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Actress discusses new indie-pop effort, ‘This Is War,’ as well as playing a “sex surrogate” on ‘Masters of Sex’

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Toward the end of last year, a part of actress Emily Kinney died. For four seasons, she had played The Walking Dead’s Beth Greene — the wide-eyed, singing-prone, optimistic daughter of a veterinarian farmer — but as is the show’s wont, her character met its less-than-natural conclusion in November.

 

Now Kinney is focusing on new roles, with appearances slated on Masters of Sex and The Knick, and a new album. For the past four years, the actress has been recording and releasing albums of emotive indie-pop on her own and has a new one — This Is War — slated to come out on October 2nd. She made the album knowing full well that after her run on one of TV’s biggest recent hits, it would be reaching a wider audience, but she didn’t let expectations faze her. Today, she’s premiering a new tune from the upcoming LP, “Birthday Cake,” which continues in the autobiographical, relationship-themed mold of songs from her prior release, 2014’s Expired Love.

 

Soft and acoustic, “Birthday Cake” finds Kinney singing to a man she’s crushing on and tells of how they eventually attempt a long-distance relationship after a romantic encounter at her birthday party, moving from making out to making love by the time he visits her in New York City. Kinney tells Rolling Stone that the reason it sounds so sweet and hopeful is because it’s based on a true story.

 

“I wrote it after I’d gone on a date with this guy I liked and I said, ‘Well, come to my birthday party,” she says with a laugh. “He couldn’t come until late, after my friends and I had gone to this bar, but then later I lured him back to my friend’s apartment. I said, ‘You know, there’s still leftover birthday cake at the apartment, so you might want to…’ So he came over to have some birthday cake and then we fell in love.” She laughs and says that shortly thereafter she had to fly to Georgia to film The Walking Dead, so they tried out a long-distance relationship. When Rolling Stone asks if it worked out, she says with a laugh, “In some ways it worked.”

 

By her own admission, the tune is one of the more cheerful songs on This Is War. As she wrote the record — whose cover sports her face and the album title written on sticker-covered xylophone keys (“It’s, like, a cute war,” she says) — she constantly found herself in the middle of all sorts of situations, which led to tension in the songs. “The songs are me figuring stuff out,” she says. “The title is about stepping up and standing up for myself, in relationships and in my work. Between auditioning and music, it can be tough. There are a lot of ups and downs.”

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Emily Kinney is known for her role as Beth Greene from the hit series The Walking Dead, but she has much more under her belt than that one show. She’s been in numerous television and film spots, as well as on Broadway in Spring Awakening and August: Osage County. Kinney has also been busy with a budding music career, and we’re eagerly awaiting a new album from her this year, titled This Is War. I got to talk to Emily about her upcoming tour, album, and how acting and music have worked together in her life:

 

A lot of people know you from The Walking Dead, but you’re also an accomplished musician. Did acting come first, or was music/acting a joint venture for you?

 

Music in some ways came first as far as like, when I was little […] I loved music and the radio and singing and singing for people and even just starting when I was seven, I was singing in talent shows and at church. But then, as I grew up, I started getting involved in theater and musical theater and the TV shows I watched, I would think, “Oh, that’s kinda what I’m looking for.” […] They both have been a part of my life for quite a while, I would say music kinda got me in.

 

When I moved to New York, I was definitely moving to pursue acting and music was just something I’d always do no matter what. I started singing backup for bands, I went to go see a lot of music, started writing my own songs. It took me a second to start deciding to actually record my own music. I guess professionally, acting came first, but what hooked me into performance was my music.

 

 

Your music has a very playful nature to it. Even with your songs that take a more serious tone, there’s still this, I want to say ‘innocence’ to it. Do you find it easier to write your music that way?

 

I do think that it’s very playful and happy, like a lot of people will tell me, “Your songs sound so happy, but then when I really listen close to the words, they suddenly are very sad.” I just tend to think about the actual words themselves, and I think for me, music or writing music is a way for me to feel better and work out what I’m going through, so I don’t know if that becomes part of the process, it starts out trying to be really honest about what I want to say, and saying those things in a very honest way, but then when I sing them wanting them to feel happy and feel like a release.

 

So I think that’s why they might come out in that way. I also think my sense of humor comes across a little bit in my songs, and even if I’m upset about something, I do tend to make fun of the thing I’m upset about, and I don’t think that any of my problems are maybe all that awful. Usually, most of the issues I’m writing about are things like boyfriends and love and really things that I’m lucky to have had in my life. Sometimes, I try to find a way to sort of make fun of the problem.

 

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