Interview: Kevn Kinney on Drivin N Cryin’s New Album, the Beatles, and Gardening

Interviews

Drivin’ N Cryin’ has a new album set to come out, Live the Love Beautiful, produced by Aaron Lee Tasjan. Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ N Cryin’ was traveling in the van in North Carolina when we caught him on the phone.

AH: Your new album Live the Love Beautiful has a real, live feel even though it is not a live album. How did you achieve that?

KK: We recorded it live, but yeah, it’s not a live album. Everyone was in the same room and recording the drums, so the spirit of it is live. A lot of records are constructed, like with the beat first, and then layers are added, but every record I’ve ever made his been more “live,” so it’s very efficient and at the same time it keeps the spirit of our playing together fresh.

AH: How did you come to ask Aaron Lee Tasjan to produce this album?

KK: We’ve been making music since the 80’s, and when you’ve been making music that long you can get stuck in a rut. But I want to avoid that as much as possible, I prefer to listen more than talk, and I’ve been listening to these albums, listening to the albums Aaron Lee has been producing and he’s a student of music, and musical surgery.

And you have guys like Aaron Lee Tasjan, Miles Nielsen, and Tim Canola – tons of people in their 30s who are really fantastic musicians– and these guys are producers. And I wanted to take advantage of the fact that Aaron was in our orbit.

I didn’t let anybody tell me “he’s not old enough,” I mean, the Beatles were only 29 years old when they were almost done. I think on Abbey Road they were only like 32 years old. When John Lennon is standing in front of Abbey Road with that long beard, he’s like 32 or 33 years old. He’s not 50.   When he was standing there with that long beard, and when it was him and Yoko, it was only 6 years after they were on the Ed Sullivan show. Time is relative, and, you know, it’s moving faster now than it did. (laughs)

AH: The album has the song “Ian McLagan,” which is a personal song, and is just really pretty, and a nice tribute. As you said, time moves faster, and things happen, and we lose people along the way, and that song captures that sentiment.

KK: That song in particular is a lot of perspective on the same thing.  There is a style of book right where, for example, maybe there is a murder and then there is an apartment building with 17 people in it, and just about every chapter is a different person’s perspective on the murder. It’s a way of writing, perspective writing.

That song in particular has many perspectives. In one sense it is literal, in the sense that it was Ian McLagan walking down the alley of the Yard Dog. I never met him but all my friends got to play with him and knew him.

Then there is another aspect where one of his last recording sessions was with Aaron Lee, and the Beatles and Led Zeppelin’s publicist, BP Fallon.  BP Fallon made this album and Aaron Lee produced and played on it while he was in the band BP Fallon & the Bandits.  And Ian McLagan played on the album.

And then there is another viewpoint, where thinking about someone who does one thing in so may ways for their while life. For example, say you’ve been a writer, and you’ve written 14 books, and then there is another guy, who wrote one great article in 1972, and he’s never done anything since, and he sits on that barstool still talking about that one article he wrote about McDonald’s that one time. It’s the glory days phenomenon. That is another part of the story too.

And then there’s the viewpoint that you could replace the name “Ian McLagan” with a lot of people’s names who are still out here doing it. Like Dan Baird, who sings on this song, like Peter Buck, Alejandro Escovedo, all of us could have made two records in the 80s or 90s and then never done much else. But we are all out here, traveling around in vans, playing out 150 shows a year, and it’s kind of a rallying cry for all of us.

A lot of songs that I write, I try to have multiple perspectives on.

AH: Dan Baird also sings on “Ian McLagan.”

KK: Yes, and Dan Baird knew him because Ian McLagan sang on his second album, and then Dan Baird was friends with Ian McLaghan and they would tour with the Rolling Stones keyboard player Bobby Key’s band.

AH: Who else makes a guest appearance on the album?

KK: Elizabeth Cook sings on a song on the album called “Sometimes I Wish I Didn’t Care.” She is one of my favorite people. And how deep is her collection, she’s amazing.

AH: You’ve had so many excellent guitarists in the band, Warner Hodges, Warren Haynes, Sadler Vaden, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and now Laur Joamets. How did you get Laur to play with you?

He and Tim had been in touch. He was in a band that opened for us after his Sturgill Simpson days, in Rome, Georgia when we had Warner in the band.  We had Loar start sit in with us a few times because Warner is multifaceted and he tours with his Warner Hodges band, and in Dan Baird’s band, and with Jason and the Scorchers, and he could do some shows, and some shows he couldn’t. And we had kind of settled on the idea that we needed a permanent guitar player, and we loved the way Laur talked. To be in this band you have to be a nice person; you have to be intelligent; you have to be kind. You have to be a great musician third or fourth. But Laur is all of those things. He is also dedicated and to him the show is the most important thing in the day. I’m not here to teach him anything, I’m 58 years old, I’m here to learn. I like people I can learn from.

AH: You have so many good solid philosophical perspectives on living life, and that comes across in this album.

KK: Mostly the wisdom that I’m trying to practice is basically common sense to the rest of the world. Here in America our immediate condition is, we are shoppers, we’re not a farming society. We buy what’s on the shelf. Ever since our first album Scarred But Smarter, even at that point I had already been in a band long enough to know I didn’t want to write songs I would regret having to sing every night. And also, other bands might do songs that are just fun to get drunk to, and that’s fantastic. But I didn’t want to do that.

I try to make songs about things that make sense. “Straight to Hell” from Mystery Road is a beautiful song about Romeo and Juliet, it’s not what you think it is. And on this album there are songs like “What’s Wrong With Being Happy.” It’s not easy to be happy, and I’m not happy a lot, but I am trying to look in the mirror and maybe try to be happier, or when I do feel happy, try not to dumb it down. And same with “Live the Love Beautiful.”

AH: In Live the Love Beautiful, there is this great line “don’t piss off the genie.”

KK: The genie is me (laughs) Most of the songs that I write are all about me. There’s one song “I’m Just Here to Sing to Myself”: “I’m just here to sing to myself what I took off the shelf, from under my bed” (lyrics)

I’m an American, I grew up in the 60s and 70s and 80s; we all have a lot in common, so if I sing to myself, just by my singing myself I’m touching a percentage of the population who will agree with me.   Now maybe if you grew up in the mountains of China you may not identify with it, but you know, there’s might even be a bit of Buddhism in there I guess. I’m not a preacher, I’m not trying to influence anybody. But if it can make sense to me then that’s something I can dive into, and close my eyes and experience. And hopefully it’ll make sense to other people.

AH: There are universal messages there, too.

KK: Yes. And then it’s universal in that there is not just one way to experience it. You can experience it from your own perspective. You can see it any way you want to see it.

When you see a movie, whatever you take away from it is your perspective.

I try to let the songs have a lot of leeway like that.

And also there is a part of me that just wants you to dig the guitars. One of my rules to myself, as well as trying to say something that means something, is never ruin a good guitar riff. Never step on a good guitar riff.

AH: Or a good mandolin line.

KK: That’s right. Tim plays mandolin on “I Wish I Didn’t Care” and in “Ian McLaghan;” he plays mandolin on all our albums.

AH: What else is Kevn Kinney thinking about in general today?

KK: I was thinking about something political this morning. There’s news that the economy is doing so well. But when President Obama got into office there was this huge dysfunction that took a long time to get right. I was thinking of an analogy. Say your girlfriend has a mountain cabin. And her mom passed away about 12 years ago, and when that happened people stopped going to the cabin, so her garden got full of briars and blackberry bushes and it was unrecognizable. And I spent time last summer just clearing briars and blackberries, and then I have to till it, and let the grass grow and cut it down, and then let it grow and cut it down again. And then next summer, I will finally be able to plant something there. Now if somebody buys it this fall, and they plant a garden in the spring, they would tell themselves what a lovely garden they had made. Not realizing that just 3 years ago it was impassable, you couldn’t walk into it. So they buy it and it’s ready to go and they take credit for it. That’s what I’m thinking about right now.

We fix things and it takes time. America is like my career I think.I spend a lot of time, planting seeds, going around gaining a fan, a couple more fans, and it’s beena one road, it’s been 33 years, we’re hoping for a good crop.

Thank you Kevn Kinney for talking to us.  Find our tour dates and other info, here:

https://www.drivinncryin.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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