Atlanta indie band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, still going strong as they are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their founding in 1985 by singer/songwriter Kevn Kinney, guitarist Tim Nielsen and drummer Paul Lenz, are the subjects of the evh pic/Shanzing Films documentary Scarred But Smarter (life n times of drivin n cryin).
The film, named after the group’s 1986 debut album, was directed and financed by Eric Von Haessler, a founding member of the famed Atlanta morning show team of The Regular Guys on WNNX Rock 100.5, who devoted three years of his life to bringing the history of the band to the screen. After rave reviews from various screenings, including the Atlanta Film Festival, the movie will be released on DVD and BluRay in record stores and Amazon.com on November 4th and is available now at www.scarredbutsmarterdoc.com.
“I knew Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ were great,” says Von Haessler. “I wanted to know why they weren’t more of a rock ’n’ roll success. What I found out is they are.”
Rolling Stone once praised Drivin’ N’ Cryin’: “Crunching hard rock is the drivin’ part, brittle countryish balladry the cryin’, with the two linked by a heavy dose of Led Zeppelinphilia. If Paul Westerberg had grown up worshiping Angus Young instead of Alex Chilton, the Replacements might have sounded something like this Atlanta band.”
Von Haessler first interviewed the band in 1998 on his Regular Guys show at 96-Rock in Atlanta, where Kinney claims he was “clueless about who we were.” The DJ reconnected with them more than ten years later when they returned as guests on the WNNX incarnation of the Regular Guys show in September 2009. Shortly thereafter he hatched the idea to make a movie about the group, formed in Atlanta by Milwaukee native Kinney and Minneapolis expatriate Nielsen, who emerged from their respective punk bands the Prosecutors and the Nightporters.
Scarred But Smarter tracks down the band’s fascinating, behind-the-scenes story, warts and all, including how they got their name from early producer/studio owner and frequent collaborator Frank French: “It was kind of a pun on Homer and Jethro or Peter and Gordon. But it summed up the way the songs were. They were really either drivin’ songs or cryin’ songs.”
Back in the mid-’80s, the group was part of a Southern indie rock movement that included R.E.M. in Athens, the Connells in Raleigh, NC, and the dB’s in Winston-Salem. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck was an early fan and a close friend of Kevn’s, helping him get clean at one point. “Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ is a great band who have made a million great records,” he says. “They’re successful because they keep playing. They’re still here.”
Their biggest commercial success was 1991’s Fly Me Courageous, their fourth album, which reached #90 on the Billboard Top 200, with the title track going to #15 at Modern Rock and #19 at Mainstream Rock. Other Top 20 Mainstream Rock hits include 1991’s “Build a Fire” (#15) and 1993’s “Turn It Up or Turn It Off” (#11).
“Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ just keep getting better over time,” insists Von Haessler. “Successful or not, they are an enigma surrounded by mystery stored in a box full of question marks … How did they ever become Southern rock legends when the two founding members are both from the northernmost areas of the Midwest?”
Scarred but Smarter, a definitive look at this underappreciated but influential band, answers that and many other questions
“I formed a band so I could get free beer and girls,” laughs Kinney, who moved to Atlanta because of the great weather he saw on the TV series Flipper, then spent three months sleeping in the back of his Honda and playing local clubs after securing a job at the local sewage plant.
“Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ got exactly what they had coming to them,” he tells Von Haessler. “Fame … and not fame. Fortune … and no fortune.
That hasn’t stopped Kinney, who most recently wrote “Cherlene” for the soundtrack to the hit FX show Archer. The group released Songs for the Turntable, on indie Blank Records, in January, the fourth in a series of four EPs the band has released over the past 18 months.
Velena Vego, promoter at the 40-Watt Club in Athens and The Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta, calls Kevn Kinney “the Neil Young of our generation.”
Darius Rucker, a contemporary as the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish and currently a Grammy-winning Country singer, said simply, “Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ was real important to all of us.”
Scarred But Smarter (life n times of drivin n cryin) offers definitive proof of this importance through testimony from a cavalcade of stars and insiders who were there through the band’s incredible first thirty years.