When Drivin N Cryin bassist Tim Nielsen walked in to our interview at Pitt Street Pharmacy in the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant earlier this week, he wore an Atlanta Braves hat and a Hall of Fame campaign shirt for Braves legend Dale Murphy. Tim may live in Charleston now, but it’s clear that he stays true to his ATLien roots, which are further anchored by the Atlanta rock legend status of Drivin N Cryin, of which he and songwriter Kevn Kinney have been members since the band’s formation in the mid-80s. Now, more than 30 years after the 1986 release of their debut album, Scarred but Smarter, Drivin N Cryin are gearing up to release their ninth studio album, Live the Love Beautiful, on Friday, June 21st.
Drivin N Cryin have covered a lot of ground in their long run as a band, both on the road and sonically. Frequent lineup changes on guitar and drums and the seeping in of new influences, pressure from record labels, and of course the evolving music industry has had them traversing sonic territory ranging from country to hard rock, and everything in between. Still, there is a distinct thread running through all the music of Drivin N Cryin that allows it all to fit under the same umbrella, and Live the Love Beautiful feels right at home in their discography.
“Who knows why we made all these crazy decisions in our career, but somehow, somehow, you can go through just song after song, and they’re all different, but it all works,” Tim explains. “It all has the same kind of vibe, you know. There’s an acoustic guitar somewhere in there, and there’s Kevn’s voice, and it kind of all ties it together. I’ve never had a problem with folk music, or country music, or bluegrass music, or playing punk rock and hard rock in the same minute. I like all those different kinds of music, and so it’s always made sense.”
In its current form, Drivin N Cryin is a four-piece that includes Kevn Kinney on guitar and vocals, Tim Nielsen on bass, Dave Johnson on drums, and Laur Joamets on lead guitar. Joamets played in Sturgill Simpson’s band back when the breakout Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was released, and he joined Drivin N Cryin shortly after parting ways with Sturgill back in 2017.
According to Tim, Live the Love Beautiful is a celebration of the band’s history, but it’s also a celebration of who they are as musicians and as people today. This celebration has manifested itself in a record that stays true to the Southern rock beginnings of Drivin N Cryin, yet stands on its own two feet in the musical landscape of 2019. Producer Aaron Lee Tasjan was a key player in this, as much of the record was written at his house in East Nashville and recorded with him at Welcome to 1979 (two songs were done in Charleston with Matt Zutell). The arrangements on Live the Love Beautiful have enough twists and surprises to keep your attention, which is especially important in the world of streaming where it’s easier than ever to skip a boring song.
“It was interesting this time, because the first time we met at Aaron’s house in Nashville, and we had a vague idea of the music that we were gonna try to work on,” Tim says. “Kevn had his phone, and he was pulling up little bits and pieces of ideas, little musical riffs and song titles. So a few songs developed that way, and we were just kind of sitting there jamming. During those times where we were sitting down writing these songs, I was just experimenting with different melodies and stuff on the bass, and Aaron would be like, ‘No, no no, do that, do that. Fuck yeah.’ That whole thing on ‘Ian McLagan’, the bass walkdown, we were just smoking a bunch of weed and he was like, ‘that‘. We had just discovered that song minutes earlier.”
In addition to being one of the most sonically pleasing songs on the album, it’s also a standout in the lyrical department. The song is a tribute to the late Ian McLagan is most well-known for playing in the Small Faces and the Faces, but continued to play music after those bands ended. Kevn’s songwriting finds a sentimental wedge with McLagan’s story, pointing out that, “Some people do one thing / talk about it all of their lives / Ian McLagan keeps doing it / it’s what keeps him alive”. Tim had an interesting analogy to help explain the message that Kevn is getting at.
“I watch a lot of soccer games, in the Premier League and stuff, so I put it into that context,” Tim explains. “Let’s say your team won the European Cup. And then you went on to retire, and then you just sat in a pub and all you did was talk about, ‘Yeah, remember when I won…’, and that’s it. But if you won the cup and then dedicated your life to coaching and teaching soccer and being part of an organization, and continuing to be in the business because you loved it. The point is, if you have some sort of success early in your career, don’t just sit around and talk about it, keep doing it. In any job that you might have, if you love your job, you’re lucky.”
“Ian McLagan” isn’t the only song on Live the Love Beautiful to tap into this nostalgic current. The whole record is seeping with nostalgia, and songs like “Over and Over” even get into meta territory. There Kevn sings about picking up a copy of Scarred but Smarter and giving it a listen, which then sends him off thinking about what his life was like back then. Kevn also sings about enjoying the old songs, and so I asked Tim what it’s like listening to his own recordings from the early days.
“Mystery Road is probably the one we’re most proud of, but the reverb on the snares is kind of ridiculous,” Tim laughs. “Back then it was more about having certain sounds that were perfect, and now it’s kind of about the overall feel, and the groove. Sometimes you surprise yourself. I’m a better musician now than I was back then, but then you listen to something you did back then, it’s like, ‘Well, I guess that’s pretty good, too. Did I really play that?’ Maybe somebody came in at night and replayed it all. Whoever went back in there and played that bass part, thanks.”
Continuing the celebration of Drivin N Cryin history, Live the Love Beautiful actually contains a few older songs that have never appeared on studio albums. According to Tim, “If I’m Not There I’ll Be Here” is an old song that was originally acoustic, and they added the “viking charge” drum part and fleshed it out for this record. “Sometimes I Wish I Didn’t Care” originally appeared on the band’s 1999 live album The Essential Live, and will make its studio debut on Live the Love Beautiful.
If you want to hear some of these new (and old) tunes live, Drivin N Cryin will be here in Charleston at the Windjammer on Friday, May 24th for an outdoor sunset concert. The Windjammer is somewhat of a home turf for Drivin N Cryin, as they’ve been playing there since the 80s, back before the old building was washed away by Hurricane Hugo. Tickets to Drivin N Cryin at the Windjammer are $18 and available here.
Pre-order Live the Love Beautiful at drivinncryin.com. Listen to the singles “Step By Step” and “Ian McLagan” below. Animation by our pal DJ Edwards.