The right collaborator proved key in bringing about the first new Drivin N Cryin album in a decade — Live the Love Beautiful, whose "Step By Step" video (animated by DJ Edwards) is premiering exclusively below.
DNC hasn't been entirely idle during that time on the recording front; The group did release four EPs and a remastered, retitled edition of its self-titled 1997 album during the interim since 2009's The Great American Bubble Factory. But frontman Kevn Kinney tells Billboard the idea of another full-length was daunting. "It's crazy, because I can do a five-song EP in four days, three days, but for some reason it takes me months to make those four more songs that turn it into an album," Kinney notes with a laugh. "I really loved the EP thing, and I was trying to wrap my head around making an album again. It's crazy, but that's why you have a producer — and luckily I did not have to produce this one."
For Live the Love Beautiful that job went to Aaron Lee Tasjan, who was part of DNC from 2014-16 and was Kinney's roommate in New York City before launching his own artist career. "Aaron's been making these great albums, really clean-sounding, just refreshing," Kinney explains. "He took the reins and took it home, and I got to be a songwriter and the singer and not worry about anything else, and Aaron did a really great job."
Kinney and company wrote much of Live the Love Beautiful at Tasjan's house in Nashville before taking it into 1979 Studio. Featuring new guitarist Laur Joamets, who previously worked with Sturgill Simpson, the 11-track set is among DNC's strongest, a dynamic and diverse Americana excursion with touches of garage and psychedelic rock (the latter on the trippy "If I'm Not There I'll Be Here"), folk and country. There's a socio-political outlook in songs such as "Free Ain't Free" and "Spies," along with plenty of personal reflection and a tribute to the late "Ian McLagan" that sounds like an outtake from the Faces' Ooh La La. The gospel-tinged "Step By Step," meanwhile, is drawn directly from a darker chapter of Kinney's life.
"'Step By Step' is my story, a true story about me breaking all the different little addictions that you acquire after being in a rock band for 30 years," he says. "I had a very brief, little cocaine addiction in the '90s that lasted a year or something like that but was really intense. I also quit cigarettes two years ago, and that was a huge addiction. There were a lot of those along the way, so it's just step by step, one day at a time.
"It's kind of a neo-gospel song," Kinney adds, dryly. "I'm hoping it'll be a Dove (Award) nominee…"
Despite some dark overtones, however, Kinney considers Live the Love Beautiful — due out June 21 with guest appearances by Elizabeth Cook and the McCrary Sisters — to be positive. "Oh yeah, absolutely," he says. "I tried not to have anything negative on there — I mean, there's a song called 'What's Wrong With Being Happy?,' y'know? It's a tough era right now out there in America. There's a lot of things that are troubling. But I'm always inspired to write new stuff, and I'm really happy to be in a band and still have it going for so long, and I want that gratitude to be felt in the music, too."