Published August 1995, The Aquarian Weekly
"Sometimes I feel very much like Bilbo Baggins from Lord Of The Rings," chuckles Drivin' 'N' Cryin' guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kevn Kinney during a recent phone call. "A shy, introverted little thief listening to old records, stealing the licks and putting his poetry to 'em. His complete inability," he laughs, "to play other people's songs drives him to invent new songs that he actually can play."
Formed in Atlanta in 1985, the career of Drivin' 'N' Cryin' (named after a song by Kinney) has come full-circle in the last 10 years - from garages and local gigs, to arena tours and MTV mega-stardom ... and back, again, to relative obscurity.
"I'm really proud of this record," says Kinney of Wrapped In Sky, his eighth album and first release on Geffen Records. "Proud that I even got the chance to make this record! I didn't always feel that way about our music. This album was put together as a collective piece of art," he adds. "There's sort of a theme ... light, wind, air, sky ... it's very bright, very comfortable - although I've also heard it described as sort of homesick or bittersweet ... and that's kind of true, too."
Originally comprised of Kinney, bassist Tim Nielson and drummer Paul Lenz, the ragged young pop-rock trio first drew the attention of indie label 688 Records, who signed the band in '85 and released Scarred But Smarter to wide critical acclaim and impressive college radio sales.
"Boy, it's actually kind of weird
working in an industry that has, really, no top and no bottom. Where people
will kill themself to be famous forever - people who need to be number-one,
forever. What a strange, strange concept."
~ Drivin' 'N' Cryin's Kevn Kinney ~
Jettisoning the somewhat unpredictable Lenz for early Black Crowe's drummer Jeff Sullivan, Drivin' 'N' Cryin' signed with Island Records and released Whisper Tames The Lion in 1988.
The band then added R.E.M. touring guitarist Buren Fowler to the lineup and hit the road with a much heavier, guitar-oriented sound. The revamped Drivin' N' Cryin' released Mystery Road, Fly Me Courageous and Smoke between 1991-93. These albums seriously upped the amperage and landed a guitar-dominated Drivin' N' Cryin' on the pages of metal magazines such as Kerrang! and Circus. Meanwhile, the videos for "Fly Me Courageous" and "Build A Fire" kept popping up on MTV every 15-minutes or so.
Kinney somehow found the time during this busy, highly-successful period, to release the fine, folksy solo album MacDougal Blues and the stripped-down, self-produced, Down Out Law.
Heading in a rootsier, more reflective direction (turning 30'll do that to you), Kinney asked riff-mongering guitarist Fowler to leave the band and added occasional Soul Asylum keyboardist Joey Huffman. Drivin' 'N' Cryin' then booked a short rehearsal tour before entering the studio to record their Geffen debut, Wrapped In Sky.
"I'm really getting off on singing words and writing again, writing real words," enthuses Kinney. "It's something I haven't done for two records. For the last album (Smoke), I refused to even write the words down, refused to even attempt to interpret them for a lyric sheet - or the publishing rights, for that matter. I just wasn't into it at all. The reason I write songs," he adds, "is to express how I feel about things ... it's all very emotional. The lyrics for those particular songs fit the riffs more than they meant anything to me."
Drivin' N' Cryin's new album turns down the hard rock guitar of the last few efforts and, instead, draws on folk, country, Latin, bluegrass, psychedelic pop and a looser, rootsier, mellower form of rock 'n' roll to get Kinney's messages across. The band hits a loose, effortless, confident groove early-on, resulting in an intimate, comfortable, first-take feel throughout Wrapped In Sky.
"I really do like that 'rock band' vibe," chuckles Kinney. "The suggestions, riffs and ideas that bounce around in a band environment are ... it's a feeling you get only when you're in a band - generally, your very first band."
"I love this record," continues Kinney. "There's emotional, meaningful music on it. This album was really good for the band, too, in that we've been doing this for such a long, long time and ... well, let's just say the drive is there again. We're back to working like we were on our first three records, like, 'Hey guys, let's go, we've got absolutely nothing to lose.' "
"We wanted to go back to doing different styles, moods and feelings with our music and get rid of that heavy rock 'n' roll thing that we'd already done - over and over again. My musical goal, now," he adds, "is that I really just want to try and make good records and not worry about constantly acheiving or maintaining some sort of quest for the golden grail of sales."
"Boy, it's actually kind of weird working in an industry," ponders Kinney after a long pause, "that has, really, no top and no bottom. Where people will kill themself to be famous forever - people who need to be number-one, forever. What a strange, strange concept."
-- AL MUZER