By Mike Greenblatt
With the release of “I Will Be Me” (Cleopatra Records), Dave Davies, the lead guitarist and co-founder of The Kinks, marks the latest chapter of a legendary career. The chemistry between Dave and his older brother Ray Davies made The Kinks, who officially broke up in 1996, one of Great Britain’s most beloved rock bands. Their road, since 1964, has traversed hard rock, folk rock, country, British Music Hall, Dixieland Jazz, comedy and, in a wildly successful “second act,” mainstream Arena Rock. But the two brothers have been at each other’s throats for decades. Will sibling rivalry continue to prevent an eagerly anticipated Kinks reunion? Only time will tell.
GOLDMINE: Let’s start with the new album, “I Will Be Me.” I understand the premise of having so many “guests” [The Jayhawks, Anti-Flag, Oli Brown, Chris Spedding, Dead Meadow, The Art and Geri X]. This might be a solo album, but you’re a band guy. You like being in bands with all the resulting chemistry. And “I Will Be Me” is you in different bands, depending upon the track … letting you do what you do best.
DAVE DAVIES: Good observation. That’s exactly why I enjoyed making the album so much. It’s all my songs, arrangements and ideas but I get to work with some new fun people. The tracks reflect that kind of band vibe, if you like. It’s how I grew up: Playing guitar in the front room of my mum’s house. It’s supposed to be all about the band … like a traveling folk [music] thing.
GM: You played one of the greatest rock riffs of them all in 1964: “You Really Got Me.”
DD: Whoah! Steady-oh [laughs]!
GM: Even now! It never lost its vitality.
DD: It’s funny, but the opening cut on the new CD, “Little Green Amp,” with Anti-Flag, is in tribute to that riff. I’m having a bit of fun with myself in that song ’cause it’s the same amp we used for “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night” and “Tired Of Waiting.” That riff you like so much — da dah dah dat dat! — That’s the one, right?
GM: Yeah, that’s it.
DD: Well, I played it backwards on “Little Green Amp.” Whoever spots that can get a merit badge.
GM: You were so young. You couldn’t have had any idea whatsoever that what you were doing by inventing that riff would be so revolutionary.
DD: Of course not. You don’t. You can’t. We were lucky enough to grow up in a really supportive family. They grew up in the Second World War. We’ve got six older sisters. I was the baby. It was me and Ray. We were always encouraged to take up music, whereas a lot of my friends at school bragged, “Well, I’ll have a real job by taking up accounting.” We were lucky, in that respect. Ray and I couldn’t have ever got The Kinks together if it wasn’t for our wonderfully supporting family. Our family became so [inspirational] to us that they became the subject of many of our songs. Arthur and Rosie, man, Muswell Hillbillies!
GM: “Picture Book” and “She Was So Jealous Of Her Sister” come to mind.
DD: Exactly! They’re all characters that grew out of our family, and the compositions reflect where we come from, our attitudes. There’s a lot of source material there.
GM: You lasted so long, and the songs took on a life of their own that spanned a few generations. They were universal, despite the rather cheeky, overly British Music Hall arrangements. You wed American country, Dixieland jazz, folk rock and hard rock to the singer-songwriter aesthetic. This after a garage-punk-blues start! Man, I could name so many bands I used to love whose music sounds dated now. What’s the key?
DD: Relevance. It’s just life. Life doesn’t grow out of date. That’s how I look at things. I never look at things as if to say, “Oh, that was the ‘60s.” Certain art and sound are from different eras, of course. Technology has certainly changed over the last 30 to 40 years. But Elvis and Eddie Cochran, man! Some of the ideas on the new songs are ideas that Chuck Berry might have had. When I’m composing, as a matter of fact, and I get stuck on an idea, I just think of Chuck Berry! And then I think, “Great! At least I’ve got 16 bars to find a way in which to fit in words.” There’s inspiration everywhere — from the past, the present and maybe even the future.
GM: I like how my ’60s heroes all seem to love my ’50s heroes.
DD: Because that’s where it came from. It’s got to start somewhere. When I was a kid, we had so much music in the house. I was listening to my sisters playing Hank Williams. To me, he’s so rock and roll; I always thought of him like that. I think he had a really unique view of the world. True, he had that whiny voice which precluded rock. In fact, Hank and Leadbelly were the first rock stars, if you ask me. And if you mix them up, you get the whole picture. They’re the pioneers, and only then did you get Elvis and The Beatles and The Kinks [laughs]. It all came from Hank and Leadbelly, man. And all those blues and country singers: They were about living, about experiencing life and not about a trend or social attitude. Well, maybe they were about social attitudes in a sense. It wasn’t about money. They didn’t have any. Hah! Maybe it was about money, after all [laughs]. Well, it certainly wasn’t about trends. It’s about how you are. That’s one reason I wanted to call the album “I Will Be Me.” I didn’t mean it as an ego thing. I meant it like when all is said and done, we still get up out of bed in the morning and look in the mirror and ask, “Who am I going to be today?” Well, sh*t, man, I just have to be myself. We tend to be things we’re not all the time. Maybe we should start being ourselves. People might change! Hell, none of us are perfect. All of us have got some kind of problem, or bad attitude. We’re all a kind of a mixture of a lot of personalities. I think we’re becoming schizophrenic.
GM: You mean you have the “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues?”
DD: Ray wrote that. We have to find a place to be ourselves in the midst of all this weirdness. It’s really interesting being me at the moment. I don’t know what you think about being you, though [laughs].
GM: When I first saw the title of the new album, I immediately flashed on another song you used to play all the time, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.”
DD: I love that song.
GM: Too many of our generation of musicians are dead. You’ve dabbled in your fair share of sex, drugs and rock and roll. How come you didn’t die?
DD: I tried. Really, I tried [laughs].
GM: I sang in bands for years, and I sometimes think had I made it like you, I’d be dead today … You’re no stranger to total debauchery! Yet, here we speak.
DD: [laughs harder] I think, the thing was, there was a period, maybe the early ’70s, where, man, it wasn’t good. I didn’t feel good about myself. I didn’t want to be me. [So I turned to] drugs and drink. Anything I wanted, you know. I finally realized it was messing up my head and emotions. You know I wanted to quit the music business every year for the last 50 years, don’t you?
GM: I had a feeling that might be the case. It has to stem with your feud with Ray …
DD: Maybe. Maybe not. But I discovered yoga and meditation, and I found they really helped. I thought, “Why am I chasing fame? Why don’t I just try to live in my own way?” And that’s not easy. Being creative and imaginative can also be a crisis. You have to balance it all.
GM: Hey, you said it just before. All those years of “anything you want.” That kind of access can kill. Plus, how do you go from receiving universal love on a stage from thousands of people at a pop to a hotel room, oftentimes alone? How do you even fall asleep after the rush of performance? And you’ve been doing it for so long.
DD: The thing is, I think it’s important to realize that … well, it’s like in Buddhism, you think about death and what death is. I don’t want to be morbid, but it makes you appreciate life, when you think of the opposite. You have special events in your life that make you happy. You want more, more, more, but [you should] seek less and be happy with what you’ve got. That’s a really difficult thing to do. In the Western world, what we want is always more than what we need. And I think that’s where the problem lies. When we learn how to be satisfied with getting what we need, rather than what we want, we’ll be happy with what we got. It’s a really, really big thing, I think. Because we can’t deny that we’re spiritual beings. I don’t think so, anyway. It’s impossible. There’s going to come a time in everybody’s life where they’re going to think, “Oh man, what am I doing? I’m unhappy! I’ve got this, and I’ve got that, and still I feel like sh*t.” I mean, what are we looking for? Are we looking for some kind of perfect life? We’re not perfect! It’s like there’s no such thing as perfect music, either. Or perfect art. Some of the things with the most imperfections are the most beautiful of all. What is “perfect?” What the hell do we want out of life? Same old questions, eh? And even if we haven’t got the right solutions, we should always keep asking the questions. What makes you happy, man? No, really. Answer me, Mike.
GM: That’s easy: Family, friends, music, literature, sports and cinema. And not necessarily in that order.
DD: Well, that’s it, then! You’re happy because you know what you like. I know so many people who have loads of money, and they’re miserable. They’re so disappointed in themselves. They want to achieve more and more, but why achieve anything? Happy is the hardest thing to achieve — with money or without it. And it’s become a big deal with me. Happy exists somewhere within contentment.
GM: How’s your health? I was afraid we lost you after your 2004 stroke.
DD: I’m feeling great. We all carry frailties, have a bit of wear and tear, and bear scars from what’s gone on before. I’m a very stubborn and determined person. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I’m not ready to go anywhere permanent yet.
GM: How are things with your brother Ray these days? You do realize that fanatic Kinks fans would love to see you and Ray together again on a stage. Any chance of that ever?
DD: My relationship with my brother is OK at the moment. We still might do something together. It’s really up to Ray, y’know.
GM: He told me last year he was into it, and it was up to you.
DD: He’s always trying to beat me down. He’s been doing that since he was 7 years old. If he started to ever accept the prospect of having a really talented, clever, intelligent, beautiful, better-looking younger brother this time in life, then maybe the whole atmosphere of our relationship would turn into something really beautiful. I think he’s been so plagued by me for some reason, and you’re going to have to delve into his psyche for why.
GM: Sibling rivalry.
DD: Funny, I first heard that term in 1978. I didn’t know what it meant at the time.
GM: C’mon man, let’s do this thing. He says it’s you. You say it’s him. The time is right! Just do it already!
DD: It’s more complicated than that. I could be very easily swayed, but I’m an emotional person. If I feel something’s right, then it is right. It’s like when we first sat around the piano, and we played the opening passage of “Tired Of Waiting,” I knew it was a hit before we put anything else on it. So we’re in this gap thing, and when I see Ray pursue his own creative lights, I think that’s what he should be doing. I’ve always been a great supporter of Ray’s talent, but I think the stumbling block is that he’s always tried to put me down … to throw me aside. That’s not healthy! I’ve had to continually build myself up. We both need help, encouragement and support in life. Even more so now that we’re getting a bit older … a lot older.
GM: You must have felt good playing with those young artists on your new album who obviously think it’s an honor to be on a Dave Davies album.
DD: We’ve had a lot of support making this new album from people I’ve never met before. If I can get that sort of support and help and nurturing from strangers, why can’t I get it from family? Because whenever me and Ray meet, it’s always about him. Sure, he’ll say, “Why don’t we do so-and-so?” But y’know what? It always turns into him. I mean, it’s just that, well, when you get 35, 40, you’re frightened, but it’s easier to put up with bad sh*t. When you get older, you need support. You need loving, caring people to help you write and think and be with and eat with and love with. We all need care and attention. Ray always has people around him. It’s beyond me, really. I could walk into a room with my brother and feel a deep caring and love, but it’s always as if I have to love him first.
GM: I know you’ve done extensive reading about the soul of people and the reasons we all do what we do.
DD: Relationships, especially modern relationships, are very complicated. Just think about the ego! I am a fan of Carl Jung, yes. And, yes, I have studied philosophy and followed many a deep, spiritual and important writer. I love to read biographies of these kinds of people and try to understand just why they think the way they do. I’ve also studied astrology my whole life, and I love it because it teaches you about behavior and about how people interact and sometimes do not interact. It’s a great tool for understanding yourself. Then, there’s all the Buddhist teachings. They’re good when you get depressed, in despair, thinking “why me? What about me?” Once you start to step out into the world and develop some kind of compassion for all life outside of you, you suffer less from that “me, me, me, me.” You become more integrated with the whole of humanity. And humanity, in and of itself, is a lot bigger than a few smart religions.
GM: I would assume you’re not too into organized religion and consider the quest for spiritual enlightenment a solo endeavor.
DD: Religions just try to control people. Humanity itself, as I’ve said, should be the focus. And how we all interact with each other. We really should learn to love each other and not pretend. I’ll pretend I like you because I want this or that. That kind of thievery has got us into big sh*t! And it’s only by learning about the mind, how it works, how it can influence other people in a good way, that we can really do something about this terrible predicament we’re all in. It’s not about black and white and Jews and Muslims and Hindus. It’s about humanity. Once you get beyond that, we’ve all got arms and legs and bones, and we all end up disbursed back into Mother Earth’s arms. We’ve got to get ourselves in shape, spiritually speaking. It’s important for us all to nurture each other.
GM: There was a time — in the late ‘60s — when that was in vogue.
DD: Yes! Yes! And in music especially. Music encouraged people to love! What is love really? It’s not just f**king. But it can be! You know what I mean? I think in the late ’60s — although it was also all about drugs, and it all went kind of haywire with people going absolutely mad — we had the initial idea to learn how to love. We’ve never really been taught properly how to love. And a lot of it comes from accepting what you are as a person. Not you personally, Mike.
GM: I know what you mean, Dave.
DD: Once we let some kind of self-respect seep in, we can go out into the broader world and respect others. GM