Interview: Dave Davies (part 1)
Published on October 9th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
They may be the stuff of legend in their own right but, in any fair universe, The Kinks would be every bit as cherished as The Beatles.
Not just for their legacy of truly astounding music but also for the cavalier and rebellious spirit which, in some respects, may even have proved their downfall in terms of gaining widespread acceptance. Had they been allowed to tour America while at the peak of their powers, perhaps they would now be held up as highly as their more clean-cut Liverpudlian counterparts, not to mention The Rolling Stones.
But, then, the oft-quoted “quintessential Englishness” that fuelled their late-sixties output might have been diluted, thus leaving the world bereft of the still-gobsmacking four-album run from 1966’s Face to Face through to 1969’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).
For all of The Kinks’ contrariness, perhaps it’s appropriate that this Englishness – which, it must be said, could never make a band great entirely of its own accord – was at once part of their genius and in part why many may have turned their noses up at them. Heck, the fact that I was even able to interview a key member of the band blows my mind as much as the fact that Ray Davies can still enjoy a drink in his local virtually unnoticed.
You can bet your bottom dollar that Paul McCartney wouldn’t be able to do that.As the lower-profile younger brother, Dave Davies is even less likely to get spotted and this too is cause for amazement.
For here is the man who slashed an amplifier with a razorblade and introduced to popular music the wild, distorted power chords heard on early Kinks hits “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”. Punk and metal are amongst the significant musical movements that might never have happened had Dave not carried out this experimental mutilation, all in the name of trying to create something – anything – that sounded different to the noises his contemporaries were making.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it one of the key turning points in music, let alone pop music, history.Quite aside from this pioneering move, Dave’s ingenious lead guitar lines, rasping vocals (which combined so wonderfully with Ray’s honeyed croon), flamboyant appearance and lust for life were all integral elements of the all-round Kinks package.
He even wrote a number of enduring, deeply affecting songs – most notably “Death of a Clown” – that he recorded with the rest of The Kinks as his backing band and was due to release as an album under his own name.
However, his apathy towards the project, which we discuss in this interview, meant it was never released and relegated much of its material to the status of bonus tracks on reissues of classic Kinks albums.
That is, until today. Well, October 31st to be precise, for this is the scheduled date of release for Hidden Treasures, the well overdue presentation of this fabled ‘lost’ album and a cause of rabid anticipation for not just Rocksucker but Kinks acolytes the world over.
If this retrospective unveiling seems like a line being drawn, then think again – Dave is currently working on a stage version of Two Worlds, a collaboration with his electronically-minded son Russ [aka Abakus and Cinnamon Chasers] which they released last year as The Aschere Project, as well as a solo follow-up to 2007’s Fractured Mindz.
Fears that the stroke he suffered in 2004 would put the kibosh on his creativity have proven, happily, to be resoundingly wide of the mark.With an eye on the imminent release of Hidden Treasures, yours truly was honoured – nay, genuinely star-struck – to be granted a phone conversation with the great man, with many thanks to his partner Kate for arranging it.
And what a conversation it turned out to be, taking in as it did in-depth discussion of the ‘lost’ album, the life and times of a fully-fledged ‘rock star’ (and all that entails), the legendary “little green box”, his spiritual beliefs and, of course, the chances of there being some manner of Kinks reunion. And, what’s more, all of this was frequently punctuated by Dave’s utterly fantastic chuckle…
Firstly, what’s the latest on your plans to recreate Two Worlds as a stage play?
We’ve got a few more songs and more characters but we haven’t got any funding yet. We’ve been searching around for a small theatre company so there’s nothing tangible yet but the songs and the story are coming along well so I’m really excited about that.
Are you and Russ planning any more music projects together or are you focusing solely on this?
Actually, I’ve been writing songs for a solo album, a regular rock album, which will hopefully come out around April or May next year. So I’ve been concentrating on that and working on the Aschere theatre project in between. It’s quite full on. Russ is very prolific so he’s busy with his stuff too.
Did Russ contribute to Fractured Mindz at all? There are little bits of electronica on the album, after all…
No, he didn’t work with me on that. He was away on tour at the time. But his works have influenced me and vice versa. We constantly exchange thoughts and musical ideas. I think when you work with someone who comes from a different musical perspective, you get different ideas. It makes you stretch out a little bit.
Am I right in thinking your son Daniel plays in a couple of bands?
Onto Hidden Treasures, which I and many others are very excited about the forthcoming release of. I read an interview with you in 2002 in which you said that you didn’t have any interest in releasing the ‘lost’ album. What changed your mind?
What changed my mind is that the record company put it together for me! I didn’t have to go through the slog of finding the tapes of the masters. I helped with the artwork. I was going to call it Framed – they thought it was a bit obscure but I liked it – because I felt like I was being set up at the time. I didn’t want to do it originally. The record company and management kept saying, “You’ve got to do it, it’ll be great!” But I was writing really doomy, miserable songs, like “Crying”, “Do You Wish to Be a Man”…(groans)…let me out of here, please! (Laughs)
So those songs were quite autobiographical, then?
It was a two-fold thing, really: the misery of going into a funny little studio that I didn’t like that much – it was an old Polydor demo studio or something – and writing songs when I didn’t really want to write anything. Whenever I got miserable, I’d always lean on my emotional experiences that I had with my first serious girlfriend. I fell in love with her when I was 15 and we had a baby, which was a big thing in those days, for school kids to be taking care of little children. Now, it’s normal! (Laughs) But it was frowned upon and both of our parents tried to keep us apart, which caused great upset and I wrote songs based on that later, like “Funny Face”, “Susannah’s Still Alive”…nearly everything I wrote was based on me and Sue.
There are a lot of lyrical similarities between the songs, particularly the theme of coming home to someone after a long time away, which presumably for you was touring.
Yeah, that was my lifestyle at the time, touring and getting out of my head. There were some good times but it was also a sad point of my life. I’m trying to think of some of the titles from the album…
“This Man He Weeps Tonight”?
That would have been Sue again. (Laughs)
“Mindless Child of Motherhood”?
Yep, same thing! In those days they used to have what they called Unmarried Mothers Homes and I used to walk by the one Sue was in, this big, old Victorian building, hoping I might get to see her or something. “Mindless Child of Motherhood” came about from my many treks past that Unmarried Mothers Home, thinking that it was her fault and she didn’t want to see me. But she thought that it was my fault because our parents had each been trying to tell us that one didn’t like the other anymore. It was really cruel.
What about “Love Me Till the Sun Shines”?
That was tinged with it as well, knowing that I couldn’t be with her but also an “as long as you love me, we can work it all out, whatever happens” sort of thing.
Were that song and “Funny Face” ever considered for your solo album or were they only ever intended for the Something Else by The Kinks album? (Click here to read Rocksucker’s in-depth review of the recently-released Deluxe Edition of Something Else.)
I think “Funny Face” might have been a single but I think people were a bit worried about the drug element, whether it was really about a druggy girlfriend. I mixed up the Sue story with two girls I knew anyway who were always out of their heads. In those days, it was very common for rock musicians and models to take lots of amphetamines and booze and whatever.
I daresay it still is!
Yes, it’s still the drug of choice for models, I think. Cocaine took over.
Is the tracklist of Hidden Treasures the same as what you may originally have had in mind?
No, because I think they just compiled it based on what they had. It’s nothing to do with the original running order.
Was the reason for the album not materialising at the time down to your own wishes or were there other factors at play?
I didn’t want the thing out, it was too depressing. Because I was in a really bad place in my mind at the time, I thought it wouldn’t leave the right impression. I wanted people to associate me with inspiring sounds and being a driving force behind The Kinks: party-going, optimistic, outgoing and all that. That album would have had the opposite effect on people. (Laughs) I just told the record company that I didn’t want it out. I found out a while later that the management were trying to make up the numbers from the record company delivery commitment, so obviously they wanted me to make it for another reason as well. It was all tied in with The Kinks’ contract.
To my ears, the piano riff in the chorus of “Hold My Hand” is very similar to the guitar riff of “The Village Green Preservation Society”…
Well, it was the same band! (Laughs) Songs written around the same time tend to influence each other, don’t they?
Have you ever heard Cardiacs’ cover version of “Susannah’s Still Alive”?
No! Weren’t they a sort of punk band from the 70s? (After lamenting his broadband as “thinband”, Dave eventually manages to find the video on YouTube and we sit there listening to it as he chuckles away and repeatedly exclaims how much he loves it, including a commendation for getting the ending right. It is a truly awesome experience.)
Hidden Treasures will be released on October 31st through Sanctuary Records. For more information, please visit davedavies.com