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.

Making Her Move

Born in Wayne, Nebraska, Kinney grew up primarily in the Cornhusker State “as a little kid watching actors on TV.”

Yet, she discovered that music was “my first way into performing. … I first thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be a singer,’ because I used to listen to the Carpenters,” Kinney discloses. “And I loved Karen Carpenter, I would learn all the Carpenters’ songs, perform them. … And it wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I started to kind of put together that one of the things I liked about music was the storytelling aspect. …

“If I sang at church or I sang at school, people would say, ‘Oh, I like when you sing because I can always hear the words.’ And I remember that being something that really stuck in my brain and sort of led me to start being in the theatre department more … like the words and expressing emotion and the storytelling aspect of music was really what most inspired me.”

Emily Kinney as Beth – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Gallery – Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Earning a degree in theatre performance at Nebraska Wesleyan in 2006, the wide-eyed 19-year-old headed to New York City. Her big acting break came in summer 2008 when she made her Broadway debut as Anna in Spring Awakening.

If I said I regret leaving, I’d be lying / Just wanna live my life / And this place is dying.

— Emily Kinney

“Omaha Hotel”, written after attending an uncle’s funeral in Nebraska, “is a reflection on leaving my family … and therefore I missed a lot,” recalls Kinney, who stayed in New York and also began writing songs for EPs like 2011’s Blue Toothbrush and 2013’s Expired Love. “And when you’re in a show, you can’t leave when you’re doing eight shows a week. You miss everything. And when you’re on a network TV show (The Walking Dead was shot in Atlanta}, you certainly can’t leave for a wedding or something. (laughs)

“At the very beginning of moving to New York City, I didn’t have a lot of resources to just be flying back and forth and … I felt like I needed to kind of focus on this thing that I wanted to do. … So it was a very different world for me.”

In 2015, Kinney made her full-length album debut with This Is War, and toured behind it. Then after “about nine years or so” on the East Coast, she went to Los Angeles.

Kinney thinks she has seen her parents twice since January 2020. That includes when the vaccinated couple now living in Brush, Colorado, made a recent trek to L.A. But as the middle sister of three, she’s yearning to reunite with both siblings, who live in Colorado Springs. Sara, an Air Force Academy graduate, is the founder and CEO of an engineering-technical services company. Katy, Emily’s younger sister (by seven years), is a lawyer.

On “Genetic Makeup”, a breezy-sounding tune neutralizing its melancholic mood, Kinney considers the traits she shares with “the women in my family,” trying to understand the good and bad qualities about herself. “We probably all have done this where … you think about your parents fighting about something, and then when you’re a little bit older, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I having the same fight?’” she contemplates. “… And so I think this song is really about looking at specifically the female energy in my family. … It takes a lot of work to really break out of, I don’t know, how you’re built to be.”

My sister called me crying / A low blow left her reeling / And I imagine her in her bed / Just screaming at the ceiling.

— Emily Kinney