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.”‘