The music world needs lifers like Kevn Kinney. As both a solo artist and the longtime frontman for Drivin’ N Cryin’, the 58-year-old singer/songwriter has been grinding out tunes and putting miles on his body and soul for the better part of four decades, with all the accompanying highs and lows that come with that toil.
All that effort and time hasn’t diminished Kinney’s sharp way with words nor his preternatural ability to craft the perfect rock tune. That’s as clear as ever on Live The Love Beautiful, the first full-length from Drivin’ N Cryin’ in 10 years. Produced by the equally talented Aaron Lee Tasjan and featuring guitar work from former Sturgill Simpson sideman Laur Joamets, the record is held to earth by the weight of classic-sounding melodies and Kinney’s unflinchingly poignant and unromantic lyrics. Along the way, the band, which still features founding bassist Tim Nielsen, cements their signature sound that embraces pure psychedelia, Southern rock, R&B, and glistening pop.
Drivin’ N Cryin’ are kind enough to let the readers of Paste hear all of Live The Love Beautiful ahead of its release on June 21st, and Kinney was kind enough to hop on the phone to talk about the new album and a little bit about the band’s history. Enjoy both below.
Paste: For the past decade or so, you’ve only been releasing these short EPs. What made you want to come back to the full album format Live The Love Beautiful?
Kevn Kinney: I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a whole album. For some reason, it takes me four or five days to make these five-song EPs. And they were a lot of fun to do with these different producers and different studios. For some reason, you add four or five more songs to this, it takes two months. I don’t know why. I wrote my friend Lenny Kaye a text, and I signed it, “Live the love beautiful.” And he goes, “Ooh, I like that.” He wrote it on a Post-It note and stuck it to his wall and sent me a picture of that. That kind of inspired me to make this kind of autobiographical record that was made up of all these little ingredients about my world today. Riffs that I captured on this Voice Memos app that I knew I would forget tomorrow. We had a song that we recorded on 9/10/2001, which never saw the light of day. We brought that one back to life for this one. A song from the ‘80s that’s been bouncing around since the second record. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
What can you tell me about working with Aaron Lee Tasjan on this record?
Aaron was a good musical partner of mine in New York City. We’d play together every Monday night at the National Underground. And his records…I was just jealous of his records. They sound gorgeous. They’re complicated and intricate and they’ve got really great songs. And they’re not just rock records. So when it came time to do this record, I thought, “I’ll do it, but I’m going to ask Aaron to produce.” I really like to be produced. Like an actor likes to be directed. I let Aaron have full reign.
You’ve been working with Tim Nielsen for the better part of 35 years or so. What is it that keeps you two in each other’s orbits when all these other musicians have cycled in and out of the band?
Something that happens to a band after so many years is there’s a telepathy kind of situation going on. We know how to read each other. Tim is what makes it Drivin’ N Cryin’ with me. I am what he isn’t and he is what I’m not. He has a drive that I don’t have. A drive for recognition and for the business and making a profit and making it work. Paying the bills and taking care of the bottom line. And I think he’s a great bass player. The songs are so precise and there’s so many different parts. He doesn’t forget any of them.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Mystery Road, which was your second major label album and the one that I think really introduced the band to the world at large. What do you remember most about that period of time?
Here’s page one of Drivin’ N Cryin’ Mystery Road era: R.E.M. was on the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time and we went to see them in St. Louis. At this point, we were just a trio: me, Jeff Sullivan and Tim. We were at the hotel with R.E.M., celebrating their first Rolling Stone cover. We had just finished Whisper Tames The Lion and we put it on the stereo. Peter Buck was one of our first fans. When we played in Athens for the first time, he was one of nine people that came to see us. And he absolutely hated Whisper and it was crushing to me. He said, “You need to come to Athens and I’m going to produce you. We’re going to make some demos.” We went to John Keane’s studio and recorded the first “Honeysuckle Blue” and the first “Straight To Hell” and all these things. But Island Records didn’t recognize Peter as being a producer so we got Scott McPherson to produce the actual album. That started a whole new era of what Drivin’ N Cryin’ was. Somehow we became a Southern rock band. I don’t know how that happened. It kind of defined who we are still. That’s why we’re playing tonight at a bar in Atlanta and it’s sold out. And when we play “Honeysuckle Blue,” people will go crazy.