Interview – Emily Kinney

It is not uncommon for young students to move from the comfort of their hometown and take a leap of faith into the unknown of New York City. A place that could easily eat up anyone, Nebraska native Emily Kinney stared at the Big Apple in the face and said she would not be intimidated! Standing her ground, after graduating from school, she worked in city coffee shops, befriending others in the music and acting world along the way. Soon honing her skills, Kinney would go on to establish herself as a well-known professional actress in various big time Television series including Law & Order, Showtime’s Masters of Sex, ABC’s Conviction, as well as an extensive time as Beth Greene in AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Through it all, Kinney has been steadfast with her biggest passion of all, music. Releasing her debut album This Is War in 2015, she now is set to return with Oh, Jonathan on Friday, August 24th. Perhaps her most mature collection of songs to date, the multi-talented Kinney took the time to talk about balancing her acting and music career, the fanfare of The Walking Dead, the concept behind Oh, Jonathan, plus more. – As a young actress, after graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan University, you moved to New York City to pursue your acting career. Having since built a strong career in film and television, how would you describe the journey you have traveled thus far?

Emily Kinney – It’s hard to sum it up. (Laughs) Every project has been really different and really taught me a lot. I first started out doing more theater, then Broadway, and doing 8 shows a week really strengthened my abilities as an actor and performer. Television has taught me a lot too. Working on Law and Order, if you are a New York actor, is an important benchmark. Obviously The Walking Dead was great and had a bigger audience. I had never worked on anything that had that much of a global audience. That was a whole different kind of experience. Masters of Sex was a period piece, and getting to wear those kind of costumes was great. So was The Knick. Every show has been so different and taught me a lot. I feel like that has been such a lucy thing. It expands your abilities.

Also, as a singer/songwriter, I’ve been in very different situations. I have made different kinds of people. Now I’m working on a show for Netflix in New Mexico. Every time you do something new, it can inspire you and expands your worldview. I guess the biggest thing is, it has been cool to do such a variety of things.

ABC – You certainly have done a variety of things over the years. Now after spending a few years acting on Broadway, and taking part in other projects, something magical happened for you in 2011 when you were cast as Beth Greene in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Your character lasted a long time and was very memorable. 

Emily Kinney – Yea, it is really fun to work on a character for so long. You get so emotionally attached to them and their journey. That’s the longest I’ve ever worked on a show. It’s not common. As an actor, you always know you have jobs that end, then a new character and a new job. It was really fun to have that sort of stability and routine in a certain way. – Beyond acting, you have a strong love for music and you have released a bunch of music over the years. What inspired you to pursue a career in music as well?

Emily Kinney – I actually first started out singing. When I was a kid, I sang at talent shows and wrote little poems. When I first went to school, I was actually in the music department and going to be a music major. Music is what first opened up my world to performing. The more I sang the more I would get this feedback, “I love when you sing because I can really hear the words.” That is something that would always stick with me.

I started to realize it wasn’t necessarily just the music, but I love stories and connecting with people in that emotional way. Of course, you do that with acting too. So I said, “Oh, that’s the thing I am looking for and good at.” I am also just a huge music fan. When I first moved to New York City, that was my first go to as far as, “What am I going to do tonight?” I would go out and see music, and as a result, the bands I would see would become friends. I eventually started playing clubs around New York. 

Music has been a big part of my personal life. It’s not just been a professional endeavor, it’s definitely been my pastime, I love to go see music. When I was growing up, my parents took me to a lot of concerts such as Chicago, The Beach Boys, Eagles, etc. It’s just a big part of my everyday life. 

Emily Kinney at Beth Greene in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC – It is wonderful to have those two creative outlets. You have done your share of live shows, and in 2015 embarked on a US tour. What was that experience like to go out on the road with your music?

Emily Kinney – Similar to getting to do some theater, when you play a show almost every night, you just get a lot better at it. Getting to perform these songs in an everyday sort of way was good for me as a singer and a musician. It was also very fun to get to know the other band members I was playing with better, they became really good friends.

There is something about meeting fans in person and actually seeing people out there in front of you listening. You think, “Oh my gosh, there are people that really listen to these songs and seem to like them.”

It’s very inspiring. Sometimes when you are in a room making music, or with your friends, then put it online, you don’t really get the same kind of feedback when you are actually meeting people who truly respond to your words. It’s very satisfying, that is why I really enjoyed it and why I am excited to go do it again. – It was a successful tour as well. You are now set to release your new album, Oh, Jonathan. A bit different from your debut, what was the writing like for this collection of songs?

Emily Kinney – I took a lot more time with this one. I did it a little differently too. This is War, I had already been playing the songs a lot with my band, played shows, before I ever went into the studio and started shaping them. This album I did it opposite. I spent a lot of time writing, I tried out songs with different producers. I finally found someone I really dug and fit with, and we release “Back On Love” – that was with Ben Greenspan. Once I found a producer I really loved, it just became me and him in the studio. So rather than working them out with a band, and then recording them, it was mostly me and him playing the instruments. Once in a while we would invite a dummer in to record them. The album was more created in the studio, which was a different way to do it. It was really fun because it was more of just me and Ben’s creation.

There is something cool about letting songs grow with different band members who add their parts on. It is also cool to decide with less people what these songs should be – have it have a certain tone, voice, and also space. I really wanted to create more of a landscape and a lot of space, because I know my songs are very wordy. I wanted the words and melody to have room and to be the thing that landed. I didn’t want a lot of extra things filling every gap, if that makes sense.

Em-K Music
Em-K Music – It makes perfect sense. The songs came out very well and the production is wonderful. Listening to your music, there is a certain vulnerability and sincerity attached to the lyrics and music. Is this new album about one particular individual, or it is a fictional character?

Emily Kinney – When I started out with this experimentation, going to producers, and writing a bunch songs, I was actually writing a different album. I will probably do something with those songs. I had plans to release an EP I was going to call Oh, Jonathan, and I had been creating these songs around it. Then I wrote this song called “Mermaid Song.” Ben and I really loved it, it was sort of one of those light bulb moments that we thought, “This is the sound of the album and what we want it to be about.”

That song was inspired a bit by this on and off relationship I had with someone at a certain time in my life. Then we said, “This is what the album should be created around.” Those were my favorite songs too. Some of them were about identity, etc, but my favorites were the ones inspired by this person and relationship. I felt, rather than being an EP with just a few songs, I want to expand on this and have it be the next album. I felt that was the right choice and I went with it.

It kind chronicles, but I always feel the songs are more about the person who wrote them. The reason I named it Oh, Jonathan is because there is a line in one song that says, “I’ll never like the world same without windy whispers of his name, Oh, Jonathan.” The idea behind that line is, sometimes you have someone in your life that ends up shaping how you see or experience things. Even though some of the songs might not directly include him, for example, the song “Popsicles,” but there are moments where I say something that reminds me of the way he used to talk. So all the songs are pretty directly related to my experience with this on and off relationship, but they are also about myself. Even the songs that seem removed, the idea was of someone shaping the way you experience the world. 

Em-K Music – Very interesting and the songs are quiet profound and honest. You have some shows coming up with Paul McDonald with The Sweetheart Deal and recently announced your solo Same Mistakes Tour set for early fall. All this in mind, how are things going with The Sweetheart Deal?

Emily Kinney – It’s really fun! I think both me and Paul like to work on music. When we were first dating, we would talk about music and work on music. He would write a song and I would say, “Let me finish it.” I think it’s fun to have a project that is totally for fun, it feels like less pressure. We will release a couple of songs in the fall with The Sweetheart Deal. – That will be something to look out for. You have been keeping extremely busy with music and acting. Now removed from The Walking Dead three years, do you ever find people still approach you about your role on the show? 

Emily Kinney – Yea, people approach me all the time. I think now how we watch TV, they will do re-runs and marathons, so people are always watching it. Even though I have been off the show for quite a few years, for some people, they may have just been watching a marathon of it last week. I notice I will get approached more often when the new season is coming out, because they are playing a lot of ads for the show. 

I am so proud to be a part of that show. I think the writing is great, the music is great, and the other actors are awesome! It’s not a situation where I will say, “Oh my god, don’t remember me from that.” It’s not embarrassing at all, I am so proud to be a part of that show and I learned so much when I was on it.

In an acting and creative career, you are always making stuff. The idea that one of the things you made reaches such a big audience is really exciting. It’s something you don’t expect. I’m really grateful. 

Emily Kinney live at YMCA Boulton Center for The Performing Arts Bay Shore, New York on 5-1-2015. – Beth was certainly a character fans of the series love and will always remember. You mentioned working on this new Netflix series, Messiah. Set for release in 2019, what can you tell us about this new project?

Emily Kinney – It’s really fun and a really good creative team. I am getting to do stuff I never got to do before and it’s a totally different kind of character for me. I am really excited. I am excited to watch it, which I think it is a good sign for me. (Laughs) I am certainly really looking forward to watching it with everyone else. – It sounds like a lot of positive things are happening. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?

Emily Kinney – Mine are more old school, because I was more into Horror films when I was in junior high and high school. I loved all the Scream movies and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). I loved The Tommyknockers (1993), I don’t know why. I like the more old school ones more than the newer ones. I still love the Scream movies – I guess because the way people talk and analyzing the situations they are in. I think it’s really clever.

Dimension Films
Columbia Pictures

Tour Dates:
Wednesday, Aug 29th – Nashville, TN – Bluebird Cafe *
Friday, Sept 21st – Captiva, FL – BMI Island Hopper Festival *
Saturday, Sept 22nd – Captiva, FL – BMI Island Hopper Festival *
Tuesday, Sept. 25th – Orlando, FL – Dr. Phillips – Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater
Wednesday, Sept. 26th – Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall – Murray Studio Theatre
Thursday, Sept. 27th – Jacksonville, FL – Jack Rabbits
Friday, Sept. 28th – Milton, FL – Imogene Theatre
Sunday, Sept. 30th – Nashville, TN – 3rd & Lindsley
Monday, Oct. 1st – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle
Tuesday, Oct. 2nd – Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theatre
Wednesday, Oct. 3rd – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle Back Room
Thursday, Oct. 4th – Richmond, VA – Richmond Music Hall at Capital Ale House
Sunday, Oct. 7th – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
Tuesday, Oct 9th – Vienna, VA – Jammin Java
Wednesday, Oct. 10th – Boston, MA – The Sinclair
Thursday, Oct. 11th – New York, NY – Public Arts
Friday, Oct. 12th – Philadelphia, PA – MilkBoy
Tuesday, Oct. 16th – Columbus, OH – Rumba Café
Thursday, Oct. 18th – Evanston, IL – SPACE
Friday, Oct. 19th – St Paul, MN – Amsterdam
Saturday, Oct. 20th – Iowa City, IA – Gabe’s
Sunday, Oct. 21st – Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
Monday, Oct. 22nd – Detroit, MI – The Shelter
Wednesday, Oct. 24th – St. Louis, MO – Blueberry Hill Duck Room
Sunday, Oct. 28th – Atlanta, GA – Eddie’s Attic
Tuesday, Oct. 30th – Houston, TX – House of Blues – Bronze Peacock
Wednesday, Oct. 31st – Dallas, TX – House of Blues – Cambridge Room
Thursday, Nov. 1st – Tulsa, OK – Vanguard
Friday, Nov. 2nd – Kansas City, MO – Encore @ Uptown Theater
Sunday, Nov. 4th – Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room
Monday, Nov. 5th – Lincoln, NE – Bourbon Theatre
Wednesday, Nov 7th – Denver, CO – Globe Hall
Saturday, Nov. 10th – Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
Monday, Nov. 12th – San Diego, CA – House of Blues Voodoo Room
Tuesday, Nov 13th – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram
Thursday, Nov. 15th – Sacramento, CA – Goldfield
Friday, Nov. 16th – San Francisco, CA – Café Du Nord
*The Sweetheart Deal show

For more on Emily Kinneyemilykinneymusic.comFacebook | Twitter | Instagram 

Purchase Oh, Jonathan:

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