The problem with nostalgia is that it's rooted in a specific time and a specific space. And the problem with modern nostalgia is that it's almost always coming from the top down, the canonization being executed by a small cabal of people recalling a very narrow slice of what actually went down. Regardless of what era is being revived, the human affection for novelty — for the shiny and obvious markers of an era — means lots of material is left out of the new, revised narrative. The overlooked sights and sounds, however prevalent during the period in review, don't fit in with the nostalgist hypothesis and hazy memory of what was actually happening. For instance, Drivin' N' Cryin' — arguably one of the best hard-rock outfits of the late 20th century — has been all but ignored in the burgeoning '90s revival.
The argument for their exclusion, though, isn't a tough one: It's hard to get nostalgic about music that never stops being cool. You can't really, truly get nostalgic for music that is technically timeless. Drivin' N' Cryin' inhabits a weird world — most likely an alternate universe — in which rock bands don't need gimmicks. Just long hair and loud amps. They didn't do the '80s eyeliner-and-spandex thing, they weren't Pacific Northwesterners wallowing in flannel and self-pity, and they never made a rap-rock album. Drivin' N' Cryin' has always stood outside of the prevailing trends, opting for monster riffs when their peers were regurgitating glam pop or cribbing their lyric sheets straight from the thesaurus. They were writing big, huge rock anthems during an era when obnoxious hair gave way to obnoxious introspection.
And then, just to eliminate any possibility of being pinned to one specific space and/or time, they keep on rocking and releasing records with just as much energy and fire as they did 20 years ago.
"Drivin' N' Cryin' is a testosterone-based project, you know? It's big and it's clunky and rockin'," says lead singer Kevn Kinney. He's on the phone from Orlando the morning after a recent gig. "When we have folk stuff or pretty stuff we don't end up playing it out ever. It's kind of a waste. I mean, it's cool for the record, but we just don't end up playing them."
And that might be why the canonization hadn't happened yet: Drivin' N' Cryin' never opted for the easy path — the "Monster Ballad" and Billboard Magazine path. They didn't switch gears when grunge hit or try to make an "alternative" album when tides turned. From the very first album, 1986's Scarred but Smarter, to their latest, 2009's Great American Bubble Factory, Drivin' N' Cryin' has never veered far from the no-frills rock 'n' roll aesthetic. They never kept up with the times, but rather — and this is the sticking point —lived outside of the times, carried on a tradition of overdriven guitar tones and monster drums. It's a tradition that continues the legacy of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC without becoming caught up in, well, nostalgia. Drivin' N' Cryin' is preparing a series of EPs, each built thematically around a genre from previous eras that has influenced the band, but from the way Kinney tells it, it's less about remembering the past than enjoying the present.
"I have a lot of stuff I wanna do," says Kinney. "There's a bunch of different styles that I want to do. This first one is gonna be a sorta blues, hard-rock thing. Punk rock is in the future. I want a jangly, heavy, psychedelia one. That way we can do everything we want to do."
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