The Brothers Grim
Ray and Dave Davies ponder their ongoing sibling rivalry on 'Phobia'
"I would not like to see Dave come to any actual harm says Ray Davies, searching for the right words to explain his feelings for his longtime guitarist, fellow Kink and lifelong sibling rival, Dave Davies.
A clearly exhausted Ray Davies is riding through Los Angeles late at night, moving toward Hollywood Boulevard, which he immortalized in 'Celluloid Heroes,' and struggling with one of the enduring mysteries of rock & roll - whether the famously tense have a love hate relationship or simply a hate-hate one. It's a topic that Ray confronts with trademark wit on 'Hatred '(A Duet), a standout track from the Kinks' new album, Phobia. "Dave pisses me off, awfully Ray says has he looks out the car window. "I mean, Daves's a complete jerk. But I did write him a birthday card today that asked, "Why do I love you?'"
Ray pauses to point out the Whiskey a Go Go ,on Sunset Boulevard and reminisces about the night Elvis Presley went there to see the Kinks play. 'I also got the best blow job of my life in the toilet at that place - a wonderful guy,' jokes the man who penned the groundbreaking, genderbending 'Lola,' as well as a few hundred of rocks most literate and melodic songs. Finally, Ray returns to the to the topic at hand. 'I suppose the truth is that it's 's the relationships with an edge to them that have always been the most exciting to me,' Ray says, But the fact that Dave is absolutely insufferable, totally intolerable."
Why then has the pair tolerated each other for nearly thirty years of often brilliant but obviously difficult kollective Kinkdom? Ray seems positively stumped. "That," he says finally, "is the eternal unanswered question about brothers."
Ray is on his way back to his hotel after making a rare, unplugged duo appearance with Dave for the entertainment pleasure of a small group of classic-rock-radio promoters in town for the Pollack radio convention at Sony Records intimate cafeteria in Santa Monica. "I have absolutely no idea what we're doing here," Ray told the audience by way of introduction.
What Ray and Dave are doing here is working the room with some radio folks and doing a good turn for Columbia, their new record label and one of the few that the Kinks - who in addition to the Davieses include drummer Bob Henrit and bassist Jim Rodford- haven't already been signed to. The concert effectively mixes some vintage FM chestnuts like 'Apeman' and 'Lola' with some racks from 'Phobia,' the group's first new studio album since 1989. The highlight of the set is 'Hatred (A Duct)," a song that finds Ray suggesting that 'hatred is the only thing that keeps us together." Tonight the song is performed with a surprisingly sweet wink - it is, after all, Dave's birthday.
In many respects, the biggest surprise of all is that the Kinks are still here it all (to bear them tell it, they are also, despite status as legitimate rock legends, pretty much broke). "There have been loads of times in the last few years when it looked like it was all over for us," says Ray Davies. 'It just seemed like we were never going to get this record together. I felt like maybe Ray didn't want to make it. Maybe he was scared it was actually a good record. You know, that the album might do well or something horrible."
"Our last record company very nearly wrecked us," says Ray, referring to MCA, which the Kinks recorded for in the late Eighties. "With all due respect, that was the most evil and insidious time in my life. I lost all confidence that I even knew how to make a record. Now with Columbia I'm encouraged again."
Indeed, for the first time in a long while, Ray feels relatively optimistic about the commercial prospects for Phobia, the groups thirtieth album (not counting various compilations). Recorded over an extended period, the album is a wide-ranging affair, with the sixteen tracks bouncing back and forth from the melodic warmth and subtlety of songs 'The Informer,' 'Don't' and 'Only a Dream' to the near grunge of 'It's Alright,' one of Dave's contributions.
Ray denies that his own phobia is a fear of success. 'At the moment, I believe I've made a hit record,' he says. If the public tells me that 'Phobia' sucks, I'll still believe I've done good work. What bothers me is that because of MCA, it's been too many years since we've even been given a shot at reaching our audience. We know they are out there. 'There's a song on the record called 'Still Searching' and we are still searching. That's part of the Kinks' charm - insomuch as we have any charm.'
The latest blow came with the death of Kink's manager Nigel Thomas just as plans were being finalized for the release of the long-delayed Phobia. Rather than push the album back again, the band decided to soldier on, taking on many of the day-to-day management responsibilities. "I have considered the possibility that Nigel died rather than taking another call from me," Ray says with a laugh. "I hope he's actually somewhere in the Bahamas laughing at me."
The next morning Ray and Dave are up at the crack of dawn, off to chat with the drive-time team of Mark and Brian on KLOS-FM. Within minutes of arriving at the studio, Dave is jamming in a warm-up room with two fans. The pair of Kultists have shown up before sunrise to serenade their heroes and are rewarded by a private audience with the Davies brothers. Ray and Dave are obviously charmed by these dedicated followers and sweetly insist their fans stay with them on the air. With Mark and Brian, the Davies brothers trade pointed jabs and come off as some sort of British Invasion Smothers Brothers. Indeed, Dave seems genuinely stunned when Ray slips and makes a reference to 'our music.'
On the way to a series of endless promotion meetings, Ray and Dave are each asked to assess what the other contributes to the Kinks. Dave immediately praises his brother as the truly great singer-songwriter that he is. When his turn comes, Ray takes a deep breath. "Dave brings total spontaneity, aggression, immediacy and a unique vocal blend with me," he says. "Dave does magic takes, and he stops me from disappearing up my own asshole." Ray finishes and looks towards the door. "May I please stop now?"
David Wild, Rolling Stone, May 13th, 1994.