SINCE the '80s, Drivin N Cryin has walked the line between criminally underrated and critically lauded. They’re a band that isn’t confined by genre, and often seem to musically do whatever they want. That sense of creative freedom has awarded them some commercial success over the years — particularly with their acclaimed 1989 album Mystery Road and the follow up Fly Me Courageous.
The band has experienced something of a resurgence in the last several years, thanks to a multi-generational following as well as some higher profile artists covering their songs. Songwriter and band leader Kevn Kinney formed the band in Atlanta in 1985, and continues to push the group ahead with a consistent output of new music. The band is prepping a new album for 2019, but is set to start the year off with a pair of shows at the Tybee Post Theater on Jan. 11 and 12.
Ahead of the sold-out shows, which Kinney says will be a unique and special career retrospective, we spoke to Kinney about the evolution of the band, his guitar heroes, and that Darius Rucker cover.
When you started this band, was it a vehicle for anything you wanted to explore musically? Or did you say, “I’m going to do a straight up rock thing, or Southern rock thing, or folk thing,” etc.?
Kevn Kinney: It started off definitely not a southern rock thing. The southern rock part of Drivin N Cryin was kind of just a fluke. We had a song called "Honeysuckle Blue" which is really about New York City, and a radio station picked it up. It has a Skynyrd-esque kind of thing, but it's also part Television and part other things.
I’ve never owned a Lynyrd Skynyrd record. I’ve become friends with them when we play with them, and I really like them for totally different reasons than other people do. They had guitar cables and a limited light show. They didn’t have all this pizzazz.
Drivin N Cryin has always been, for me, whatever we want to do. We called ourselves more of a psychedelic band in the first few years. We were attempting to be a psychedelic band, but I didn’t want psychedelic-meaning-sitars. I wanted psychedelic meaning challenging - it messes with your preconceived notions of what you think this is. So Scarred But Smarter has a little bit of jazz on it, some Sabbath riffs, some Hendrix licks. It’s got that X and Ramones, and that almost pre-Nirvana thing.
If you think about even the psych-rock bands of the ‘60s like 13th Floor Elevators, it was exactly what you said - just sort of challenging music for the time.
Kinney: And it was raw, and it was unexpected. Our thing was, let's have a rock song and actually put a poem in there. Which is what I learned from being a Patti Smith fan.
Who were your heroes growing up as a guitar player? There is the Richard Lloyd/Television thing that happens with the guitar interplay, and the Ramones punk rock - you're playing Mosrites and that sort of thing. Were those guys your heroes growing up?
Kinney: Yeah. Johnny Ramone was definitely one of my heroes. I have three other guitar heroes. Robin Trower — and Robin Trower wouldn't be Robin Trower without Hendrix. Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith Group is one of my heroes. Johnny Ramone, I love Jimmy Page, I love Tony Iommi. All the riffs come from Tony Iommi.
Those early Sabbath records are unreal.
Kinney: Unreal, and he's a little underappreciated. Pete Townshend, of course, with the jingle jangle. Duane Eddy and Glen Campbell for all those solos that I do, Link Wray, and then for the jangle and the counter melodies I'd say Peter Buck.
R.E.M. is my favorite band of all time.
Kinney: I would love for some DJ to put together the intro licks to R.E.M. records and do a mix of it — maybe do "So. Central Rain" and then put it back in the middle, and then at the end construct a song with just Peter Buck's intro licks.
So much of that stuff was not of its time. He's a rhythm player, but it's all hooks.
Kinney: I think that his intro licks are some of the best ever written.
The last thing I want to ask about - I think everybody knows the "Straight to Hell" thing with Darius' cover. I'm curious if you ever thought a song like that would have a second life like it has in that context?
Kinney: It's a very courageous and bold thing for Darius to do. If the song was called, "Just Like My Mama Said," and if it wasn't so many straight-to-hell's in a row, it probably would be a hit on country radio. But I don't think that Starkville, Mississippi, is quite ready for that yet.
I thought it was fantastic that Darius did that. It took a lot of balls for him to do that. They even did the video, and he got every country star he knew to be on it. He fucking committed, and I was so proud of him for it. I sing it every night, so I know that there’s a lot of people who are kind of a little ashamed [laughs]. Because I know the Baptists out there, but it’s all good!
We don’t ask people to commit and we’re a heavy metal, hard rock, pop rock band. But country music is the last closed society of songwriting. It’s the last vestige of the Hollywood system. There were no independent filmmakers writing their own movies in 1940 and 1950. It was about finding the right screenwriter - everybody had their place. Everybody did was Universal said, or what MGM. That’s what you did.
Country music is the last part of that - it’s all about the Opry, getting inducted, who you are and who writes the songs. It’s fascinating. People are like, “We don’t need that anymore. We need to go back to old fashioned country and outlaw country.” Outlaw country is just fine the way it is.
The thing about “Straight to Hell” is that it doesn’t belong to me anymore. So many bands have played it, and I’m so honored that they’ve done it. Bob Schneider has done one of the most beautiful version. I love it because when I’m singing it I see my own movie in my head. I see my own living room as a kid, I see my mom and I see my sister, and it’s all real to me. I hope everybody else has their own version of that.
The thing about Darius’ version that makes it so amazing is that he obviously has this huge platform, but at the end of the day it’s just a song that he loved in college and he just went to bat for it.
Kinney: Because he knows that it's not about going to hell. It's about your mom's preconceived idea that she doesn't want you to end up like her. She wants you to be in love and love the one that you pick. The song looks a lot more dangerous than it is. It's a love song, you know? I wish it would've been a bigger hit for him, because I know that he put a lot of effort into it. He was hoping that the people in country music would've embraced it and read the book not the cover.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I'm super excited for these shows.
Kinney: Well, they're going to be very unique Drivin N Cryin shows. It's kind of my homecoming. It was the first city I ever lived in Georgia. I lived there for a month.
When I moved from Milwaukee I moved to Tybee Island. It was the first time I ever knew that there was salt in the water, the first time I ever saw a palm tree.
A lot of my best friends live on Tybee, so that was a catalyst for this. They offered the show and so we turned it into a two-night thing. It’s going to be a career retrospective kind of show.