Emily Kinney’s introspective new album, Oh, Jonathan is a bit of a departure from the singer-songwriter’s previous work. It’s a collection of cinematically inspired songs about love, relationships and metaphor.
Produced by friend and collaborator, Ben Greenspan, Kinney’s album is a poetic and visceral stamp of the artist’s thought process and life. Songs like the infectious “Boy Band Hero” draw from the idea of high school daydream, while deeper tracks like “Jonathan,” “Mortal” and “Soda Glass” are as much autobiographical as they are hook-laden. The use of synth elements is also widely prevalent on Oh, Jonathan. Giving the album a mature, cohesive quality.
Widely known for her stint as Beth Greene on AMC’s “The Walking Dead" (where her music and singing were often featured), Kinney has successfully balanced the role of both musician and actor. And with Oh Jonathan, she's also succeeded in creating an atmospheric and relatable album. Whether it’s that special place in your heart for unrequited love or the feeling of never being exactly sure of what it is you want. Kinney’s music fills that space. Your imagination will fill in the gaps.
AXS recently spoke with Kinney about Oh, Jonathan and more in this exclusive new interview.
AXS: How would you describe Oh, Jonathan in terms of its sound and how it relates to some of your previous work?
Emily Kinney: When I was approaching this project, I wanted to see a little more of an atmospheric and sonic landscape. I wanted it to have a little more air and space. It led me to using more synths and less guitars. I also started experimenting with different producers and eventually found Ben Greenspan. He influenced a lot of the different instrumentation on this album.
AXS: Has your approach to songwriting changed much over the years?
EK: I still write the same way. It usually starts with something I want to say and then figuring out a way to say it in a phrase or little poem. All of these songs relate and chronicle the on and off relationships I’ve had. The other thing I usually do is just play around on the guitar. "Popsicles" is a song where I came up with a simple guitar riff and wrote the poem over that riff. “Mermaid” is that way too. I found a riff and laid the words out over it.
AXS: What inspired the song, “Boy Band Hero”?
EK: I was in a relationship that had ended and came up with the idea of feeling like a lot of it was all made up in my head. I thought about another song on the album, "Jonathan,” where I’m drawing him, tracing his face and making him into someone he might not be. Now that I was so far removed from this relationship, it felt like it was all just a daydream and I had imagined in all. That line, “just a daydream” kept going on in my head. I thought back to high school and when my imagination would just run away with itself. The whole idea of being in class and imagining things is how it all began.
AXS: What can you tell me about the song, “Mortal”?
EK: “Mortal” is one of my favorites. That song reflects on a time when everything was so magical. It was inspired by an evening when there was an eclipse and the moon turned pink and red. I remember we went up on the roof on a building downtown. We had pizza and just sat and watched. All of these songs describe real moments.
AXS: How about the song, “Soda Glass”?
EK: I wrote “Soda Glass” about an email I received when I was in Toronto. I had been in a casual relationship with this guy who wrote to tell me that he had found a new girlfriend. He told me he was now dating someone “for real” and that our on and off thing had to end.
AXS: Let's switch gears and talk about your side project, The Sweetheart Deal. How did it come about?
EK: Paul McDonald and I are both solo artists and we’re also dating. Sometimes it’s fun to just write a song and this project started out when Paul was working on a song and I offered to help him with it. We started The Sweetheart Deal to take the pressure off and to do something completely for fun. Just a way for us to bond with no expectations. We recently finished a small run of shows and recorded a few songs with a country/folk vibe. It’s very exciting!
AXS: What can you tell me about your new series on Netflix, “Messiah”?
EK: We should finish filming by the end of October and it should be out sometime next year. I’m excited about it. I get to be a mom, which is really fun. I’m not a mom in real life but it’s cool to stretch my imagination and go back to when I was a kid and think about the way my mom talked to me.
AXS: What excites you the most about this next phase of your career?
On my past albums, I performed the songs a lot before ever recording them. This is the first time I’ve created the songs without really performing them live. I’m excited and curious to see what it’s going to be like. The coolest and scariest thing about being a musician and actor is that things can change so quickly. You never know what’s next. I’m excited to see what doors open, either because of this new album or acting. It’s a bit of mystery but in a good way. Right now, I feel that anything can happen, and that's a good thing!
Oh, Jonathan will be released on Aug. 24.