Interview: Aaron Lee Tasjan, Drivin N Cryin’s Kevn Kinney Reflect on Friendship, Musical Collaborations
When Drivin N Cryin frontman Kevn Kinney tapped Americana stalwart Aaron Lee Tasjan to produce the band's 2019 album, Live the Love Beautiful, he decided to, essentially, cede all creative control. "I left the final decisions to Aaron," Kinney told The Boot at the 2019 Billy Reid Shindig in Florence, Ala.
"I did not mix the record. No one in the band was allowed to go into the mix," he adds. "We recorded everything and then just gave it to him."
Kinney wasn't totally putting his blind trust in Tasjan's work, though: The pair have been friends for several years, and Kinney has a fairly intimate knowledge of Tasjan's musical style.
"His records sound really great. His records and [psychedelic rocker] Chuck Prophet's records are some of my favorites, as an intricacy and sonic landscape," Kinney explains. As a fan, he had no problem handing over his album's aesthetic to the talented younger artist.
But despite their longstanding friendship, Tasjan admits that the responsibility stressed him out a little bit. "Super intimidating!" he told The Boot at AmericanaFest 2019, with a big, open laugh. After all, Tasjan doesn't just know Kinney as a friend -- he's been a Drivin N Cryin fan for much of his life.
Though Tasjan's fandom upped the stakes, it also made him a good choice to produce the record. "I think, in a lot of ways, I wasn't a bad candidate for that role so far as I've been a fan of that band for a really long time. I know the catalog super well," he explains. "And I've gotten to know Kevn personally, as a friend and as an artist, over the past eight years or so. So, in that way, I probably had certain sensitivities that just any old producer might not have had."
After Kinney and Tasjan first met, their friendship instantly led to a musical partnership: "When I first met Aaron, I met him in the basement of a pizza restaurant [in New York City]. I invited him to come to Europe with me, and he just showed up in Amsterdam, and we did a tour. He was such a great guitar player," Kinney recalls. Aside from his appreciation of Tasjan's own discography, Kinney says that the younger singer's knowledge of Drivin N Cryin's history impressed him, especially since the two were so far away from his core Southern rock fanbase.
"He also owned some of my records. A lot of my New York friends were, like, stunned, because nobody's ever heard of me in New York," he continues. "I still play to 200 people in New York. So my friends were like, 'Hey, you know, Aaron has your records.'"
Tasked with producing Live the Love Beautiful, Tasjan set out to make the kind of record that he, as a Drivin N Cryin fan, would want to hear. "My main goal was to try and create -- and this is a really hard thing to do -- but to try and create some of the feeling that I got when I was standing in front of them watching them play a show," he relates.
"We did a lot of the record live, and then went back in and refined a few things, but my idea was that, when you go and see them and go through their catalog, it's all these different styles," Tasjan goes on to say. "Kevn can do so much with the range of his voice, because he has such a unique timbre to it. I just thought it'd be cool to have a Drivin N Cryin record that sonically represented all those styles, but at the same time just had that thread of energy of seeing the band live, just kind of tying it together in that way."
Kinney admits that there were a few aspects of Tasjan's treatment that initially surprised him: "Some of the things that Aaron did on there, I had to get used to. Because I was like, 'Wow, my voice is kind of loud there,' and, 'That's a weird guitar sound' -- things like that," he says, adding that that adjustment period was an important part of why he'd enlisted Tasjan's help in the first place.
"I had to allow myself to think outside my own self," Kinney notes. "[Tasjan] knows me inside and out, you know? As it gets later in my life, and I continue making records, every one is pretty special. I wanna make sure I get every bit I can out of what's around me, and be aware of my surroundings. So as I'm looking around, saying, 'I need to make another record,' [it's important to think about] 'Well, what can I take advantage of here?'"
Tasjan points out that delegating producer duties to someone else allowed Kinney to fully dive into the messaging of the project. "I think as much as he left decisions about recording and mixing and stuff up to me, what really makes it work is Kevn's vision as a songwriter and as a lyricist," he muses. "And the bravery that he explored by writing lyrics that are really personal. That is really what makes it a unique Drivin N Cryin record, to me.
"So many times -- like on [1991's] Fly Me Courageous -- I mean, those lyrics could be about so many things," Tasjan explains. "It could be about a relationship. It could be about America! But I think, in this instance, he really pulled out things that were super specific and personal to him, and I get chills just thinking about it.
"When Kevn wants to go deep," Tasjan adds, "he can go deep."
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