Walking Dead's Emily Kinney Is An Amazing Musician

When The Walking Dead's Beth Greene sings to baby Judith amidst the chaos of Season 3, it wasn't just for dramatic purposes that Emily Kinney (who plays Beth) was chosen for the lullaby. In fact, when she isn't surviving a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Kinney is known as an accomplished singer-songwriter, cutting her teeth right here in New York City's incredible indie music scene.
This, of course, isn't news to her Walking Dead co-stars, who often attend Kinney performances when they are hanging out on-set in Atlanta. In fact, Kinney says the cast are some of her biggest supporters when it comes to music. She confirms what show fans definitely suspect: Those on the show are as close as they seem on the screen. Kinney talks about her personal heartbreak at the mid-season finale, plus what we are going to see on the most "action-packed" episodes of the show to date, when the series returns this Sunday.
By the way, if you want to see her for yourself, you can drop by her February 13 show at Rockwood Music Hall.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
A lot of your fans might not know you’re a musician. Are you a musician first and then an actress?
“I wouldn’t say I’m one or the other first. I’ve always been singing. When I moved to the city, it was with the intention of pursuing acting. One of the things I did when I first moved to New York, though, was go to music clubs — it’s one of my favorite things to do. That’s how I met all my first friends. I started singing backup for singer/songwriters. Then, I started working on Spring Awakening. I’ve always been writing little songs. I met a really good friend, Conrad, who played bass for Spring Awakening. He was really encouraging. He’d tell me the songs were really good. I used to just do it for fun even though I was singing for other people. That’s when I recorded “Blue Toothbrush,” and then things just started happening. It’s now part of my everyday life. I’m always writing songs.”

That’s awesome! Are you going to go on tour for the album?
“As of right now, no. I’m setting up dates, though. I’ll be doing some one-offs in February. like the show at Rockland on February 13. That’s one thing with acting — trying to balance both. I care about both so much. I would never abandon one for the other. I think that they feed each other in different ways.”

One of the nice things about working on a serial show like The Walking Dead is that you’re allowed to do other things.
“The schedule changes. Sometimes I’m in an episode a bunch of times, and then I have downtime. That’s when I tap into music.”
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Do your cast members know you’re a songwriter?
“They do. I had a show in Atlanta that everyone showed up to. When I first started, between Season 2 and 3, the producers came out to my show at Rockwood. Scott Gimple, the show’s runner, was a super fan. He loved 'Blue Toothbrush' and would ask to have all my work, even the process voice memos. He’d be like, ‘I need them!’ He’s awesome.”

Do you think you’re ever going to get a song on the show?
“I don’t know! My music isn’t necessarily what you see. If one happened to fit it, great. Some people have asked why I don’t sing a song as Beth, to which I reply, ‘Maybe…’ What does Beth listen to? Does she listen to my kind of music? It’s important for me to stay true to the story and character. But, just getting to sing on the show is such a great opportunity. Maybe it’ll get people to explore my music on the side.”

Beth represents the loss of innocence; you’ve had to grow up so seriously. Someone mentioned recently that the whole show is going to be about Beth soon, because of the way she’s aging. She’s becoming a woman, you know?
“Yeah, it’s an interesting time to be going through all of that stuff. She has to step up — even the whole taking care of the baby thing. It’s like she’s stepping into these more adult roles pretty quickly. If that’s what’s needed, then that’s what she does. It’s going to be exciting.”
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Three questions. One: The baby?
“Oh, I can’t say anything.”

That was deliberately left for us to wonder, right?
“I think so.”

Secondly, you lost your dad...? That was an amazing acting moment, too. You guys really knocked it out of the park. How was it?
“I feel like there wasn’t even any acting required. We’re all down there in Atlanta together, and we’ve definitely formed a bond.”

Did you see the Talking Dead after that episode?
“Yes! They showed me after. It’s like a family. There’s a whole life that goes on with the show with all of us living down there. You know, you’re not just losing that character. For us, it’s real, too. It’s a different group of people and it’s all part of it. That’s what’s so cool about the show; it feels real for people. That’s why it’s so popular. Even though it’s about zombies, it feels very real. I’ve never been on a TV show. Most acting gigs have reoccurring guest stars — even the Broadway shows I’ve done. You’re with a group of people for a year, and that’s a really good run. It’s intense. I’ve grown to really love TV because you do get to know the people you work with in a great way. It makes you do your best work, because you’re open. That extends to the crew, too! When you have to do emotional moments, the crew is your confidant. I think it’s hard to lose that.”

It’s also interesting because Talking Dead pointed out that we really lost the moral center of the show. Who’s going to be the new one?
“I don’t know! There are so many great actors. I don’t know! We all might just carry it with us in some sort of way. But, there are so many great new characters. One thing that’s cool is that the second half of the season will be focused on them.”

You’ve also got your character and Lauren’s character as being the more emotional core of everything. Herschel was a bit more practical and fatherly. There’s no real dad or mom figure anymore.
“Yeah, there’s no dad anymore. I wonder how people will step into those roles; not just during the second half of the season, but moving beyond that.”

Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, told us that this end of the world scenario shows humanity at its purest. It’s the most human of stories because there aren’t external elements coming into play.
“Yeah, it’s like, 'Do you love me?' You either do or you don’t. Everything has to happen immediately. You’re not guaranteed the next moment. It makes everything heightened. You get your answers faster.”

With that in mind, are there any new relationships coming up?
“I hope. I think that Beth is really alone. You can see it in the first episode where she was all, ‘It was nice to know him.’ I think she’s put up a lot of defenses to deal with things. I think the people she’s closest to — even if she had that boyfriend — are her sister and father. I don’t really believe Beth has been in love in the way that someone really knows you. I think that’s something she has yet to experience.”
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.

I spoke recently with Norman and he said the second half is the best.
“I don’t think anything is — what’s cool is the second half is really unexpected. It doesn’t follow a formula. I feel like you start to get into a rhythm with certain shows. Like, Grey’s Anatomy or Law And Order; it doesn’t mean they’re not fun, but you love it because there’s a formula to it. Once in a while there might be a shocking end, but it follows a groove. It’s familiar. I feel like the second half of The Walking Dead doesn’t have that. Each episode is its own thing. I think people will like it, but they won’t like it because people like formulas. Ultimately, though, they’re going to love it because people like to go on roller coasters, too. It’ll be interesting.”

I felt like this season was really strong and you’re all asking really strong questions. It shows that you can keep a movie intensity over extended seasons. I want to go back to your music for a bit and talk about what kind of music you’re listening to these days. People know your character, but if someone hasn’t listened to you yet, can you describe what they should tune in for?
“If you like the whole Regina Spektor/Ingrid Michaelson vibe — I actually just saw and met Ingrid Michaelson; it was awesome. Anyway, it’s more lyric-based. It’s still poppy and sweet, though. There are a lot of little love stories.”

It’s playful.
“Yeah! Like ‘Expired Lover.’ It’s definitely different.”

Are there any bands you’re binge-listening to?
“Oh man. I go through phases of old stuff/new stuff. I really love Lorde. I know everyone does, but her whole thing is great. I listen to that album a bunch. I’m excited to see what she comes up with. I’m really drawn to her lyrics. I like this band called Frightened Rabbit. They’re one of my favorite bands. I love seeing bands. There’s a local band called Bright Silence who were some of the first friends I made. I see them a lot. I like Jay May, too. She’s really good. If you like Regina Spektor, you’ll like her.”

When do you get time to be Emily? What are some of the things you do to "stay" her?
“One thing that’s good about music is that I do feel grounded when I have a nice, long day to write. Music has always been a way to get back to me. I tend to write more about my feelings. Just getting to write is important — even if it’s just journaling. I like watching TV, too.”

Who’s the biggest troublemaker on set?
“It’s hard to pick! I want to say Norman, but Steven Yeun is a good jokester. He’s really, really funny.”

If you could have three people survive the zombie apocalypse, who would it be?
“Lauren, definitely. I’m trying to think of people who would help. Oh, Chad! He’s a solid guy. You can count on him. And, well, Danai. Girl power!”