Emily Kinney is ready to make a new album – she even has a concept for it – but she has reached a crossroads with her creativity: she wants to experiment. “I want to work with lots of producers,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I want to write a lot of different kinds of songs and learn before I put out an album. I taught myself guitar but now I’m taking guitar lessons. I want to learn as much as I can.” But that’s not stopping the singer-songwriter and Walking Dead alumna, 31, from putting out new music.
Kinney is releasing a single featuring two new songs she worked on with a friend of hers producing; it’s due out digitally and on vinyl on October 28th. One side, “Back on Love,” is a catchy track about falling in love with an unpredictable guy. Kinney dressed the song in layers of echo, handclaps and piano, a relatively new instrument for her. The other, “Popsicles,” is an acoustic- and piano-adorned song about the difficulty in committing to relationships, in part because she’s always on the move.
She’s currently in Toronto filming a new criminal justice procedural that she likens thematically to Making a Murderer and Serial, titled Conviction, that will premiere on ABC next Monday. It’s her latest locale in a long list. She grew up in Nebraska and, in recent years, has lived in New York and Los Angeles, working on TV shows like Masters of Sex and The Knick. Of course, there were her years in Georgia filming The Walking Dead, on which she played the singing-prone Beth Greene, a character that met her (naturally) unnatural end last year.
Music has been her sole constant – she’s been putting out music since 2011, and self-released her 2015 LP This Is War – that has become a vehicle to talk about her life. “When you’re traveling a lot, you tend to spend a lot of time alone, like in airports,” she says. “So my newer music, specifically ‘Popsicles,’ is about when time for yourself begins and ends and when do you enter into a new relationship after being in so many different ones that don’t work. When is the right time? It’s about feeling lonely and isolated and trying so badly to connect with someone but it’s not ever satisfying. And it makes me almost feverish, angry. So when can I be comfortable in a relationship? … I think all my relationships, even friendships, end up in my songs.”
The meaning behind “Back on Love” is similar to being “back on drugs” – feeling drunk in love with someone who might not be good for you. “Even though it sounds like a fun, happy song, it’s about falling into love again, but it being terrifying and scary but at the same time fun,” she says. “If he calls up, I wanna hang out, like, duh, so much fun, let’s do it. But there’s an uneasiness.”
She recorded the latter tune with her friend Ben Greenspan, who helped her with production techniques and ideas such as handclaps and atmospheric sounds. After clicking in the studio, they also recorded “Popsicles” so she could release music before filming began in Toronto.
As for acting, she’s happy to be working on only one show at the moment. (“It’s enough for right now.”) On the show, she plays Tess Larson – the youngest investigator on a team that works on getting people out of jail who’ve been wrongly accused – and she’s eager to prove herself. She also has a secret past (she has changed her name) and her character develops over the seasons. When Kinney speaks to Rolling Stone, she’s filming the seventh episode and is still learning more about her character.
And even though she’s no longer on the show, The Walking Dead remains a regular part of her life. “In November, it will be, like, two years since I left the show,” she says. “But every day, people come up to me and ask things like, ‘Who did Negan kill?’ I don’t know.” Kinney laughs, recalling the show’s current cliffhanger. “I think that show is just a part of who I am now. But a lot of the fans started listening to my music because of the show, and Beth was a singer, so I’m thankful for it.”
Working with Greenspan helped her explore other songwriting and recording techniques; she’d previously worked with another producer. It also dovetailed into bigger questions she’s been having about her music career. She’s always put out music independently – should she continue to do so? For now, she’s excited about putting out the “Back on Love” seven-inch (“I feel like people are into collecting things again,” she says) and will parse the future of her music career after the first season of Conviction wraps.
“I didn’t want to just wait until two years from now to put out an album,” she says. “When you’re writing a lot, you just want to get your songs out there.”‘
Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li teamed up with electronic group Miike Snow members Andrew Wyatt and Pontus Winnberg, Peter Bjorn and John‘s Björn Yttling and producer Jeff Bhasker for a new supergroup called LIV. The band’s lush first single “Wings of Love” breezes by with layered electric guitar leads and vocal harmonies.
All the members of LIV have been active in their individual careers this year. Peter Bjorn and John released their seventh LP, Breakin’ Point, in June. Miike Snow issued their third album, iii, in March; Wyatt, the band’s lead singer, has co-written and guested on numerous tracks over the past few years, including Beck’s “Dreams” and Mark Ronson’s “Heavy and Rolling.” And Li released her third album, I Never Learn, in 2014.
Even in conversation, Regina Spektor speaks like a poet, conjuring up vivid scenes to better illustrate her artistic process. But despite her fantastical turns of phrase, the singer-songwriter doesn’t think that she’s good at interviews. “I don’t have an easy time, necessarily, in interviews where I have to say, ‘This song came from that,’” she recently told Rolling Stone. “I’m always at a loss for words, because I don’t fully know.”
Fortunately, for the past three years, Spektor hasn’t found herself in such conversations often. After the end of a 2013 tour, she stepped out of the public eye to have a baby, spend time with her family and write new music. “I didn’t really plan it,” she said. “I was a little bit holed up because I was pregnant for a while, and then I had the baby, so I was just more in my own world.”
This year, Spektor has returned with a bang. She worked on a song with breakout hip-hop star Chance the Rapper, contributed to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly anticipated new project The Hamilton Mixtape and even created a gorgeous cover of “While My guitar Gently Weeps” for the animated film Kubo and the Two Strings.
All of this has led up to Spektor’s new album Remember Us to Life. Along with incorporating a broad range of sounds ranging from full orchestras to processed pianos, the LP features all newly composed songs, a first for Spektor. “As I was writing all the songs, the desire to put older songs onto this particular record just kind of left,” she said.
Just before kicking off her current tour, Spektor talked with RS about collaborating with Chance the Rapper, a certain presidential candidate she’d rather not name and the experimental impulses that fueled her newest album.
You’ve been pretty off-the-grid for the past few years since your last album. How did the hiatus come about? Yeah, the record came out four years ago, and then my tour ended three years ago. I don’t know – there’s always that natural flow, where you make so much art, and you travel the world playing the art, and then you have to kind of go back to your family and go back to your other life. It wasn’t a very planned off-the-grid thing. It’s like, I was working all the time, and things were happening all the time. I guess it’s just … I don’t know. Maybe everybody just kind of has another record right in their pocket or something and they just try again, but I definitely don’t.
It’s clear that you spent at least some of that time writing, because on this record, all of your songs are brand new. What was it like to start with a totally blank slate this time? It was interesting because I didn’t really plan it. I was a little bit holed up because I was pregnant for a while, and then I had the baby, so I was just more in my own world. As I was writing all the songs, the desire to kind of put older songs onto this particular record just kind of left, and all of a sudden, I just wanted all of these songs to be on it. I ended up writing so much that not even all of my new songs made it onto this, because it would’ve been a very big, very long record. Even the deluxe edition is 14 songs. I guess the fun thing about making records is that they sort of find water; they sort of find their own level. They find what they want production-wise, and who they want their people to be in the boat with them. And then it’s just kind of out in the world.
You were almost on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book earlier this year. How was the process of working with him on a song? As a matter of fact, it’s one that actually ended up on the record, “Same Drugs,” which is a really cool song. It was interesting because he sent it to me exactly the same way that it appears on his record. At first it was hard for me to imagine what I could really add to it, because it was very complete. But then, I started to sort of hear myself, and he also muted the last verse. So then I wrote a verse, and then I sort of wrote other little things, and just sort of found my way here and there, found little spots in which I could sort of interact with what was there. But then, I think he had to put it out very soon, and so, afterwards, he called me and he said, “I really love what you did, but I feel so attached to what I already have there.” Which made sense. And he ended up putting out exactly what he sent me, which was already pretty good.
I completely understand. I think that maybe if we started it before it was completely finished it would have made sense. But I feel like at first, songs are very malleable, sort of like when you make that liquid that’s going to become Jell-O. You could still add some stuff to it, and it’s still changeable. But once it sets, I feel like you sort of just get very attached to how it is, and it’s very hard to make room for something in it. But I really loved the song, and of course I was sad, because I got really attached to the version that I did. I was like, “Fuck, man! That would’ve been so cool if that came out!” But at the same time, I am a complete control freak when it comes to my music, so I understand that impulse completely.
You got to go visit your birthplace, Russia, on your last tour. Did that experience have an effect on the mindset that you were in while you were writing this album? You know, it’s hard to know. I feel like I’m sort of built for emotional experiences. I think that’s just how I go through the world, and how I think. I think that it all just kind of goes in, you know? So I have that, and I have things that I go through with my family, and it’s just … it’s just everything! Sometimes I watch something happen on a street corner, and then it’s an intense emotional experience for me! [Laughs] I think that we’re all kind of built in our own ways, and we process the world through our unique systems. And I think that maybe the longer I live, the more I accept the system that I have, you know? But I think it’s always been like that! Everything just goes into this big trap door in my mind or in my heart, and then it just starts to sort of brew there. So I’m sure that it’s in there, but I wouldn’t know how to sift and figure out what of it is there.
Well that’s another thing that I kind of love about your music; with a lot of artists nowadays, they’re almost expected to bear their personal demons on records. You still bear your soul, but it’s in a very different, kind of fictionalized way, whereas other artists are very autobiographical. Yeah, that’s cool! And it’s not necessarily even on purpose. Like I said, I’m just doing what feels natural to me. I do think it’s just really interesting how mysterious art is, and I’m grateful for that, because something about it always remains new, or ever-shifting. So I don’t have an easy time, necessarily, in interviews where I have to say, “This song came from that,” or people ask me, “How did you write this?” And I’m always at a loss for words, because I don’t fully know.
I feel like that almost makes your work more genuine, though. You’re not necessarily saying, “Oh, I’m going to take this experience and turn it into a song.” You’re just writing whatever it is that you’re feeling. Well, I am writing it from what I’m feeling, but because I don’t know the other experience, I would never go so far as to say that it’s more genuine than anything. That’s actually where a lot of our problems as humans in the world comes from – the fact that we know how we experience something, and so we think that it’s the right way to experience it. But there are so many different ways and so many different systems, and so many different backgrounds and temperaments.
I love Joni Mitchell so much, and her work comes from autobiography. She really did write all about her getting together with people and breaking up and her love and her internal searches, and everything is sort of autobiographical. You really could just go through it all like that. And to me, just because I don’t write like that, I’m really grateful that I get to experience this whole other system.
We’re more alike than not, and I think that the more we try to justify our own way as being the better way, the more we’re in trouble. And that happens in everything: It happens in religion, it happens in parenting, even in hair-cutting! People will say, “Oh, you have to cut wet hair.” And somebody else will say, “No, you only cut dry hair!” And the truth is that there is somebody who is amazing at each, and you can go and have an awesome haircut from both of those people; they just see it different ways.
Donald Trump seems to feel the opposite way. So what is your view, especially with your background as an immigrant, of this current political chaos that we’re in? You know I almost hate to talk about him, because I almost feel like this is how school shooters should be treated. Like, their names and their pictures should not be on the news; they should just be ignored. And I feel like … he should be ignored, so I don’t even like to say his name in my short little moments speaking on my soapbox [laughs]. I almost feel like he should be treated like Voldemort. Like, He Who Shall Not Be Named.
But at the same time, my true feeling is that this person is severely mentally different. You know what I mean? Like … I wouldn’t go so far as to diagnose him, but he seems like a sociopath, at least. Just somebody who is so malleable, that there is no “there” there. But at the same time, I don’t think he is to be dismissed, because there have been a lot of mentally ill people running countries as long as history stretches back. We’ve had paranoid Caesars, and we’ve had czars that killed their own sons, and we’ve had Stalins. We’ve had people that you can’t just lightly say, “Oh, this person is crazy.” Look at the ancient story of Cain and Abel. That’s somebody who felt paranoid and less-than and insecure, and killed their brother for really no reason, other than what was going on in his head!
“I almost feel like Trump should be treated like Voldemort. Like, He Who Shall Not Be Named.”
My hope is that as dark as times seem sometimes, I do think that human connection and human awareness and education are the key to everything. As long as we keep trying to keep the channels free, and prevent propaganda, prevent iron curtains … it’s very hard to do. It’s somewhere between resigning yourself and saying, “Hey this is just how things go,” and being completely devastated and paralyzed with fear and anger. I think that changes come from a personal place. If you feel angry, and you want to help immigrants and people in your community and children and families, then get involved. There are local schools, there are churches, there are synagogues, there are nursing homes where a tremendous amount of elderly people go ignored and are staring at a wall.
Being angry at him is not going to do anything. Make friends and share the fact that there are tremendous amounts of immigrant families that are participating in our country. All they want is peace and education for their kids and a better life, and spreading that message really will do more than giving him more airtime.
One of the things that I’ve always really loved about your music is that it seems like experimentation is almost like its own form of consistency for you. Do you ever feel like doing things in a similar way as you did them before, or are you always trying to push boundaries? Well, on my own personal quest, it’s definitely really, really important for me to feel like I’m getting to do something that I haven’t done before, because that’s what sort of just keeps me interested. Writing the songs sort of happens no matter what; I’ll feel inspired and I’ll write a song. But the studio stuff is very interesting in a different way, because that’s the place where you can learn, you can push boundaries and expand sonically.
I grew up on a tremendous amount of classical music, and I felt like on this record, I got to really, for the first time, experiment more with arranging strings in a much bigger, more involved way. So it was very exciting for me to just have the strings be a much bigger part of this than before, even though I’ve always kind of ventured into using samples, or sometimes a quartet or sometimes a trio. My first time properly having any little bit of time [in the studio] was Soviet Kitsch. And even on that, even though it was very, very limited time, that had live strings because I was just dying for them. But this one, I really got to have the time to have all of these different sonic experiments, and to process things in a new way, and to kind of find what each song needed, so that was very exciting.
Also, Leo Abrahams who produced the record, he sort of comes from a more experimental kind of background, too. I came at it like, “The strings are definitely gonna be a giant part of this record.” I almost felt like the subconscious of the record was strings. And he was very interested in processing the piano. When he heard the songs, he said that so much of it had been written in the piano parts that he wanted to sort of use that and process the piano in all of these different ways.
I think my favorite example of that is on “Obsolete.” I love that song. [Laughs] It’s funny, I think that my favorite example of that is on “Obsolete,” too!
It’s just so watery and cool. How was it that you recorded the piano on that song? Well, we recorded the actual piano, but then he was recording a track of live processing that he was doing as a performance at the same time. So as I was playing, he was doing a performance that was recorded. His performance was so special that it really just kind of happened all together. I really love how the piano sounds on that. It’s an interesting thing, because when you’re writing a song, you’re hearing it sort of in the real world, and then you’re hearing it in your imagination with imaginary production. And imaginary production is almost like imaginary colors, where if you were going to dip your paintbrush into a red, you might not be able to find that same red that you can see in your mind’s eye.
So much of production is reconciling your imagination with reality, with the physical world. Because you might hear a sound, but you’re limited, so maybe the French horn is the closest to that sound that you have. I think now, with synthesized sounds, we have more access than ever before. People used to just use what was around. They couldn’t reverb something out. The violin sound is like the violin, and it’s always the violin. And now we can make mix the violin with a flute and put it through a phaser, and then we can scale it up with a volume pedal. We can do all of these things now.
But still, you’re still reconciling these things with your imagination, and you just start to hear what’s in the real world, and you start to forget. It’s almost like the fading of a dream as you get further and further into the day. It could be very vivid in the morning, but then it’s just kind of fading and fading – you don’t really remember the colors. I think the thing with recording these songs is that you’re sort of feeling around for that spot where the song is still itself, but then there’s something new about it that you didn’t even know was there that you’re discovering.
Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane team up for the cutting, pleading new track “Oh Lord.” Their collaboration will appear on the soundtrack for Birth of a Nation, Nate Parker’s upcoming film about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion.
For his verse, Gucci Mane pleads for God to hear his prayer, making references to the slavery and segregation that mark black American history. Wayne comes in for an auto-tuned verse that references the rapper’s long-running feud with Cash Money and former mentor Birdman. “I had to leave the family,” he raps. “I had to cut off CMB, I’m an amputee.”
The soundtrack for Birth of a Nation will be released on Friday and will feature contributions from 2 Chainz, Meek Mill and Pusha T. The film itself will see a theatrical release on October 7th following a successful premiere at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize.
The NFL has announced that Lady Gaga will headline the Super Bowl 51 halftime show, set for Houston’s NRG Stadium on February 5th.
After much speculation, the NFL and Pepsi made the announcement prior to Thursday’s Miami Dolphins – Cincinnati Bengals game.
“It’s not an illusion,” the singer tweeted. “The rumors are true. This year the SUPER BOWL goes GAGA!”
The 2017 halftime show, which comes three months after the release of Gaga’s new LP Joanne, marks Lady Gaga’s second consecutive Super Bowl appearance as she sang a stunning rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to Super Bowl 50 at Santa Clara, California’s Levi’s Stadium.
“I just thought about the lyrics and what they really mean,” Gaga later said of her National Anthem performance. “They’ve been around a long time, so I thought about what they mean now, I just sang from my heart.”
“First of all, I’m not doing the Super Bowl,” Adele said during a Los Angeles concert in August. “I mean, come on, that show is not about music. And I don’t really… I can’t dance or anything like that. They were very kind, they did ask me, but I did say no. I’m sorry. Maybe next time, for my next album, because I’m going to do a dance album next time. So maybe I’ll do it then.”
The NFL and Pepsi responded to Adele’s announcement with a joint statement, “The NFL and Pepsi are big fans of Adele. We have had conversations with several artists about the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show. However, we have not at this point extended a formal offer to Adele or anyone else. We are focused on putting together a fantastic show for Houston and we look forward to revealing that in good time.”
The Weeknd pairs his brooding after-hours aesthetic with pulsating dance-punk on his new song, “False Alarm.”
While “False Alarm” still finds the Weeknd crooning lines like “Bathroom stalls for the powdered nose” and “You love her but you’ll never be the one,” the production is grittier than the slick grooves of “I Can’t Feel My Face” or “In the Night.” The percussion is tight and relentless, while the spacey synths and guitars build to a blaring chorus, which the Weeknd introduces with a scathing scream.
This weekend, the Weeknd will perform at New York City’s Meadows Festival alongside Kanye West, J. Cole and Chance the Rapper. He’s also scheduled to perform on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live October 1st.
SiriusXM announced that Rolling Stone Music Now, the brand’s weekly music podcast, will be featured on the broadcasting company’s new 24/7 music talk channel Volume. The show, hosted by executive editor Nathan Brackett, will take place live in SiriusXM’s studios and will continue to feature a panel of the magazine’s writers, editors and contributors alongside new interviews with veteran and up-and-coming acts.
Volume is set to debut on October 17th at 7 a.m., with Rolling Stone Music Now set to be a weekly feature. Brackett and his team will analyze current news and include the audience in the show to discuss new music. The podcast, which debuted earlier this year and has featured interviews with everyone from Florence Welch to David Crosby, is available on iTunes and Spotify.
Volume’s hefty roster of programming will also include Eddie Trunk’s Trunk Nation, Elliott Wilson’s Rap Radar Report, Scott Ian’s Never Meet Your Heroes, Melissa Etheridge’s Melissa’s Basement, True Stories With Kurt Loder, a music trivia game show hosted by Jim Shearer and a daily morning talk show called Feedback, which will feature Lady Gaga as its first guest on October 17th between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Roy Orbison‘s estate has signed on to co-produce a forthcoming biopic, giving filmmakers unprecedented access to the late singer’s catalog, according to Deadline. The Big O: Roy Orbison will be the first authorized biopic about the late singer.
“My dad’s story is a fantastic journey,” Alex Orbison, son of the late singer, said. “He was so inspiring as a person because, after everything he had been through, good and bad, he still had a positive outlook on life, and was kind and wonderful. The movie will mirror a Roy Orbison song: having triumph and tragedy, sometimes losing the girl and sometimes getting the girl, and ending on a high note.”
Ray Gideon and Bruce Evans, the screenwriting duo behind the 1984 science fiction romance Starman, are writing The Big O. “Our father’s life story has an undeniably cinematic quality to it,” Orbison said. “The telling of it is in extraordinarily capable hands with Bruce and Ray and the overall team that will bring The Big O Finally to the screen.”
Before the Dawn is split into three discs, one for each set of the live show. The first boasts seven hits from throughout Bush’s career, the second centers around Bush’s seminal 1985 LP, Hounds of Love, while the third features selections from her 2005 double album, Aerial, and includes an unreleased song, “Tawny Moon.”
Bush has also released her performance of Aerial‘s sprawling “Prologue,” which slowly builds from a delicate piano ode into an rousing orchestral ballad.
Bush’s “Before the Dawn” residency marked the reclusive British singer’s first live performances in 35 years. “I was really delighted that the shows were received so positively and so warmly, but the really unexpected part of it all was the audiences,” she wrote after the residency. “Audiences that you could only ever dream of. One of the main reasons for wanting to perform live again was to have contact with that audience. They took my breath away.”
As for Bush’s studio output, the singer has been silent since releasing two albums in 2011, Director’s Cut — a collection of reworked songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes — and 50 Words for Snow.
Before the Dawn Track List
CD1 1. “Lily” 2. “Hounds Of Love” 3. “Joanni” 4. “Top Of The City” 5. “Never Be Mine” 6. “Running Up That Hill” 7. “King Of The Mountain”
CD 2 1. “Astronomer’s Call (Spoken Monologue)” 2. “And Dream Of Sheep” 3. “Under Ice” 4. “Waking The Witch” 5. “Watching Them Without Her (Dialogue)” 6. “Watching You Without Me” 7. “Little Light” 8. “Jig Of Life” 9. “Hello Earth” 10. “The Morning Fog
DJ Quik confronts social and racial issues that weigh on the black community in his soulful new track “Black Friday,” which the OG Compton rapper released on his SoundCloud.
“I wrote this piece because I don’t like the tumultuous air surrounding Black People,” DJ Quik wrote of the track. “Someone had to speak up for the African American community on this Black Friday and I elect Me to do so.” Quik also calls out Donald Trump for being “racist” on the track. He also shouts out to his late peers Tupac Shakur and Eazy-E.
“I look around and the whole scene different/ It seems like life is different/ What’s wrong with us?/ Why do police want to kill us,” Quik raps. “Solitary mind, military mission/ I tried to get my people’s to chill, that’s my intention/ But you can’t stop the back and forth when a brother dies / And families gotta pay for funerals without a dime.”
In April, Quik teamed with rapper Problem for their six-track Rosecrans EP. It was the influential West Coast hip-hop figure’s first official release since his 2014 LP The Midnight Life.