventeen other influences, and when you get into the 90’s you’ve got Nirvana, REM, and now Carly Rae Jepsen…(laughs). Never be embarrassed by what you like!
MM: What sage advice would you give to young up and coming bands in the modern age?
KK: I suggest bands go out and just do it. You have to get out there. If you don’t have a fan-base or anything, pick every Monday night. Keep practicing. I encourage people to stay alert, always be ready, and play every show like it’s your first.