Kevn Kinney has a chat with us about his latest solo record ‘Think about It’



Frontman of Drivin n Cryin Kevn Kinney, has been in the works of putting together his first solo record in 10 years which dropped last week!

Kevn’s new album Think About It features R.E.M co-founders Peter Buck and Bill Berry, as well as Brad Morgan of Drive-By Truckers, Laur Joamets (Drivin N Cryin, Midland, Sturgill Simpson) and many more incredible musicians. The record is rooted in introspective solitude within the pandemic and glimpses at the emotions experienced during the passing of the iconic oddball musical/improvisational genius and lighting-rod philosopher Col. Bruce Hampton, an old and dear friend of Kevn’s. 

A collection of songs that show Kevn’s talents in their purest form, Think About It was recorded in indie-music mecca Athens, GA., with ex-Sugar bassist and driven producer David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, Lee Bains, Son Volt) who took the wheel and slammed the accelerator. By unveiling some new dimensions of the artist who is continuously expanding and reflecting through his muse, Kevn intertwines and embraces various styles and genres of music. 

“When Col. Bruce died [back in 2017], I had the idea of taking a different approach, having all these different styles of musicians play with me—something, in the spirit of Bruce, that was a little more out there,” Kinney expresses. 

Credit: Press

In the collection, Kevn explores a down-to-earth alt-country and Americana atmosphere through his tracks, Half Mast and Close the Door, then delves into a more sinister folksy tone through Catching Up to Myself. Through Scarlet Butterfly and Stop Look Listen Think he makes his way over to a melodic, hook-heavy driven clinky-clanky rock feel.  To completely change up the vibe, Kevn enters into a finger-snapping beatnik jazz and spoken word trance in Think About It, Shapeshifter Grifter, and Never the Twain Shall Meet. To end this wild ride of an album, Kevn cranks a proggy tone as the use of flute guides a traditional folk sound in Down in the City as it explores feeling alone in a crowd or a vast space. The delicate and beautiful overload of strings sparks the track Wishes, which is a tribute to vagabond truck drivers, salespeople and circus performers. It explores the story of a man who is stuck behind the wheel, yearning for home in a time when communicating with your distant loved ones was only possible through a pay phone. But here this man learns to embrace the feeling of loneliness, becomes familiar with it and less afraid.

The making for the album didn’t kick off until a few rotations around the sun, in January 2020 at Barbe’s Chase Park Transduction Studios. The album gradually evolved into a split of two distinctive sets of musicians who vibrantly complimented each other. The first side is coloured with acoustic, brushed drums, double bass and projections of spoken word that are carried with rhythmic essences from Scott and Stanley. Whereas the second one is coated in a full sound of electric rock and roll, pounded with drums from Morgan and oozing with Barbe on the bass with Buck leaving a distinctive guitar riff plucked on his classic Rickenbacker 6- and 12-strings, as well as a potent nudge. Coming in with the dynamic Stop Look Listen Think, Berry beats the kit and percussion as well as bringing his knowledge for key arrangements for several tracks on the album, including the intrinsic Half Mast. These two halves of a whole album that delves into an exploration of genres are sewn together delicately by Kevn’s flowing lyrical thoughts, Joamets innovative pedal-steel guitar playing and Barbe’s sharp musical vision and sonic qualities. 

Credit: Kevn Kinney

Isolation and separation were apparent in the making of this album as the musicians were surrounded by the pandemic and unable to be completely together. This distance intertwined itself into not just the recording process but the atmosphere of the album. “We ended up working with a lot of amazing musicians who were available locally in Athens and Atlanta, and the situation made it easy for David and I to focus on the music since there weren’t friends and guests dropping in all the time. I really appreciated that aspect of it” Kevn expresses. Beyond this covid-lockdown self-reflection mindset that the album consists of, the tracks provide new abstract and pointed critiques of modern instant-gratification social media and cell-phone culture, nodding to hyper-connected people who clutter their lives with digital detritus to the point that there is no longer room for dreams and a sense of curiosity about the world or themselves. 

“Really, it’s a record for people to listen to by themselves” Kevn believes. “There’s a lot of longing and thinking in it. I grew up in a version of America and the world before even answering machines or Star 69. The album expresses this desire to have time to actually ponder and reflect—like, give me a minute, let me think about it.”

Loneliness is exposed through this collection of songs as something that can be a positive experience if one obtains the right mindset within it.  “I think a lot of people these days are afraid to be by themselves or to not be connected,” Kinney says. “And I think when you embrace the loneliness, there can be enlightenment in that. And that idea is central to Think About It…all the conversations we have with ourselves while sitting alone waiting to do things…Am I in touch with who I think I am? Where do I stand in the world?”

Happy got the chance to have a chat with Kevn about the production and writing process of Think about It as well as his musical journey so far. Have a read below to learn more about what this incredible musician has been getting up to.

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Credit: Press

HAPPY: Hey thanks for chatting with us! What are you looking forward to this week?

KEVN KINNEY: My new record Think About It is coming out this Friday.

HAPPY: Tell us more about your hometown or the suburb you live in.

KEVN KINNEY: I’m originally from Milwaukee. It’s a working-class factory town… except the factories left in the 1970s. It’s a great community—a complicated, multiracial city. It rounded me out.

HAPPY: Tell us what it was like to work and create with Peter Buck, Bill Berry, Brad Morgan, David Barbe and all of the other musicians on the record. What was the writing and recording process like? How did you flow together?

KEVN KINNEY: I started making Think About It before the shutdown. I had a meeting with [producer & bassist] David Barbe in the fall of 2019, and we discussed our approach. We wanted a sparse personal perspective. And we also had a pretty ambitious wish list of guitar players and rhythm sections. Brad [from Drive-By Truckers] had been on my radar for a while, and we were of course honoured to have Bill [from R.E.M.] play on a song—both he and Brad had worked with David before. It was all pretty exciting to me.

HAPPY: How did grieving and honouring your old friend Bruce Hampton translate through these tracks?

KEVN KINNEY: The piano jam track ShapeShifterGrifter was some prose I wrote after the night at The Fox Theatre when he passed. Bassist Kevin Scott and drummer Darren Stanley—who both play on Shapeshifter and several other songs on Think About It—used to played with the Colonel and were really a key part of what I was basing the project around. Side one is all Kevin and Darren, and side two is Brad and Bill on drums and David on bass.

HAPPY: Tell us what artists, songs, feelings and experiences inspired Another Scarlet Butterfly.

KEVN KINNEY: That’s a song I wrote in 1983 before Drivin N Cryin. It’s on our 1986 debut record, Scarred But Smarter, but I felt the words were relevant to these times. Peter Buck wrote the melody riff on this new version, played on the same Rickenbacker guitar he used in R.E.M., and we coupled it with Laur Joamets, who plays guitar in Drivin N Cryin, and who contributed his parts for the new record from his home studio in Nashville. The song is heavily influenced by the Patti Smith Group.
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Credit: Kevn Kinney

HAPPY: It’d be interesting to hear more about how this album explores the “abstract and pointed critiques of modern instant-gratification within social-media and cell-phone culture, where hyper-connected people clutter their lives with digital detritus until there’s no space left to wonder or dream.”

KEVN KINNEY: I don’t have a daily addiction to social media. I’m afraid to even go down that path. I’d rather draw moustaches on bus stop benches. And if I did, I wouldn’t drive by every day to see the comments. I of course think information is important, but I think learning how to filter and analyse it before reacting is paramount, and a skill one needs to perfect. Stop. Think.

HAPPY: Describe what it’s like for you to embrace loneliness and how it can be enlightening and empowering for you.

KEVN KINNEY: I think loneliness is a necessary emotion. I know people who embrace loneliness and use it to create and expound on things. I think we tend to be afraid of solitude, by nature. Personally, I’m a little tired of it after 40 years of driving around the last million miles—but some days I just love it. I was born with that Irish wanderlust!

HAPPY: If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

KEVN KINNEY: Ireland. I’ve never been.

HAPPY: Which tv show are you currently watching?

KEVN KINNEY: Wednesday!

HAPPY: What did you read last that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective?

KEVN KINNEY: Lighting Strikes by Lenny Kaye. He’s such a great writer who writes in his own voice. You can hear his cadence. It’s not just another rock history book. It’s about how music scenes develop, and all the moving parts it takes to create a movement. An acknowledgment of the unacknowledged.

HAPPY: What’s something someone has said about your music that you hold close to you?

KEVN KINNEY: After over 35 years of traveling and sharing music with people, it’s been nice lately to hear these 50-year-olds tell me how much our music means to them in their times of confusion and disparity, and also all the great sitting-on-a-roof smoking-a-joint memories it sound tracked for them. I like both and feel honoured to be a small part of their lives remotely. That, and someone once said, “You don’t suck.” I just said thank you.

Kevn Kinney’s Think About It is out now! Check it out below. 

Interviewed by Olivia Adams.

Photos supplied.