Drivin' n' Cryin' emerged from Atlanta, Ga., on the coattails of Athens' jangle pop explosion, with more guitar bite than the then-ubiquitous R.E.M. wannabes. Inspired by the bar band ethos, they developed their own crunchy rock take on Southern roots.
But late '80s college rock success didn't translate to modern rock radio. They called it quits in the late '90s, while Kevn Kinney pursued a solo career. The band returned in 2009, though, with their first studio album in a dozen years, the terrific Whatever Happened To the Great American Bubble Factory? Back from surgery to remove nodes from his throat, Kinney sounds in fine voice, while the band fashions a particularly meaty rock roar behind songs about working-class troubles and corporate indifference.
We caught up with Kinney in New York City, where he's resided full-time the last four years.
Drivin' n' Cryin' are an assisted art project, so people can do what they like with it. I personally don't like the apostrophes; the record company added them when the first record came out. I never put an apostrophe. It's just Drivin N Cryin—with no dots, stars, umlauts or whatever.
Nobody knows what that is. Of the two hits I've had, the first one was "Straight to Hell." It was a song so stupid that even the band didn't want publishing on it. It became a hit three years latter because some radio station in Atlanta started playing it, and it went "radio viral" back when DJs could still kinda play what they wanted to.
I've written songs that I thought were going to be huge hits. I wrote "If I Was Born on the Right Side of Town," which was like "Straight to Hell" and had a big chorus to it. You've never heard of it. And "Fly Me Courageous" was just nonsense. Anton Fier [legendary Ohio drummer and the band's producer] asked me what it was about last night. I told him I have no idea. It was time to record, and I just wrote a bunch of words down.
Trying to keep your head above water. Trying to remain positive. My American Dream is to go see music, poetry and art that come out of the people of America. I think the American Dream to other people is getting in way over their head and driving cars they can't afford, living in houses they can't afford and then having financial institutions profit off them constantly through credit. To me, the American Dream is to have zero credit and enjoy your life within your means.
I took a Valium and fell asleep and the next thing I knew I couldn't talk for six weeks. Then I had a voice. Before I had the surgery, my whole life was pretty much a series of grunts, people pretending they knew what I was saying and nodding a lot. My wife said, "Man, you have to get this fixed." I couldn't do phone interviews. I couldn't promote records. I couldn't do more than two shows in a row, and then when I did, I'd have to have like eight days off to rest. I could have like four shows a month. Thank God they took care of it.
I think that's more of an out-west understanding; in the South it's "mold never sleeps." If you leave your storage for two years without checking it, you're in for a big surprise. But I've been doing this a long time. Sometimes I look at myself and go, "Man, you are a burnout. You're washed up." And then it dawns on me—to be a burnout, you had to once have been on fire. And to be washed up, you at least went out there and set to sea.