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Photos by Ian Brodie.
Ray Davies surely belongs up there as one of the greatest living rock songwriters; the best output by The Kinks rivals or surpasses anything put out by Kinks’ contemporaries like The Beatles, Stones, or Who – especially anything they did from the period between 1967-1971, but also including, by me, the entirety of their excellent 1981 album Give the People What They Want and standout tracks throughout the 70’s and 80’s, from the folkish heart-on-sleevery of “Misfits” or “Little Bit of Emotion” to the jaggedly punky “The Hard Way” and “State of Confusion.” Further, unlike The Who, Stones, and Beatles, many of whose surviving principals went on to record some rather unspectacular albums, Davies’ solo output since The Kinks’ breakup is fresh, vital, and moving. Check out any of his 2007 LP Working Man’s Café for an example, but especially “The Morphine Song” – inspired by Davies’ experiences visiting an emergency ward, though he recasts that for writerly purposes.
Somehow, though, Davies’ name is not a household word. I was chatting with a local music journalist outside a concert at a bar in Vancouver, and I told her I was really excited I was going to get to see Ray Davies again; I received the rather shocking response, “Who?” Sure, she’s in her 20’s, but she knows who Pete Townshend is, or Jagger and Richards, or Lennon and McCartney. (I’ve shamed the poor girl twice now publicly about it, so hopefully it’s a mistake she’ll never make again!). There’s an excellent, intimate Guardian interview where Davies discusses such matters – he says he sometimes gets “Ray who?” and is fine with that. I used that as a starting point for a brief email interview (one I very much would like to expand, but may not have an opportunity; still, even a short email exchange with your heroes is more than most people can hope for – I’m honoured to have interacted with the man at all!).
Ray Davies is currently touring the West Coast in support of See My Friends, a 2010 album featuring versions of classic Kinks’ songs recorded with Alex Chilton, Black Francis, Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica and many others. See his concert dates here!
Are you really okay with “Ray who?” I can see the value in sheltering your muse from celebrity, but it must have its downside.
RAY DAVIES: I always wanted to be a part of The Kinks. It only changed when I went solo. It doesn’t matter, in any event, because to me the song is the thing.
Who, on See My Friends, behaved in the most reverential, fannish manner at the prospect of working with you? Who was the most relaxed about it? Where did Alex Chilton fit on that spectrum? (Do you have a favourite Alex Chilton song/ record/ period? Do you have any thoughts on him?).
RAY DAVIES: Every artist was very cool and un-fanlike. I knew Alex as a neighbor in New Orleans before I knew his music. The album was called See My Friends and Alex was a good one.
I actually was stunned and delighted by how apropos the appearance of Jon Bon Jovi is. I don’t take Bon Jovi very seriously – “Living on a Prayer” was the sort of Absolute Status Quo of bad rock radio when I was a kid – so I really had to do a double take at how inspired it was that he sings “Celluloid Heroes” – at how well he fits that song. At the Hyde Park concert where you first performed it with him – did he choose to do that particular title, or you?
RAY DAVIES: I think the song form is an equalizer. I didn’t really cast the songs for the artists, but Jon fitted because we had previously done it live together. I think he actually saw it as a relief from having to sing “Living on a Prayer.”
In terms of unlikely collaborators, I’m told that Bobcat Goldthwait has a musical project he wants to do with you. I absolutely loved the use of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” in his film God Bless America. Is there a story behind your relationship with him? Have you seen the film? What are the chances of a further collaboration?
RAY DAVIES: Bob sent me a copy of the clip where he wanted to use the song and I like what I saw. Haven’t seen the full movie. Had a cuppa tea with Bob and his wife in London last week; he wants to make a movie of The Kinks’ album Schoolboys in Disgrace. I’ve seen the script and its very good.
How do you keep yourself entertained and comfortable on the road? Do you have any pastimes or enthusiasms when visiting strange cities?
RAY DAVIES: Today I walked past the Vogue Theatre where I am playing [in Vancouver]. Usually I watch TV and listen to the radio on the internet, which is what I am doing right now.
Do you have any associations with Vancouver, or things you would like to do when here? Do feel free to ignore this question if the answer is “No,” but since I discovered that Justin Sullivan of the New Model Army lost his virginity in Vancouver when hitchhiking through North America as a young man, I make it a point to ask this question!
RAY DAVIES: Some once spiked my drink with something bad here and I have never accepted drinks from strangers ever since.
What do you like to drink, when you go to a pub? What are your favourite foods? Can they be found on tour? Do you lay in a supply?
RAY DAVIES: I’ll try the local micro brewery, but always end up testing the Guinness to see how well its travelled from Dublin.
The guitarist Tom Holliston, of Vancouver punks Nomeansno, The Hanson Brothers, and The Show Business Giants is a great admirer of The Village Green Preservation Society – he’s told me it’s his favourite album. Do you find yourself with fans who come from genres of music that you never would have expected? Do punks in particular seem to look to The Kinks? (Any good stories about punk fans of your music?).
RAY DAVIES: Sid Vicious once got emotional about one song with me in the Speakeasy Bar in London (forget which one) but I didn’t take it seriously. It does amaze me how many different artists like that album particularly, as it was not what could be called a hit. Some people like the album simply for that reason.
What cinema do you admire?
RAY DAVIES: Currently watching a lot of French New Wave, Godard etc, after going through a phase of Japanese samurai [movies]. Before that English pre-New Wave (The Leather Boys, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning).
RAY DAVIES: German expressionist.
RAY DAVIES: Getting into Conrad again, and B. Traven.
What were your favourite British TV shows as a kid?
RAY DAVIES: ‘Whacko’ Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son.
A bit of a personal question, but do you have any recurring dreams or dream-structures? Have you ever written a song based on, or in, a dream?
RAY DAVIES: Always trying to hold my brother’s hand to stop him falling off a cliff or a building (I always end up letting him fall). “Waterloo Sunset” was written from a dream.
Thanks for that!
No, thank you!