As with so many great projects, the inspiration for The Great American Bubble Factory, Drivin’ N Cryin’s first new album in 12 years, came from an unexpected place: the dollar store.
“I was at the dollar store with my granddaughter buying some bubbles, and I saw on the label where the bubbles are made in China,” said Drivin’ N Cryin’ founder Kevn Kinney via telephone from his hometown of Milwaukee, WI. “And I thought, damn, everything is made in China these days. I looked around and just about everything in there was made in China – and we’re not talking hi-tech stuff here. We’re talking coat hangers and stuff like that. And I thought, why can’t we make this stuff here, in the US? Why are hangers being twisted into hangers there and sent here?”
Kinney said he wondered whatever happened to the great American bubble factory, and just like that ideas for what he describes as a “working class operetta” were born.
The current economic climate, Kinney said, plays a huge part in the theme of the album, which he calls a “self-help record.”
“I think it’ll be comforting to the people who listen to it, and they’ll feel like it speaks to them, especially songs like ‘Pre-Approved, Pre-Denied,’” Kinney chuckled. “A lot of people who are even lucky enough to be working right now are living hand to mouth just to make do for their families and kids. I wanted a record that reflects that, that throws real life right back at ya but makes you feel good and affirms your life, too.”
Kinney knows the trials of the working class: he grew up in Milwaukee with five kids in his family. His father was a refrigerator engineer, his mother stayed at home, and when he graduated high school in 1979 Milwaukee was “a town… that encouraged you to leave high school, get a job in a factory, get injured and then get workers compensations while picking up a side job at a liquor store or record shop where you got paid under the table.”
Instead Kinney started Drivin’ N Cryin’ after meeting Tim Nielson in 1985, and the band released their first album, Scarred But Smarter,” in 1986 on 688 Records – which was “the center of the underground Atlanta rock scene in the 1980s. Kinney said Great American Bubble Factory is “the perfect crescendo to a long twenty-plus year career.”
“I think we’ve found the true essence of what we started to build back in 1985. It’s the truth as we see it set to a soundtrack fueled by music we love, everyone from The Ramones, The Clash, The Seeds, Iggy, Dylan, Patti Smith Group, R.E.M., Thin Lizzy, the Rolling Stones.”
A return to their roots has led Drivin’ N Cryin’ to the release of their new album on September 29 and a tour of smaller Southern venues with hopes of reaching out to the people who have meant so much to them over the years – their loyal fans who will be excited to see the band touring again.
“And I’m excited to be back out there doing the Drivin’ N Cryin’ thing,” said Kinney, who has been working on solo projects and touring Europe. He said Drivin’ N Cryin’ opened last for the Who in 1997 on the Quadrophenia tour. “We’ll have been a band, together or not, for 25 years next year. We never broke up, but what we were doing had to be real, it had to feel real and right to us.”
Kinney wrote all of the lyrics and most of the music on Great American Bubble Factory, he said, adding that he thinks the message of the new album will give Americans hope, especially if they take to heart the album’s message of “if you can make it here, why don’t you make it here.”
“That’s what the song ‘This Town’ is about,” Kinney said. “About making what you can here, and that includes making music in a small town and touring small towns. Keeping it intimate and one on one and real.”
With this album Kinney said Drivin’ N Cryin’ feels “like a new band.” But this is a band that’s been around, and stuck it out, for a long time – starting with that long-ago first album, Scarred But Smarter, and some indelible lyrics that ring as true today as they did 25 years ago:
“Nobody said it would be fair
They warned you before you went out there
There’s always a chance to get restarted
To a new world, new life
Scarred but smarter.”
Drivin’ N Cryin’, the only band to share a stage with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sonic Youth, and Neil Young in the same 12-month period, is restarting now with a new album, fans new and old, and hope again for everyone in between.
“We’re not trying to be famous,” Kinney said, enjoying a moment of calm in his hometown, watching the surface of a lake from a coffee shop before the album drops and the tour begins. “We’re just trying to make some music and have something to say.”