Last November, actress Emily Kinney – who plays the flaxen-haired teenager Beth Greene on The Walking Dead – played a concert at a convention for the show. Although the show's fans know she can sing (she crooned Tom Waits's folky 1999 rocker "Hold On" in one episode) they might not have been aware of her work as a singer-songwriter. So far, she has put out two EPs of heartfelt, emotional indie rock. "I wasn't sure if they would be bored, because I'm not talking about zombies," she says, laughing on the phone from her home in New York City. "It has nothing to do with the apocalypse."
Zombies or not, she's found the fans to be receptive to her music. "I think I did gain quite a few fans from doing that show, because people really were listening and listening to the stories," she says. Now Kinney is preparing for two concerts this month and recording three new tracks for a re-release of her latest, Expired Love, due out around March.
These days, with a busy acting schedule on The Walking Dead – which resumes its fourth season this Sunday – Kinney works on her music when she can. Rolling Stone caught up with her to learn more about her music and what we can expect from the final eight episodes of the current season.
What has inspired your music recently?
On Expired Love, my inspiration has been trying to hold on to good moments in relationships and also move on. For me, writing is so much a place where I can be really, really honest. Sometimes in relationships that don't work out, you feel like you weren't heard or you weren't understand; for me, writing is being able to say something exactly how I want to say it and not worry if it hurts someone's feelings.
Have your songs about disintegrated relationships ever hurt anyone?
It's funny, I had an [ex] who said something when I released Expired Love in October. He told me he thought the song "Expired Lover" was very mean. He was upset with me. He thought one of the lines was referencing something in our past relationship, and it might have been. But it was funny. I tried to make the song sound fun.
You tend to make frustrating subjects sound fun, like in Expired Love's "Julie," which is about wanting a guy to notice you, but he's too distracted by another woman.
That one seems to connect with a lot of people. That was definitely based on a real situation that I was in. It's meant to be fun. But it's my way of saying what I want to say. In real life, I'm not going to go up to this girl and say, "He's my guy." I guess some people are bold enough, but I just save it for my songs.
You recently gave a concert at a Walking Dead convention. How did fans of the show receive your music?
They were so quiet and respectful. They really seemed to be listening. The cool thing about Walking Dead fans is they're really loyal. They really pay attention to everything you do, so even though I don't think the same people who are in to Walking Dead would be into my kind of music, I do think that the Walking Dead fans really give it a chance.
Would you ever pitch one of your songs for the show?
I would only want to if it felt right for the character. We've definitely talked about what kinds of music Beth listens to. Does she listen to Emily Kinney music? I don't know. When we're deciding what Beth is going to sing in an episode, we talk about what fits and what she would have knowledge of. It's been established that Beth listens to Tom Waits, which is cool. I think she has good musical taste.
Will you be singing in the next eight episodes coming up?
It's part of Beth's personality, so of course.
What can we expect from Sunday's episode?
You're gonna see all the characters scattered, because we no longer have the prison. You're going to see a more in-depth look into each of the characters and how they're each dealing with their circumstance on their own, rather than as a group. It's good. It's scary.
Will Beth be a big part of the story arc?
You'll definitely see her a lot. Not just with her character, but with a lot of characters – you're going to get to really see what they've been thinking about. For example: What has Beth been going through this whole time? And what is her thought process, because some of that hasn't been explored as much.
She must be wrought after leaving baby Judith in the midseason finale.
Let's talk about that episode. What was it like, from your perspective as an actress, watching the execution of Scott Wilson's character, Hershel, Beth's dad?
Now that I've been on the show for a few years, it's become a big part of my life. I didn't know how big a part of my life it would become. Now I'm in Georgia half the year or more; I have an apartment there. And these people, like Lauren [Cohan, who plays Beth's sister Maggie] and Scott, they become such good friends and family. Each time, it becomes harder and harder to lose people. It's interesting because, in this weird way, you start to live with the characters in a really cool way. You're letting people in. That's the key, right? That's the point of acting. But then also as people. You almost can't contain how you feel. So it was difficult. I wish that Scott was still down in Georgia with us.
How do you handle working on a show where each script could be your last?
I'm still trying to figure that out. As an actor, you're always freelancing. You take a job, then the job ends, then you find a new job. At a certain point, you're hardened. But I think the longer you're on the show, you become more and more attached to all these people, and I'm invested. So it's getting harder and harder to imagine. I don't know how I would feel.
You always have music.
Yeah. With acting, you're always looking for a new job, and that's kept me feeling grounded creatively. I always have that to work on.