Interview: Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead)

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Many of you know Emily Kinney as Beth Greene from AMC’s The Walking Dead, but she is much more than a star of the zombie apocalypse phenomenon. Her character has changed a lot since first appearing in Season 2. She has developed from a suicidal teen to a motherly figure for baby Judith (a.k.a. Little Ass-Kicker) to a fully independent survivor.

What you may not know about Emily Kinney is that she is also an aspiring singer/songwriter with both pop and indie influences. She recorded her first EP, Blue Toothbrush back in 2011 and is rereleasing her debut album, Expired Love, in March with three new songs. She is also playing a few shows on her break between filming The Walking Dead, including one at The Saint in Asbury Park.

Recently Pop-Break spoke with Kinney about what inspires her music, the similarities between her and the character she plays on television, and what can fans expect to see from Beth for the rest of season four.

Photo Credit: Wes Klain
Photo Credit: Wes Klain

Pop-Break: You’ve had a great career conquering Broadway with Spring Awakening and the first national tour of August: Osage County to television with your role on The Walking Dead — what made you decide to jump into the world of music?

Photo Credit: King De Tagle
Photo Credit: King De Tagle

Emily Kinney: I wouldn’t say it was a decision like “oh, now I’m going to do music.” It’s something that I’ve been doing all along. I even started out more singing. When I lived in Nebraska, I started out singing in talent shows. I was really into Mariah Carey and other pop singers. I was really interested in that, and then once I was exposed to really great actors of theater and musical theater I started to realize I connected with the stories and emotion that they go through. But all along, until I started to pursue acting I guess, maybe more so than writing songs and stuff, I’ve always written poetry, short stories, and things like that. I would say that once I got into Spring Awakening I was surrounded by really great actors who were also singer/songwriters, and musicians who were out in New York playing shows. That really inspired me to not just go to shows and write little poems, but to actually be performing. I met this guy Conrad in Spring Awakening and he was definitely a motivator. He was very encouraging. He would say things like “these songs are very good you should really be performing them around the city” or “you shouldn’t stop, keep making music.” All along its been part of a gradual thing I’ve been working on in addition to acting.

PB: If someone just knows you from your work on The Walking Dead and has no idea what your music is about — how would you describe it to them?

EK: They aren’t necessarily connected. On The Walking Dead I am playing this character Beth, in these crazy circumstances surrounded by zombies and stuff, which is kind of different then my music. The songs I am writing are about my relationships and the things that I am going through. It’s more Ingrid Michaelson or Regina Spektor, very lyric based. They are very different, but they are both a part of me. One thing that is a connecting link is that Beth sings on the show and she has great musical taste: she sings Tom Waits! So there is that cool link.

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PB: What was your inspiration for your latest EP, Expired Love — from the lyrical content to other artists that may have influenced you.

EK: Lyrically, I would say my inspiration comes from relationships and the things that I have been going through, last year especially, for a jumping off point. When I come home, I think about the things that I’m going through and they end up in the songs that I am writing, but also I do feel like the people around me really inspire me. I see a lot of shows in New York and my friends inspire me as well. I listen to what they are making. I’m sure that it all influences the music I make. So I feel the people around me really influence me a lot.

PB: What is it about New York that inspires you to write songs like “Time Square” and “In”?

EK: I’ve been here for quite a while. Once I moved away from Nebraska, this is a time where I am very much on my own. I came here to pursue acting and there have been a lot of ups and downs. I think it’s my way of sorting through all of that and figuring out who I am, what works and what doesn’t work, what relationships work and which don’t. It has definitely been an incredible journey. I feel like just walking around New York City is really inspiring. You are going to see all different kinds of people. I actually wrote “Time Square” after a really long walk with someone. There is just something about the city that really forces you out of your comfort zone and forces you to experience all kinds of amazing things, good and bad. Good and bad people. Then you have all of this content, you have all these great stories to start off with if you are making something.

PB: When you’re not filming, you are promoting one of the most popular series on television. When do you find the time to work on your music? And what’s the oddest place you’ve ever written a song?

Photo Credit: Corey Hayes
Photo Credit: Corey Hayes

EK: I find time to write actually when I’m in Georgia (where The Walking Dead is filmed), there are sometimes days where I’m not needed on set and I am sort of isolated. I’m not in New York where my friends are and maybe the other cast members are off doing scenes. So I do actually find time to write there. It’s very quiet. I find time to write at all different times and go up and down with it. Some weeks I am writing everyday. Sometimes I don’t have that kind of time and luxury. So it depends. This has been the busiest I have ever been and it has become more difficult to write and to have that kind of space that you need. I like writing on airplanes, if given enough space, or at least ideas on airplanes. Like poems and lists. I am into making lists.

PB: If your character Beth wrote her own songs do you think she would talk about how dismal the world has become or try to write songs about hope?

EK: I think she is a very hopeful person. Even though what I think she is going through is so dark, I do imagine if Beth wrote songs they would be hopeful.

PB: You’ll be performing around the country on select dates throughout February and March. What’s more nerve-racking for you: confronting zombies on the set or performing your music at a club?

EK: They both have their own challenges. There is nothing like performing live. Anything could happen. I always have this sort of fear, I think ever performer does, that it all could just leave you; you forget how to play or sing and it could all just go away in a moment. There is something about being on a set that even if you only have a few takes if something went horribly wrong you couldn’t get another shot at it. I find that both are incredibly nerve racking and exciting and very satisfying.

PB: We couldn’t finish the interview without at least one Walking Dead related question. So, now that the group has been broken up and Beth is out in the world with Daryl, what can we expect from her, character development-wise, this season. And bringing it back to music, what can we expect from Emily Kinney musically for the rest of 2013?

EK: I think with Beth you are going to get to know her a little better. There is something about being one on one with someone else and I think through Daryl you are going to know each of those characters a lot better. They are going to be forced to have this kind of partnership because they don’t have anyone else. I think you are just going to get to know Beth a lot and how she processes things and see her process the death of her father, see the dynamic between Beth and Daryl. It is going to be interesting to watch. You are going to see her step up her game a little bit.

Photo Credit: Corey Hayes
Photo Credit: Corey Hayes

As for me I am constantly working on new stuff. I have to always be making things. I just recorded a couple of new songs that I am going to add to Expired Love and rerelease it in March. I just felt like I couldn’t quite get everything I wanted to on it last time because I had to record it between seasons. I am still playing those songs at shows and I still feel like they are new and fresh even though I have a bunch of new songs planned for another album. I just want to make sure that these songs on Expired Love really get to be heard and get to be sung for live shows; there is going to be a couple more tracks so that’s going to be exciting to see how that goes because I really like them. So we will release that in March and then I will be playing a lot of shows and start planning my next album. I’ve already started recording it actually. Write more songs, play more shows, that’s the plan.

Emily Kinney will be performing tonight, February 21 at The Saint in Asbury Park, New Jersey along with Samantha Aurelio, The Ocean Heirs, Lily Maria, Spy Kiss feat. Eric Safka, Kevin Kopack, Don Stoll and Mark Diomede Click here for tickets.

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Al Mannarino is the associate editor and photographer for Pop Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino. His photo website is: http://alfredmannarino.com

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