Kinney waxes brilliantly poetic with bigger and bolder melodies, laced with arsenic lyrics.

If you're anything like Emily Kinney, you've tried to tape a relationship back together many times. In the moment, when the heartache throbs in your chest and rattles your rib cage, you think such an effort has true healing powers. But it's all in vain. Armed with her third full-length album, Oh, Jonathan, out tomorrow, she paints each brittle, painful edge with an extravagance so rich, the on-again, off-again relationship at the core comes alive like a Vincent Van Gogh painting.

The record stands as her most lush, stroked with gentleness and resolve not to be forever bound by the past. It's her first album in three years, which can seem like an absolute eternity in the music world. "There were just a lot of changes, you know, as far as management and figuring out how I wanted to release it. This album I used a different producer, but before I found what I wanted to work with, I was doing a lot of writing sessions and getting to know new people to decide what direction I wanted to go," Kinney tells Popdust over a recent phone call.

As the listener can perhaps surmise upon a first listen, Oh, Jonathan witnesses the singer-songwriter galloping beyond her usual stylistic boundaries into a dizzying mixture of heart-stock instruments and synths that wash up at your feet. It's an ocean of sound, sweeping, foamy and organic to her current state of mind, body and spirit. In a surprising turn, Kinney had actually been working on another album altogether when a new theme, message, and sonic template began to emerge rather naturally in her songwriting. "I felt pretty strongly about the songs that were sort of gathering around the same sort of message and relationship. Last year, around the time I put out 'Mermaid Song,' it felt like this was the album that I should put out next," she says.

Oh, Jonathan ⎯⎯ produced by Benjamin Greenspan (Skoles, Fences) ⎯⎯ possesses an almost dream-like quality, a thread line of grace and delicacy. "Soda Glass," which "I didn't think was very good," she admits, recounts a relationship's rosy sweetness, as she yearns for that intoxicating love again. "Our soda glass love could only take so many falls / And my paperback heart can only take so much rain before it drowns, dissolves, gets dragged down the drain," she sings on the hook, framing the slow burning-out in a shimmering glow. Written during a trip to Toronto, Kinney had no intention of recording it initially.

"Ben said, 'Oh no, this is one of the best ones. I love this one,'" she remembers. "It just came to be that the songs that seemed really good were ones about this relationship and this time in my life. I wrote it on the guitar, which you don't hear much anymore. A lot of the parts went away. It's mostly keys. This one went through a lot of different phases."

Where the title song "Jonathan" burns the skin with weathered whispers, "Drunk and Lost" whirls into the stars with severe rock propulsion. But it's "Loser," peppered with off-kilter percussion and trickling of synths, that exposes Kinney in her most audacious, unapologetic form. "How does it feel to have a small dick?" she pokes, seething but fragile, "'cause by now I've seen others..." She hurls such harsh insults as a way to detach herself, destroying the feelings of aching love with freshly-culled dynamite. Her concerted endeavors to cut the lies that bind is hot-blooded and burdensome.

Below, Kinney discusses the decision to scrap her previous album, her emotional headspace and how Paul McDonald has inspired her own work.

Was it a tough decision to switch gears from your previous, unreleased album to Oh, Jonathan?

You know what? No. At the time, it felt like a relief because I felt like before I had been trying out a lot of stuff, and I'd had different managers and maybe different labels. I really wanted to get better and find the best way to release this music. I would ask people their thoughts, and in the past, I had made it by myself or with my friends. Now, I would get notes, so I would maybe send a song to someone and then they would say, "Oh, maybe do this, make it more of this." I was taking those notes in, and then, I got to a point when I wrote "Mermaid Song" and didn't care anymore.

I had a very clear idea of what sound I wanted. This other album I had been working on was in lots of different pieces but not like a consistent sound and certain message. Originally, 'Oh, Jonathan' was going to be an EP, but I just kind of kept gathering more material that was reflecting on this relationship and on other things that this person would say to me, which came up in the lyrics. It started to become very clear. So, actually, when I made that decision, it made everything easier. I just sort of stopped asking for people's input. All of that was really important to get to that point.

When you're making something, you have try all the ways and then get rid of everything. Sometimes, that will happen when you're making music in the studio. You're like, "Oh, what if there could be this sound," and you try everything and then you go, "Oh actually, no, take away that. It's too cluttered." That kind of happened, as far as the people. It got smaller to where it was basically just me and Ben.

You said that you went through a couple of different potential producers for this album. How did you ultimately get linked up with Benjamin Greenspan?

Ben was someone I had tried out a song with. It was actually "Back on Love," and I loved the way it sounded so much. I also just really loved working with him and ended up picking him. I kept being like, "I don't even want to try this out with anyone else." I had other songs that I tried out with other producers, and it would be great but there was just something about him. We also get along really well, and there was a comfort right away. I feel like I have a very eclectic music taste. I love country music and rock music and some pop-punk. Then, of course, I like girl singer-songwriters. Ben has a broad taste in music, too. We can pull from our experiences and understand each other.

This album essentially chronicles an on-again, off-again relationship. What was your headspace during writing and recording the songs?

It's been different. I mean, it would depend on the day and what I was working on. The album is reflecting on probably the span of three or four years. It was very on- and off-again to the point where we'd date someone else. And then when that relationship ended, we ended up back in each other's lives. Some of the songs are newer, and some are actually a little bit older. I did do most of them in the studio before ever performing them live. I'm so ready to be past that chapter. [laughs] I'm sure many people can relate to that relationship that you can't really count on in an everyday way. Although it was a very meaningful relationship, and I'm very thankful for the relationship, it was also one that I couldn't count on. I'm ready to be done with it. Sometimes, it's strange to go back and be like, "Oh man, I was so excited or so upset."

Previously, you noted how you wanted the production of this album to have more air and space. What was the process of making those choices in style and arrangement?

I was trying lots of different things, and when we made "Mermaid Song," we used more synthesizers. There's a theme of water for me on the album. I wanted sounds that sounded like water, and I felt like in my last albums, I would write songs, go hang out with my musician friends and they would help to create the guitar parts and this and that. I would fill up the spaces, and by just having me and Ben, I feel like there weren't quite as many parts floating around. I know that I write a lot of lyrics, and sometimes, they can be hard to digest or catch. So, I really wanted the lyrics and melody to fit on top of a light sonic landscape that at times feels like water. That's what I was going for.

I also wanted it to feel cool, like something I would listen to in my car. That all really informed the direction that I ended up going with. Throughout the album, there's like little moments that I was like, "Oh, I could imagine that being water." With "Boy Band Hero," the first bar of music has little programmed parts. The idea was that it sounds like a sack of water

The water-like quality is present in "Drunk & Lost," too, with the drums really driving the song.

I came up with this pretty simple guitar riff, which then completely went away. It was almost a very rhythmic song. I would say it started out almost more as poem or a spoken word piece. Once we got to the studio, we changed it a little more.

"Loser" has such a biting lyric and confidence to it in how you write about this past relationship. What led you to write this song in such a way?

It was actually a song that I wanted to throw away. Through this process, Ben and I become really good friends. When I decided that I was going to make the theme of this album, 'Oh, Jonathan,' I started searching through poems that I had written. I'll keep voice memos and little scraps of songs. I'll also write a lot of songs and then never listen to them again. When I was in a certain place, those were more for myself, not something I necessarily wanted to share. I wrote this song in Shoreditch, London at the Ace Hotel. They give you those guitars sometimes in the room. I started traveling around Europe by myself. I was there for a convention for 'The Walking Dead,' but then I wanted to use this opportunity to explore and go to the museums in London and go to Paris. I was really bummed out that night. Before I had left to go on the trip, I had had plans to meet up with this person. I really wanted to see them, and the plans fell through. I was just feeling very reflective and down.

That was a moment for me where I was thinking about how there's something about getting over someone where you have to almost make yourself not like them. So, the song is very much low blows. Obviously, I really care about (this) person, and sometimes, it sounds mean. But I would say it's more reflective of my mental state at the time. It's a very personal song and one I wasn't even expecting to necessarily share. But it seemed to complete a certain section of the album for me. That song is a turning point. The next two songs, "Mermaid Song" and "Boy Band Hero," are about moving forward.

Musically at least, "Loser" has a bizarre Billy Joel-leaning feel to it underneath the production.

[laughs] Wow. Really?! When I was a kid, I remember I did listen to Billy Joel a little. I remember I even sang one of his songs for a talent show. Maybe that was somewhere in my mind.

The production is almost off-kilter with the oddball use of percussion over top of piano. How did that come together?

The first drum that comes in is actually programmed drums. Sometimes, what we would do is we would start in the studio and do programmed drums to begin with and then real drums on top. It's this sort of weirder, computer-y sound. I liked that, especially with that song feeling a little hard to listen to. A real drummer would be really flowing, and the song does have moments like that where it flows. I like the way that the programmed drums felt for some reason; it felt like it hurts a little bit.

Later in the song, a blast of horns comes in. What a cool creative choice.

My friend Stewart [Cole] plays a trumpet solo. He then layered another one on top. With my last two albums, I would listen to them and realize there's no time to absorb all the things I'm saying. This is too much. That was one of my own notes to myself. [laughs] I don't think it's a problem. People seem to love that. This time, a goal of mine was to try to have faith and let that impulse to fill every moment go to the side a little bit. That was a moment where I was like, "Oh, here we can let all the things that I've said just sit." You have to absorb them for a second. I also thought it just kind of added a certain character. I sort of imagined that trumpet as a sad, old man. [laughs]

Many of these songs have a ton of layers. Have you already plotted how you'll play these live?

So, I've really only played these songs live once. The first time I played them was an experiment. Ben had all these samples, and I was going to have to figure out how to recreate those. Many people use tracks and loops. We started out in rehearsal doing that, and I came to realize that although I love those sounds recorded, I don't necessarily love them live. I started taking away stuff.

What matters most are melody and lyric. It was figuring out what worked in a recorded song and where I could make the vocals sit on top of the layer of sound in live performance. Things are weighted differently. The tour will be different than what you hear recorded. I like real instruments live, more than I like a loop or a track. I liked the way that as a band, you can flow. The songs live on tour are going to be paired down. They'll be simpler. It'll be fun. I'll keep many of the cool parts, but maybe you'll hear more of the guitar and the way I wrote it a little more. Maybe it'll have a little little more weight in a certain way.

How has working with Paul McDonald in The Sweetheart Deal influenced your solo music?

He's one of the first people who I can do a writing session with. I like doing writing sessions with people, but I always find that you do have to really be able to be yourself completely. I always want to collaborate or be a good collaborator, so sometimes I don't necessarily go, "Actually, I want this word or I want this melody." You compromise a lot. That's just the nature of a writing session, which can be awesome. But the ones that I actually end up wanting to put out into the world tend to be ones that I wrote by myself because I got the exact word I want.

Paul is one of the first people who I feel like I can really, truly collaborate with and write a song while also getting to be myself in the song. He would write a verse and a chorus. He'd be staying at my house in L.A. or I would be staying at his place in Nashville or something. He'd be like, "Oh, I wrote a little bit of a tune today. Want to hear it?" Of course, I did. Then, I'd be like, "Hey, you want me add on a second verse or help?" He is always writing and having good ideas.

He's definitely really inspiring, and it's really fun to have a side project. It feels like way less pressure. You have someone to help you make a decision with this and that. We'll remind each other that making music is fun. It's not rocket science. [laughs]

Follow Emily Kinney on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


Jason Scott is a freelance music journalist with bylines in B-Sides & Badlands, Billboard, PopCrush, Ladygunn, Greatist, AXS, Uproxx, Paste and many others. Follow him on Twitter.


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The Walking Dead actress Emily Kinney may no longer be glowing with her sunny disposition and making us optimistic in the face of a zombie apocalypse, but that doesn't mean she's escaped our minds. As diehard fans probably already know, the wide-eyed beauty is also an accomplished indie-pop singer—her latest single Rockstar is (literally) to die for! Now, the singer-songwriter is bringing the joy of her music to her fans, expected to launch the 2015 This Is War Tour this May!

Kinney took to Twitter on Tuesday evening (March 10) to make the big reveal, charting a handful of dates all across the east coast (from Bay Shore, Ny. to Nashville, Tenn.). Tickets officially go on sale on Friday (March 13). Tour dates and cities are below.

Additional dates/cities to be announced soon.

In addition to performing acoustic tracks on the AMC ratings juggernaut (including a harrowing version of The Parting Glass during the show's third season), she's also released two giddy-pop EPs. If you haven't, you might think about adding 2011's Blue Toothbrush and 2014's (re-released) Expired Love to your iTunes playlist.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Sara Kauss/Getty]

Stay tuned for Emily Kinney updates. Be sure to follow @Popdust and @JasonTheScott on Twitter!

Emily Kinney may no longer be a mainstay of AMC's ratings blockbuster The Walking Dead, but her spot in mainstream culture continues. She's shed her survivor gear for a more joyful, fun-loving role in Train's new "Bulletproof Picasso" music video. Portraying a down-on-her-luck waitress, Kinney's wide-eyed undertaking is fully fleshed out in only four minutes. In the clip (below), the setting is a road-side diner. As she goes about her business of her duties, an older gentlemen plops down at the counter, and it's clear right away that he's after more than just the mid-day specials.

Kinney's expressions are priceless as she pours him a cup of coffee as he attempts to flirt with her. Modern Family's Reid Ewing enters to sweep her off her feet, well, kind of. She's immediately dazzled by his good looks and charm. He asks for directions and she points out the best route on a map. He then leaves. The older man draws her attention back for another cup of coffee. When she turns to grab something behind her, the creep grabs her behind. Obviously, not OK with that, she grabs a bottle of ketchup and douses him with the red syrup. When he dashes to clean himself off (leaving his convertible's keys on the counter), Kinney grabs them and runs out to his car. She high-tails it out on the highway, following Ewing's trail. They meet up again, and go for a free-wheeling escapade into the desert. Summer love was never so sweet!

"Bulletproof Picasso" is far more pop polished than most of Train's work, shedding the rock-folk textures in favor of Top 40 appeal. It serves as the third single from their 2014 album, after the lead sampling "Angel in Blue Jeans" and follow-up "Cadillac, Cadillac." In support of the record, they will be heading out on The Bulletproof Picasso UK Tour this March. They are also launching the Picasso at the Wheel Tour here in the states for the summer, with The Fray and Matt Nathanson as the special guests.

U.S. tour dates are as follows:

5/21 - Marysville, CA @ Sleep Train Amphitheatre at Sacramento

5/22 - Mountain View, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre

5/23 - Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl

5/24 - Chula Vista, CA @ Sleep Train Amphitheater - San Diego

5/26 - Phoenix, AZ @ Ak-Chin Pavilion

5/27 - Albuquerque, NM @ Isleta Amphitheater

5/29 - Dallas, TX @ Gexa Energy Pavilion

5/30 - The Woodlands, TX @ Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

6/3 - Pelham, AL @ Oak Mountain Amphitheatre

6/5 - Atlanta, GA @ Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood

6/6 - Tampa, FL @ MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre

6/7 - West Palm Beach, FL @ Cruzan Amphitheater

6/9 - Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion Charlotte

6/10 - Raleigh, NC @ Walnut Creek Amphitheatre

6/11 - Hershey, PA @ Hershey Park Pavilion/Stadium

6/13 - Virginia Beach, VA @ Farm Bureau Live at Virginia Beach

6/14 - Camden, NJ @ Susquehanna Bank Center

6/16 - Wantagh, NY @ Nikon at Jones Beach Theater

6/18 - Bangor, ME @ Darling’s Waterfront Park

6/19 - Saratoga Springs, NY @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center

6/20 - Mansfield, MA @ Xfinity Center

6/21 - Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena

6/23 - Toronto, ON @ Molson Canadian Amphitheatre

6/24 - Darien Center, NY @ Darien Lake Performing Arts Center

6/26 - Bethel, NY @ Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

6/27 - Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Bank Arts Center

6/28 - Bristow, VA @ Jiffy Lube Live

6/30 - Burgettstown, PA @ First Niagara Pavillion

7/1 - Clarkston, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre

7/2 - Cincinnati, OH @ Riverbend Music Center

7/3 - Tinley Park, IL @ First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre

7/10 - Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena

7/11 - Maryland Heights, MO @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheater

7/12 - Noblesville, IN @ Klipsch Music Center

7/15 - Cuyahoga Falls, OH @ Blossom Music Center

7/17 - Kansas City, Mo @ Starlight Theatre

7/18 - Englewood, CO @ Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre

7/19 - Salt Lake City, UT @ USANA Amphitheatre

7/21 - Stateline, NV @ Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys

7/22 - Boise, ID @ Taco Bell Arena

7/24 - Ridgefield, WA @ Amphitheater Northwest

7/25 - Quincy, WA @ The Gorge Amphitheatre

Stay tuned for Emily Kinney and Train updates. Be sure to follow @Popdust and @JasonTheScott on Twitter!

While this year's esteemed list of 8 Pop Albums That Changed My View Of The World was driven by a sheer need to recover, the best pop songs represented 2014's addiction to high-octane, blistering rhythms, beats and escapism. Unlike yesterday's collection of must-listen records, the following were born out of impact: what tracks (whether a rock-soaked pop-hummer or a more subtly-crafted ballad) warranted nearly constant repeats? Sometimes a delicious hook drew me in; other times it was showering emotion that created a vortex so powerful it was damn near impossible to break free. Or...it could have been a harrowing lyric so good it surpassed all else. Sales were simply not a factor here, although many (if not most) of them saw heavy rotations on the airwaves, subsequently pulling in some major pocket change.

Sit back, relax, and hit play on this perfect pop playlist:

 

20. Jessie J, "Masterpiece"

This British chanteuse is pop's most underrated creator. Sweet Talker is one helluva masterfully done body of work, with this mid-tempo anthem among her best yet. It stands as tall as her previous "Who You Are," the title track from her 2011 debut record.

19. Maroon 5, "Animals"

This pop-rock band went even more pop on V, if that were even possible. They lost a bit of edge with their 2012 disc Overexposed, but returned to form with this dizzying and infectious album. "Animals" is by far the set's most metaphorical cut.

18. Rixton, "Me & My Broken Heart"

As far as boy bands go, there's something quite different in Rixton's syrupy and melodic brand of pop. While this thumper didn't go to the summit of the Hot 100, it was one that should have.

17. Emily Kinney, "Rockstar"

Yes, this former zombie killer does pop. While her run on The Walking Dead is over, she's only getting started with her giddy, rock-tinged tunes that are a bit like Ingrid Michaelson meets Sara Bareilles. This is the lead-in to her 2015 album, and I just can't wait to see what she has up her sleeve next.

16. Alex & Sierra, "Scarecrow"

Folk-pop has never sounded so good. This lovebird duo hit the bulls eye with this delicious debut single, and their upward career trajectory is prime for a 2015 bonafide breakout.

15. Kesha & Pitbull, "Timber"

A Top 40 blockbuster that mixes the sensibility of pop with a spicy country flavor. It's like cool ranch Doritos. It sizzles on the tongue (or ear, in this case) and blasts straight to the end. It'll forever be stuck in your head until the end of time.

14. Sia, "Chandelier"

2014's most elusive singer. While she doesn't want to be famous, her music has made her famous. As one of the year's finest lyrics, "Chandelier" propelled the performer to the forefront of everyone's minds and every major TV show in the country.

13. Sam Smith, "I'm Not the Only One"

Many call him the male Adele. While you can make a case for that, he has his own soulful pop that is just as uniquely perfect. It's not possible to over-hype this singer. While "Stay with Me" is certainly a gem, it's this one (with a music video starring Glee's Dianna Agron) that is far more memorable.

12. 5 Seconds of Summer, "Amnesia"

The boys from the land down under splashed into the states with "She's So Perfect," but their more mature sound is marked profoundly on "Amnesia." It's a regretful, poignant piece with a stripped down, searing arrangement that banishes the fluffy pop textures in favor of a rock solid sound.

11. Hilary Duff, "All About You"

The biggest travesty of the year is the fact this song didn't smash. That was probably hindered by the lackluster "Chasing the Sun" (even though the video was super cute). "All About You" saw this former Disney star return to glorious form, but with a new-found sense of confidence.

10. GRL, "Ugly Heart"

Somehow, with the tragic death of band mate Simone Battle this summer, this track has a devastatingly new meaning. On the surface, this song is simply a power-pop anthem for all ages and identities. There's nothing ugly about their delivery, either.

9. Tove Lo, "Habits (Stay High)"

What's great about pop in 2014 is the diverse sounds that are embraced. This is so off-beat, so unconventional, so weirdly precise that it just fits at Top 40. The video is equally as bizarre; but it's too good to be ignored.

8. Ed Sheeran, "Don't"

The chart-topping British singer-songwriter went in a far more urban, R&B direction with x. Much like his pal Taylor Swift, he isn't afraid to pull from his personal life for great songs. As an Ellie Goulding kiss-off, this track sits in his well of emotion and groovy guitar-laden style.

7. Taylor Swift, "Blank Space"

While "Shake It Off" was fun, "Blank Space" is Swift's money-maker. As with many other 1989 cuts, she has taken the reigns back on her public image, addressing her long-standing tabloid rumors of dating and breaking. Plus, the video is absolutely nutty.

6. Big Little Lions, "Make It Up As We Go Along"

This indie duo are bubbling just underneath the surface. If you don't know them yet, don't worry; you soon will. As a track from their Paper Cage EP, this is fine-tuned, giddy folk-pop at its best and most dynamic.

5. Fifth Harmony, "Sledgehammer"

You didn't think 5H wouldn't make this list, did you? "Sledgehammer" is the summation of two years of blood, sweat and tears. They've put so much hard work finding their place among the pop titans, and this song just works on so many levels: vocal drive, soaring production, signature lyricism.

4. Cher Lloyd, "Sirens"

As one of the years most authentic pieces, Lloyd hit it out of the park here: another blistering performance that didn't quite get its due. Going forward, this singer should think about continuing on this personal path of self discovery. There's obviously an audience for it.

3. Coldplay, "A Sky Full of Stars"

Another emotional entry that gives Coldplay more credibility than ever before. The production is classic Coldplay, but it's the lyrics that make this song worth repeating over and over and over and over again. Also, you might cry a time or two.

2. Troye Sivan, "Gasoline" [EXPLICIT]

He's an electro-dance-pop hybrid that has something truly real to say. "Gasoline," off his new TRXYE EP, is biting and a remorseful bit of romanticism. There's also a sensuality that oozes from his voice that adds a complicated layer to the mix.

1. Hozier, "Take Me To Church"

The year's most beautiful, most sinister, most grounded lyric goes to Hozier's "Take Me to Church." It's the unrelenting darkness that connected to so many people; it's not afraid of the kind of harrowing imagery that strikes to the brain and the heart.

Stay tuned for updates. Feel free to follow @Popdust and JasonTheScott on Twitter!

The Walking Dead fans might be a little disheartened following [SPOILER] Beth's untimely demise during the show's mid-season finale, but the actress and flourishing folk-pop singer Emily Kinney lives on! In her new music video for the total jam "Rockstar," the starlet pays homage to early MTV—bonus points for that epic throwback T-shirt, by the way—with a clip that sits in the singer's sweet spot. The official music video (directed by Entertainment Weekly’s Jay Sansone) features plenty of 2014 pop culture references, including selfies with friends.

“I jumped at the chance to work with Emily because she’s a double threat—an incredible dramatic actress and a pop star,” Sansone told EW earlier this week, for the exclusive video debut. “You just have to roll camera on that kind of presence and let her do her thing. For this video, we chose a very clean ’90s music video look and made something that resonates with Emily’s style and something gritty the fans would appreciate.”

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the power, grace and talent of one, Miss Emily Kinney.

The new delicious pop track, akin to Ingrid Michaelson, serves as the first offering from an album expected in 2015.

Stay tuned for updates. Feel free to follow @Popdust and JasonTheScott on Twitter!