Emily Kinney
Photo: Courtesy of Clarion Call Media

Emily Kinney Writes Herself a Winning Role for ‘The Supporting Character’

One acting job was her major claim to fame, but there’s so much more to the story for Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Emily Kinney, whose new album plays a small — but very important — part in a much bigger picture.

I know I’m lucky to be in this movie at all / And when the credits role / I’ll stand proud, clap and stand tall.

— Emily Kinney, lyrics from “The Supporting Character”

Known throughout the world for a once-in-a-lifetime role that’s still unforgettable, singer-songwriter-actor Emily Kinney remains humble enough to call her next album The Supporting Character.

The title, though, taken from one of the nine introspective, sweetly delivered pop tracks she wrote for the record to be released on 9 April, has more to do with the part Kinney plays in life than anything she’s done on stage, screen, or television since leaving her small-town Nebraska home in 2006 for the bright lights of New York City.

“I feel like the album as a whole I wanted to be reflecting on my life through the lens or the fact that I’ve been working as an actor for so long. … My experiences and decisions I’ve made when it comes to family and love and work and everything,” Kinney explains during a phone interview on St. Patrick’s Day in Los Angeles, where the 35-year-old performer sounded perfectly content to stay home rather than risk going green while a global pandemic refused to completely disappear.

“The album is also about me kind of reconnecting with a higher power, with God,” she continues. “There’s something about that song that is me just sort of giving up to the fact that I’m, in some ways, just being led and things are out of my control. … There’s a certain amount of your life that is supporting something bigger than yourself. And you play a smaller part in a bigger picture. … Acting and writing songs are my jobs, how I support myself. But they are very much something that I feel connects me to something bigger than myself.”

Having already led an enriching life, the multifaceted Kinney, sounding as youthful on records as she looks on screen, provides more detail about the songs, the album, and other aspects of her acting-singing career (including playing Beth Greene, one of The Walking Dead’s most intriguing characters) in this interview that concludes with a PopMatters PopQuiz.

Photo: Courtesy of Clarion Call Media

Every Song Tells a Story

Kinney started “to put together the whole concept” for the album after writing “I Went Looking for You”. It pays tribute to veteran actor Scott Wilson, who was 76 when he passed away in 2018. Attending the funeral of her TV dad, she realized how much “his identity as an actor had really shaped a lot of his life.”

So the next day, the song was written. “And though you’ve lived such a beautiful life / It doesn’t seem fair / When I went lookin’ for you, my friend / You weren’t there.”

Then the expressive artist with a crystalline voice turned again to Benjamin Greenspan, another good friend and the producer of her previous album (2018’s Oh, Jonathan), for The Supporting Character. Recorded mostly at her home throughout 2019, both artists shared instrumental duties, including Kinney on guitar and some keyboards. Other contributors included Adam Popick (drums, keys) and guitarist Gregory Uhlmann (Fell Runner, Perfume Genius), with some sessions at Seahorse Sound Studios in LA.

If anything could stop The Supporting Character, it was the pandemic. Still, Kinney shared one of its songs in 2020 and lined up indie label Jullian Records for the album release. “But I think before that it had felt like a question mark,” she points out. “I felt the album was really special and I wanted to make sure I gave it the attention and a nice release plan. But I didn’t really know how to do that.”

Somehow, it all “came together” after the August release of “Easy”. The single, Kinney asserts, isn’t about being in a personal relationship. She means business this time, maintaining an easygoing demeanor as an actor on set or auditioning for a part. This line, though — “Being easy can be hard to take” — might shed more light on the unassuming woman who sometimes second-guesses herself over life’s difficult decisions.

Songs like “The Supporting Character” and “Omaha Hotel” touch on family matters. And precious time away from her father (Vaughn), mother (Jean), and two sisters (Sara and Katy), all of whom now live in Colorado. Sharing a mostly Midwest existence with various stops in Nebraska, all the Kinneys resided in Oregon and Nevada, too. After a weekend in San Diego in 2019 with her visiting dad, a Nebraska native and agronomist who studied business and agriculture in college, Kinney wrote the album’s title track.

On an Interstate 5 drive back to L.A., she remembers thinking, “I want to spend more time with my family and friends and less time chasing my career,” according to a recent press release.

The mountains cut against the sky / It’s like I’m in some dream / The supporting character to somethin’ else’s lead.

— Emily Kinney