Working out The Kinks
It’s been years since he went solo but guitarist and singer Dave Davies says he still finds satisfaction in being himself, writes John J. Moser
Guitarist and singer Dave Davies has long been a solo artist – he released the first of more than a dozen discs under his own name in 1980. He last played with the rock band that made him famous 15 years ago.
But Davies says he understands people always will connect a lead guitarist with his biggest band – especially when that band is seminal rock force The Kinks.
From 1964 to 1980, The Kinks, with Davies’ brother Ray as vocalist, had 10 Top 40 albums and early rock classics such as You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night; later there were thought-provoking pop hits such as A Well Respected Man and Lola, and even 1980s hits Come Dancing and Do It Again.
More importantly, The Kinks had a ragged rock intensity that influenced generations of musical acts from The Who to punk rock to metal – and do so even today.
Dave Davies, who created those classic Kinks guitar riffs, has been carving out his own identity with new material. His newest album, I Will Be Me, continues that path of self-expression. Davies is playing songs from the disc on a tour of 10 American cities.
Speaking from his home in Exmoor, England, Davies says he thinks one reason The Kinks have been so influential is because their songs expressed what many people felt – and still feel: frustration, aggression, rejection.
“People can relate to a lot of the issues,” he says. “And I’m hoping on my new album, it’s kind of like a statement of … sometimes we need to kind of go within, and realise if we’re not ourselves and don’t be ourselves, then who are we?
“You have to look in the mirror and think, Who am I today? Who am I trying to be? Who am I? And I’ll settle it – I’ll be me. I Will Be Me. And I hope I have a chance.”
Davies says those listening to I Will Be Me will recognise the guitar work that got him ranked in Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 100 guitarists of all time, and You Really Got Me as one of the Top 5 greatest guitar songs of all time. “It’s rock’n’roll. It’s guitar-prominent rock’n’roll songs about life in the modern world and reflections of the past,” he says. It also includes “political attainments and spiritual ideas” – one song, The Healing Boy, is about his grandson – so “it’s quite a mixed bag. But it’s a rock album,” he says.
Davies had help on the disc with bands influenced by The Kinks. One song, Little Green Amp, features Pittsburgh punk-rock provocateurs Anti-Flag. Australian alternative rockers The Art appear on Erotic Neurotic, which Davies laughingly calls “kind of a playful song … about the minds of probably four or five people that I’ve known – women and guys”.
The album is Davies’ fourth since 2002 – a surprisingly rich output after he went nearly 20 years in the 1980s and 1990s without a solo disc. Also released in 2011 was Hidden Treasures, a collection of songs Davies recorded as his intended first solo disc in 1967.
“I’m glad that came out,” Davies says. “I was trying to find all the material that the record company had, putting it together and trying to get people to put it out. And Universal finally decided they had all the elements to put an album together. So I thought, ‘Well, let’s go for it.’ It’s not as rock’n’roll and as edgy as my new album, but it’s got a lot of historical value to it – some of the untold story.”
Davies’ recent productivity comes even as he battled health difficulties in recent years. He had a stroke in 2004, and in 2010 cancelled a tour because of an unspecified health problem. He declines to elaborate, saying, “It’s fine now. I’m great now. It didn’t work that time, but I’m really keyed up for it now.”
In fact, Davies says ageing – he’s 66 – is one reason for his creativity.
“It’s funny; if you’re a creative person anyway, I think the older you get, the more creative you get,” he says. “I do, because you have more practice at it, so it comes a bit easier. I found that age does bring some other ideas and deeper thoughts … about the world and about people around you and what’s going on in the world.
“No one wants to get old, man, come on,” he says with a laugh. “But it does have its advantages.”
Despite that increased creativity, Davies is hesitant to say whether the next year, which marks the 50th anniversary of The Kinks’ founding, will see new music or any live performances from the group. They last performed together in 1996.
“Ehh, not as of today,” Davies says, laughing again. “But it’s not impossible. It’s possible. I really don’t know. We’ll see how the immediate future goes. I know Ray’s got things he wants to do, and I want to promote my album.”
Definitely slated for the anniversary is a Kinks film, Davies says. “I’ve just finished reading the latest script that we’ve worked quite extensively with the past five years, and it’s looking good. And there’ll be other things. There’s lots of possibilities, and I hope Ray and I can do something. It’d be nice.”
Davies says his famously volatile relationship with his brother continues. But he says they last saw each other at an aunt’s 100th birthday, and “it was a fun day. And we e-mail more. The luxury of having e-mail, you can talk with someone without having to be in the same room.”
Being more accepting is something else that comes with age, Davies says – and, in his case, life’s accompanying spiritual journey.
“It’s the most important thing in my life, and in most people’s lives,” he says. “We were spiritual beings before we were Kinks and before we were journalists.
“I think most of the pain and suffering and misery in the world are caused by making judgments too readily and overreacting to emotional situations. I’ve done it _ me and Ray fighting as kids, you know? He called you a name and you hit back, trying to think of something worse and make him feel bad.
“We do that all the time, and it goes on, instead of thinking, ‘Hang on a minute, there’s a reason people are upset and angry’. There’s a word; they use it in computers and in music programmes, ‘latency.’ It’s like a kind of catching up or consideration, and allowing the time for information to be absorbed into the mind. I think … we need that latency with everything.”
He says his live show continues to have the same approach that made The Kinks so great. His band include some members who played on the new disc. “So it’s mostly rock, with a bit of attitude. I don’t think my attitude will ever go. I think you need it to survive. You need a bit.”