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Q&A: Drivin’ N Cryin’s Tim Nielsen

In anticipation of Drivin’ N Cryin’s long-awaited return to Columbia, I spoke with the band’s bassist, manager and founding member Tim Nielsen. We discussed new music, setlists, touring members — both past and present — and the band’s legacy as they approach their 33rd year together.

Catch Drivin’ N Cryin’ on December 13th at Rose Music Hall before they head to Nashville to record a brand new album with producer Aaron Lee Tasjan. Tickets to the show are available here!

The band was recently inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. What is it like being recognized next to artists like R.E.M., Elton John, The Allman Brothers and Ray Charles? 

It’s amazing, dude. It was so amazing. It was an honor. It was a milestone night in our career, and we were just so proud to have our family and friends there and be recognized by the state of Georgia and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. It was a cool TV show on PBS, too.

I’m from Georgia and grew up listening to a lot of Georgia rock — bands like R.E.M., Collective Soul, Drive-By Truckers. I’ve also seen videos of you guys covering Never Gonna Change with Jason Isbell. Is this southern rock circle of artists as tight knit as it seems?

I think so, yeah. We’re really good friends with Jason Isbell, we’re really good friends with Blackberry Smoke. And the generation before us — the R.E.M. guys, Ed Roland, and you know, going back to Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd and stuff. We toured with all those bands back in the ’90s. So I think there is definitely a camaraderie and a brotherhood in the southern music rock community.

I was talking to my dad the other day about a Kevn Kinney solo show he saw a few months ago, and he was telling me about how Kevn was having people write down song requests. Well, the problem was most of the requests he received were asking for “Straight to Hell”. Does that ever frustrate the two of you at all?

No, we expect to see that. That’s always gonna be the song, the “status quo”, people who have heard of Drivin’ N Cryin’ are gonna want. You’ve got a percentage of our fans that want to hear the deep cuts and they want to hear the Kevn Kinney solo stuff, “MacDougal Blues” and whatnot.

But you know, most of the people who have heard of us have heard of us because of that song, and so we don’t have a problem with the recognition that song gets. There probably was a time where we thought we were kind of tired of playing it, but I think you realize that we’re lucky to have a song like that in our repertoire that is so recognizable and catchy with a broad audience.

With so many moving pieces within the band and its members, how have you and Kevn managed to stay together as a band through all the change — good and bad?

I don’t know. We always go back to the three-piece whenever we feel like it, but we just like to jam and have fun. It’s fun to have a fourth member to do the parts from the records and stuff. We don’t necessarily need the fourth member, but it’s always fun to have somebody. Over the last few years, especially, since we’ve been moving guys around. And we had Warner Hodges there for a stretch, but having Sadler [Vaden] in the band — he’s amazing. And look at what he’s doing now with Jason Isbell.

We’ve had some of the greatest rock guitar players alive in our band. That’s just kind of special that these guys want to play with us. That’s what makes it fun.

The reason Kevn and I are still hanging out together is because if we weren’t having any fun, we wouldn’t do it. At this stage in our career, we’re fortunate to be able to make music and to have people that want to come to our shows and people that want to buy our records. We’re lucky, and we realize that. So we look forward to going on the road and playing shows. We have a really great time making music.

On the topic of Sadler Vaden, what kind of advice do you give to guys like him and other younger musicians trying to get their start?

Well, I don’t think Sadler needs any more advice [laughs], but I would just say you gotta be true to yourself and true to your art, and you have to work hard. You have to do a lot of shows, and you have to put the time in. If you know who your friends are, and you know yourself and you can be honest, you shouldn’t have to worry about what other people say that are coming into your life for the first time.

Like if so-and-so booking agent or manager walks up to you and says, “Oh, you gotta do this differently, you gotta do that differently,” you gotta ask yourself, “Well how does this person know anything about who I am.”

I’ve known myself my whole life, so you gotta trust that. You don’t trust some guy just showing up and saying, “Okay, fire your whole band and do what I say.”

Who were some of your biggest influences when you originally formed the band?

The Swimming Pool Q’s, The Clash, The Ramones. Bands that were around and playing in that Atlanta scene back in the mid-’80s, early-80’s that we got to open for. You know, R.E.M., Dreams So Real — there were just a lot of really cool bands coming out of Athens and Atlanta. And we were such a new, young band, so we just looked up to these guys and said, “Man, we can do this, too. We want to do this. We want to make music.”

Did you ever think that you’d have the kind of success that you did?

I think our attitude was that we were gonna make it. And we knew that when we did a show that we’d just kind of like put our whole heart and soul into it and left it on stage. I was lucky to meet a guy named Kevn Kinney. I was already in a successful band called The Nightporters, but they would have never gotten as far as Drivin’ N Cryin’ has.

In your eyes, how has the music industry changed since you guys started?

The obvious ways is that you have internet streaming and digital — all these other formats that didn’t exist. As far as just the components of record companies and marketing and all that stuff, it’s all kind of subbed out now. We were signed to Island Records, and there would be a radio promotion department, there would be a publicity department, there would be record offices all across the country where we’d go and visit everybody. There were a lot of people on the staff.

So I think that that has all kind of gone down to just a handful of people that are running these record companies, and they hire independent contractors to do a lot of those jobs that they used to have all under one roof, and everyone can kind of work from their laptop or wherever they are.

It’s all about digital streaming now. There’s definitely a great market for vinyl, but I think CDs are pretty much done, and so the need for big record stores like Peaches and Blockbuster Music is gone. It’s all going to be small, little record stores — mom & pop places that have been there all along. It’s hard to get a handle on it — how you work Instagram and Youtube and all that stuff.

The band released a series of EPs a few years ago — all differing in style. How did those songs come together? Were they totally new, or had you been sitting on them for a little while?

I think it’s a little of both. There’s a few songs that had riffs that had been around for a long time that we kind of revisited and rewrote and changed the words. But a lot of the songs were brand new.

Do you have a timetable for the new record?

Probably middle of next year. It’s probably going to take about three months in total to make the record, in and out of the studio, recording in Nashville. Then it’s the artwork, and whether or not our record company gets on board and what their timeframe is, too. So there’s a few moving parts yet to be seen, but we’re going to be shooting for next summer probably.

If you could form a supergroup with either deceased or active musicians, who would you have at each spot?

I don’t know about deceased. That’s creepy [laughs]. I think Sadler Vaden is one of my favorite guys to play with. I get to play with him solo a lot, and him and I always talk about how if Cheap Trick ever breaks up, we’re going to get Robin Zander to be our singer. So you got Robin Zander, me and Sadler.

Hmm, who’s the drummer. [Dave V. Johnson] is pretty great. I don’t know. There’s a lot of them out there. But yeah, that’s an interesting question.

Is there a song you look forward to playing right now on this leg of the tour?

Lately, I think it’s been Wild Dog Moon. We’ve started playing that again, so I think that’s my favorite currently.

Looking back on the band’s legacy, what are you most proud of throughout your entire time as a band?

I guess the thing I’m most proud of is my family. Just that I have a wife and children that I’m able to have a normal life and melt faces every weekend. I think that’s pretty special.

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Columbia Holiday Soirée: What to expect

What: Columbia Holiday Soirée: A Mad Men Era Vintage Costume Ball
When: Saturday, December 16thDoors at 7:00 p.m., show at 8:00 p.m.
Where: The Blue Note
Tickets: $20 General Admission | Ages 21+
Featuring: Amalgamation Jazz Orchestra and DJ Jen Ha playing ’60s era hits!

Word on 9th Street is that the holidays are here, so it’s time to celebrate! At The Blue Note, we do it big. We roll out the red carpet, pour lavish cocktails, strike up the jazz band, serve exquisite hors d’oeuvres, decorate for Christmas, lay the white linen tablecloths and dress to the vintage nines so that we may strike a pose at the photobooth.

We swing, we shimmy, and get down to vintage hits that never went out of style.
I guess you could say we’re the cat’s meow.

 

Our annual event was originally inspired by the style and sophistication of the ’60s and the AMC television series, Mad Men. Although the show and era have ended, this spirit lives on through the hottest vintage holiday soirée in Columbia.

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This year, we’ve even teamed up with Candy Cane Crib to ensure The Blue Note is the merriest and brightest building on 9th Street.

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We want you and your in-crowd to join us for a night to remember. Invite your friends, freshen up on your dance moves and get ready! Not sure what to wear? Stop by Muse Clothing. They’re prepared to help you dress to impress. We’ll also have a coat check ready upon your arrival.

To get you in the holiday soirée spirit, here’s our playlist:

https://open.spotify.com/user/bluenotecomo/playlist/3uvwcVxNBPvAUOFf5Yw56u

To recap, we made a Holiday Soirée List
(and checked it twice!) :
Red Carpet ✅ Jazz Band ✅ Fancy Cocktails ✅
Photobooth ✅ Christmas Lights and Decorations ✅
Vintage Hits spun by DJ Jen Ha ✅ Hors D’oeuvres ✅
White Tablecloths ✅ Coat Check ✅ Vintage Style ✅
A Dazzling Holiday Party to Remember ✅ ✅ ✅ YOU⁉️

Be fashionably early. Get your tickets here.
Let your posse know you’ll be there. RSVP here.

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P.S. Need to learn some slick dance moves? All the kids are doing ’em.


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5 Reasons to Catch Ekali

When: Tuesday, December 5thDoors at 7:00 p.m., show at 8:00 p.m.
Where: The Blue Note
Tickets: $15
Opener: Medasin + JUDGE

Finals are right around the corner, but here are some great reasons to skip the half-assed study sesh you might be planning and check out Ekali…

1. Significant musical past

Starting out in the Vancouver music scene as a bassist for the band Said The Whale, Ekali’s (Nathan Shaw) band earned a JUNO Award for Breakout Group of the year. As individual efforts kept him making beats, he gained SoundCloud recognition displaying a handful of tracks with over a million streams. This ability to remix all sorts of genres is most likely what paved the way to his invitation to The Red Bull Music Academy, beating out 4,000 other applicants.

RBMA is a world traveling music series where 60 hand-selected singers, DJs, producers and other musicians collaborate to further their advancement within music. Ekali is part of the 2014 Tokyo class, where he joins other notable musicians, Flying Lotus, TNGHT, Ta-ku and even Aloe Blacc, as alumni.

2. Highly hip-hop influenced

In 2015, Ekali earned the writing credits to the songs “Preach” and “Wednesday Night Interlude” off of Drake’s album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late  from samples of his original SoundCloud release “Unfaith”.

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This hip-hop involved background seems to be a direct influence on his collection of hip-hop releases like “Threatz” by Denzel Curry (Ekali & Gravez Remix) and his newest song, “Babylon”. If you are a hip-hop or trap fan and aren’t accustomed to electronic styles, this is a good show to catch.  

 3. Knows how to bring a crowd

Last semester, Ekali opened up for Troyboi right here at The Blue Note and showed how he deserves to be the main act. From the moment Ekali started, a crowd of about 100 slowly expanded to about 650 as he rounded off his set. As more and more people filled in, the set became so much more involved and you could feel the energy all around, especially in the catalyst himself, Ekali.

Among the many festivals he toured this past season, I caught his set at Middlelands.

Here he is turning a crowd from nothing to a mob:

4. The Babylon Tour

The USA production involves floral stage designs to match most of his song releases and strategic light placings that give the off a modest club vibe. The Babylon Tour contains an abundance of dates in cities all around the world, and nearly all are in venues with a capacity of less than 1,000. These two factors make for an original show that is highly dependent on both the artist and the crowd. Look to see more risks taken by Ekali to match the diversified crowd.

5. Mix master

Evident in almost all of his live sets and recorded mixes, Ekali demonstrates his ear-catching ability to mix some of the calmest trance and future bass tracks into D&B and heavier trap/grime beats. This ability to jump bass genres while staying in key and keeping the beat will blow the minds of fans of all genres. He has series of awakening mixes that convey his niche of music. He also shows his vast abilities across the entire electronic spectrum displayed in several credible live mixes like Diplo & Friends and triple j, featuring all sorts of artists and genres.