Exclusive Interview: Emily Kinney Talks ‘Mermaid Song’ And ‘Walking Dead’ Closure

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Emily Kinney, who is most famous for her role as Beth on AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead,’ has been working hard over the past two-plus years since her departure from the series, with appearances on ‘The Flash,’ ‘Arrow,’ ‘Masters of Sex,’ ‘The Knick,’ ‘Conviction,’ and now ABC’s ‘Ten Days in the Valley.’

On the music side of her world, Kinney has also released four albums since 2011. On Thursday, she released a new single and music video ‘Mermaid Song.’

We spoke with Kinney about her musical career and tried to get some ‘Walking Dead’ closure.

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MFR: You released a new song and video yesterday, can you tell our listeners about Mermaid Song?

Emily Kinney: Yeah totally. This song is about when you’re in a relationship or in a situation where you don’t feel like you can be yourself and you kind of just want to swim away and do your own thing and be your own person. When I was little I loved swimming, and of course, I loved ‘The Little Mermaid’ and she kind of wanted to leave her family and be part of a different world and all that. So that was all sort of lyrical inspiration. So the song is just kind of about realizing you want to do your own thing and be yourself.

MFR: Listening to your other albums, is Mermaid Song a shift in style?

Emily Kinney: I would say so, after releasing ‘This Is War’ I definitely was spending a lot of time in the studio trying to figure out a different instrumentation and figuring out ways to give my songs a little bit more, I want to say like ‘weight.’ I feel like the songs still come from a similar place where I’m usually analyzing and reflecting on relationships or questions that I have about life. In the past, I think I’ve always wanted to lighten them up if they were sad breakup songs. And this time I wanted the words to have a bit more weight so that’s where you hear kind of the synths and the Moog and in particular with this song, we wanted something that would feel like waves, you know like an ocean. So it’s definitely a new sound for me.

MFR: The background music in ‘Mermaid Song’ immediately made me immediately think of Mazzy Star.

Emily Kinney: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of Mazzy Star, and that has definitely been an inspiration to me. Actually, on a different song I was working on, I was like, “ooh, I kind of want to channel this sort of vibe.’ When I was working on this song ‘Be Good’ we were listening to Mazzy Star a lot. So that’s definitely an inspiration for me. So that’s cool you heard that.

MFR: Nebraska, New York, California – Where are your biggest musical influences coming from now?

Emily Kinney: Now, my favorite band is Frightened Rabbit. I listen to that a lot. I listen to all kinds of music though. I listen to classic rock like what my parents listened to was really inspirational to me and they all sound like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and that kind of stuff.

I mean it depends. Every day is different. I like this girl Courtney Marie Andrews who’s like a country singer-songwriter. I’ve been listening to Broken Social Scene a lot which I didn’t really know that band until recently. And I love that.

MFR: As an actor and a musician, you need to dig deep emotionally. Can you talk about the emotional differences between acting and music?

Emily Kinney: The emotional differences. I guess with acting you’re putting yourself in someone else’s place. So there’s a lot more imagination involved. But I do still feel like I go, ‘OK, where have I been the same as this character?’ And I do try to draw from my personal experience to guess what it would be like to be in those situations. So I do still use my personal experience, and in a similar way with music. Usually, it starts out from something that I experienced. But then once I start writing the song sometimes it does take a life of its own, and you use your imagination to sort of fill it in. You know, to fill in the gaps like it’s not like every song is word for word exactly what has happened in my life. A lot of times there’s an anchor that is like a phrase or a bit of truth and then you sort of build the song around that. So then, your imagination kind of kicks in I’m not actually a mermaid that’s going to swim away. So, they actually do come from a similar place and in a similar way I do find it’s really important when I work on acting to have moments by myself with the lines before I practice with anyone. And then, of course, it’s always really great to practice with someone and get their feedback. Once you’re on set you sort of are feeding off of other people. But I’ve always felt like, ‘oh’ it’s good if I get just a little bit of time by myself to do these lines just in a room by myself’ and then in a similar way I feel the same about music. I feel like I usually have to have at least some time where I was by myself with the words and made sure I got to say something that was for sure what I wanted to say you. And then you might go into a writer’s room, or a session, or whatever, or you might bring it to a producer and then it becomes a collaboration. But I always feel like having some moments to your self without any other voices is important.

MFR: Mermaid Song was released independently; how do measure success?

Emily Kinney: You know that’s a really interesting question because it’s changed at different times. I can remember back when I was first living in New York City and just playing clubs and stuff when my goal was just to release an album. That was the goal and so just to have gotten that was a success to me. I guess for me just having made the stuff there’s a bit of you know, just actually finishing. Starting a project, coming up with a song, and then following it through, and then actually putting out into the world. I do feel like just that in of itself is a success.

Maybe I have a low bar or something but just getting to that point takes a lot. Especially if you’re an independent musician. I guess I feel like it’s a success if I did what I wanted to do in the beginning and I do feel like the song is a success to me already. I hope that people love it. But you can’t kind of control once it goes out into the world what’s going to happen. I would love for it to reach a bigger audience. I mean I have some really great cool fans right now. But it would be cool if I could reach some new people who maybe didn’t know that I did music with this song. So I would hope to make new fans, and that would be a success to me as well.

MFR: Transitioning over to ‘The Walking Dead.’ Was there a romantic moment shared between Beth and Daryl?

Emily Kinney: You know I can’t actually answer that for you because I didn’t write it. I assumed that there was some chemistry when we were acting the scene. I’ve also heard that ‘oh, that wasn’t what was intended.’ In the script it said something like, ‘they give each other a long look, and they’re interrupted by the noise.’ So, I interpreted it as a special moment, connection. Whether that’s romantic or not. I think that it was too soon to tell. If you have these moments in real life, sometimes there’s special moments of connection with someone, and you don’t even know. You’re like, ‘oh, was that romantic or was it just a nice friendship special moment?’ So, I don’t think that it was defined at that point yet. I think it was still a mystery of what that moment meant.

MFR: Interesting. It’s still an open book. I like that though.

Emily Kinney: Yeah and I mean I think that life is like that, you don’t always know where something is going so I don’t know that. I definitely think there was chemistry. I think when I was playing it as an actor but who knows if that would have played out if she had stayed alive or if it would have even gone. In real life, you can have moments where you don’t know. And so I think it was an I don’t know moment.

MFR: Emily, thank you for your time and best of luck with ‘Mermaid Song.’

Emily Kinney: Thank you.


There was a lot of great insight to the songwriting process and a small nugget about ‘The Walking Dead.’ What was your favorite part of the interview? Sound off in the comments below.

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Matthew Sardo
As the founder of Monkeys Fighting Robots, I'm currently training for my next job as an astronaut cowboy. Reformed hockey goon, comic book store owner, video store clerk, an extra in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' 'Welcome Back Freshman,' and for one special day, I was a Ghostbuster.