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Emily Kinney of ‘The Walking Dead’ Goes Punk

In Music
AS SEEN ON TV: Emily Kinney wasn’t faking her musical chops on AMC’s 
‘The Walking Dead,’ where she played the character of Beth.

AS SEEN ON TV: Emily Kinney wasn’t faking her musical chops on AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead,’ where she played the character of Beth.

Like so many musicians, Emily Kinney began her singing career with an act of rebellion.

“We lived in Wayne, Nebraska, at the time, and I think I was 7,” she says. “I saw an ad for a talent show and I told my mom I wanted to sing in it. She didn’t want me to. But then I filled out the form and sent it in anyway.”

Now 30, Kinney has come a long way from singing in talent shows. An actress as well as a musician, her first big role was playing Mo Rocca’s younger sister on an episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” But the role she is most widely known for is the optimistic, peaceful (and now deceased) character of Beth Greene from AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

By the time she was cast for the show, she had already been performing as a musician around New York. Knowing this, the showrunners gave Kinney’s character multiple singing parts as diegetic music on the show, covering three Tom Waits songs, as well as the song “Be Good” by Waxahatchee.

“The lucky thing is I love Tom Waits, and we kind of established that Beth was a fan as well,” Kinney says, fondly recalling her involvement in the show’s musical selections. “That Waxahatchee song is actually one I sent to them. I was like, ‘Hey, have you heard this girl?’ I’m a music fan, and she was someone I had seen and thought this song could be cool. And they liked it.”

It’s clear that Kinney loves music. Her enthusiasm is audible as she speaks about the musicians she enjoys. “It’s funny how, as I’ve been writing, I feel like the music my parents listen to has stuck with me. As I’ve gotten older and made music myself, that stuff has stuck with me.”

Kinney’s own sound is clearly influenced by American singer-songwriters. She counts both Joni Mitchell and James Taylor as lifelong favorites, two musicians that she always returns to.

In this sense, there is some overlap between the character she played on TV—the gentle, guitar- and piano-playing Beth—and the real person behind the role. The difference between the two calls to mind the proclamation of contemporary philosopher Slavoj Žižek: “Beyond the fiction of reality, there is the reality of the fiction.” There are shades of similarity between Emily and Beth, overlapping traits mapped onto two different people.

“One difference is our age, so the kinds of experiences we’ve had are very different and so the things that I write about might not be what a 17-year-old would be writing about,” she says. “However, musically, they do have commonalities, since it really was the musician Emily Kinney performing those songs, albeit in the voice of a character.

“Even though my songs have a different sound recorded, I do feel they come from a folky, Americana place when I’m writing. In some ways it kind of works. If people were a fan of those songs, when people check it out there ends up being quite a bit of crossover.”

Kinney will be playing solo this month at San Jose’s Streetlight Records. She’s touring in support of her recent full length, This is War, a 10-song collection about fighting for yourself, for your art, and for your space in a relationship. Toward the end of the record, there is a confrontation with the semi-real, semi-spectral character named Molly, a sort of pan-seductive figure who could either be real, be a drug, or be both simultaneously.

“I was trying to describe a situation where it wasn’t just the person that was pulling someone I was dating away from me, but it was also, you know, their needs or addictions as well.”

Kinney and her band recently shot a video for “Molly” that will be released soon, but she’s already looking forward to the next project, with the next album set to begin recording in May. And with a recent pilot shot for ABC, the show at Streetlight is a great chance to see an intimate performance by an artist on the rise.

Emily Kinney
Apr 29, 6pm, Free
Streetlight Records, San Jose

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