The Record Collector Interview
AFTER BROTHER RAY'S 'X-RAY', THE KINKS' GUITARIST STRIKES BACK WITH THE UNCOMPROMISING 'KINK'
Brotherly love - don't you just love it? Two fruits from the same loins, linked for eternity by their shared bloodline, and choosing to see out their adulthood together in the family rock band: it's enough to make you weep.
That's certainly the effect it had on Dave Davies, Kinks guitarist, younger brother of Ray Davies and eternal junior partner in one of the great psychodramas in pop history.
"Ray...became so abusive to me, so cruel and creatively draining", Dave notes in his new autobiography, 'Kink', "he displays an almost resentful and sometimes condescending loathing for his past, his family. He is at times venomous, spiteful and completely self-involved."
The Davies brothers' well-documented love-and-mostly-hate relationship is at the core of this fascinating, highly readable, chatty and sometimes naive book. Ray's 'fictional' autobiography, 'X-Ray' steered disappointingly clear of pop's longest-running feud, but Dave has exhibited no such restraint. He's also disarmingly open about his (bi)sexual adventures, his drug use, his often thoughtless treatment of his nearest and dearest, and especially the spiritual visitation which transformed his life in 1982.
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll are the common currency of the pop confessional, but exposing this last episode required some sort of courage. After all, anyone who admits that "I began hearing these strange voices talking to me, in clear and unmistakable tones", and goes on to explain that "two of them said they had always been my spirit guides, and two others were entities that were not of this earth but were involved in missions here as watchers and nurturers of our race", is opening himself to the risk of media lampooning.
But Dave's disarming honesty knows no bounds. His book is not only a compelling insight into the history of the Kinks, but also tackles the equally fascinating subject of what happens to a teenage London kid, probably headed for the dole queue, who is suddenly transported to a world where every possible excess is at his disposal. When that same kid ends up surviving 30 years in a band with Ray Davies, believing in the existence of aliens and collaborating with Hollywood giant John Carpenter, there are some preconceptions to be set aside.
Unlike 'X-Ray', 'Kink' makes no attempt at concealment. But there were still questions to be answered - which is why we collared the Kink's long-serving, long-suffering guitarist in a London hotel.
Did you write your book as an answer to Ray's 'X-Ray'? No. About six or seven years ago, Ray was talking about writing the official Kinks book. At the time, I wasn't really interested in taking part, because I was working on a film script. Time went by, and I didn't hear anything more about Ray's book.
Then I came across this literary agent in L.A. I had another idea for a book, a mixture of science fiction and science fact. She said she thought the ideas were really interesting, but asked whether I'd thought about doing an autobiography. My first reaction was "boring", but then I started to think that it would be a good way to build up to the other book. The only real writing I'd done up until then had been screenplay writing, which is totally different. I'd never been a great reader, never a very attentive novel reader. During this time, Ray was very quiet about his book, and I thought I'd just get on with mine.
The first month or two I really hated it, I really didn't want to do it. Originally I worked with an editor in New York. I wanted someone who was fairly transparent, who wouldn't interfere with my writing, but it's not always easy. So I realized the only way I could do it would be to write it myself, and just use the editor to keep the chronology straight, and make sure I wasn't being too repetitive.
I came to London in 1994 to sell the book. I set up all these meetings with publishers, and all of a sudden there were ads everywhere for Ray's book. I didn't know anything about it! And a lot of publishers backed off immediately. Much to my relief, when I read Ray's book, and I really enjoyed it, it was so totally different from mine, that I was very relieved.
Did you think Ray's book was honest? Well, when he got into difficult areas, he a bit more evasive.
Whereas your book is anything but evasive.... That probably says a lot about out different personalities! I find that I have that way because it helps me get rid of a lot of garbage going on in my head.
I tried to keep it fairly factual. It helped having a diary. Also I wanted it to be conversational, and to retain a sense of humer. I can see where Ray get his imaginary people from! You need someone to talk to, even if it is an imaginary dialogue.
It seems strange that Ray is very positive towards you in his book, but you are a lot harder on him. I don't think Ray comes out badly. He comes out really well, don't you think?
Well, to use one example, you claim that he ripped you off when it came to writing royalties and songwriting credits. You mean for 'Lola'? I think that he would admit that if push came to shove.
Did you ever confront him about it at the time? No, not really. It's strange. I was talking to someone about it, and they said, have you ever thought about suing Ray? But at the time, I don't know if I'm particularly gullible or what, it didn't really seem to bother me. In fact, it doesn't really bother me now, in a way. The only thing is the financial thing.
That's usually the point where bands fall apart, when one member gets a much larger royalty check than the others put together. We've had a very up and down career - times when we've been fairly well off and times when we've been skint. But it's never really bothered me. It's probably a failing in my own personality - in fact, in the modern world it's probably irresponsible - but money's never really interested me.
Do you think you are happier as a result, compared to Ray, who comes across in you book (and his) as being pretty obsessive about money? Inside I feel fairly happy even though I don't actually have a lot of money. It's got something to do with the way you're brought up. When we were kids, we didn't really have anything, But we had a great time. We were really reliant on the support of the people around us.
But Ray's attitude seems to be the exact opposite of yours. I know, it's strange, isn't it? It's ingrained in his personality. Everybody's' different. It's nice when you're brothers to be so different. We'd have had a lot more problems if we'd had similar personalities. But I mention something in the book that one of Ray's wives said to me once, which is really true. She said to me, "If you'd been a bit more like Ray, and he'd been a bit more like you, you'd both have been better off".
Why do you think Chrissie Hynde compared you and Ray to the Kray twins? Probably because we were always fighting. I don't know, maybe she thought we were both psychopaths! There was always a lot of tension between us. Sometimes, Ray and I would socialize, like sit down and have a cup of tea, but it seems to take other people to get us together.
You explain in the book that after Ray had had a breakdown around 1973, that he came to live with you, and that you got on really well for a few weeks. That was a good time - well, it was a bad time, of course, but good from a different point of view. It did bring us much closer together. Emotionally and creatively, we were up against the wall. And that blood bond came back into play. But after a few months it got back to normal again.
What struck me as really weird was that both of you and Ray were going through terrible crises in that period, at almost the same time, but neither of you told the other. I know, isn't that weird? It really is. It is odd. It's very odd what can go on when you're sitting next to someone you think you know very well. And they're in a totally different world from you, and you can't even communicate those ideas to each other. Other people have found it quite uncomfortable to be around us.
It was always easier for us to communicate musically, automatically knowing where things should go, like telepathy. That's when we were at our strongest. Maybe that's upbringing as well. I have two sons now with a similar age difference to me and Ray, and they really get into each other's problems and help each other out. That must be amazing.
I want to stress that I have great respect for Ray's talent. I've just tried to be as honest as I can. But I didn't want the book to be a rant about him. It would be boring - unless you want a book about Ray.
The concentration on Ray really irritates me. There was a TV thing recently, it really seemed to be about Ray's songwriting. I was being interviewed by these people in Archway Tavern, where the Kinks started out, and they kept coming up with all these Ray questions. And I was thinking, hang on a minute, what are you talking about? Am I supposed to be Ray's psychiatrist? Or one of his wives? What's going on here? They even said, "Oh, 'Death of a Clown', you wrote that about Ray, didn't you?'" I don't know what it ended up like. I wouldn't want to see it.
Do you think that the Kink's original drummer, Mick Avory, became a buffer between you and Ray? Certainly after Pete Quaife left in the late 60's, Mick's role in the band changed, and he did become a kind of buffer between us. We've always needed someone between us, whether it's a manager or whatever. In the early days, it was sometimes Ray's first wife, Rasa, and sometimes Pete, who was really the middle guy from the beginning.
Reading between the lines of the two books, it almost sounds as if Mick Avory became an emotional punchball for the Davies brothers. I don't envy anyone who has to fulfill that kind of middle role. Pete did it really well, because he had his own creative agenda. Mick ended up in that role, but didn't know why he was there - emotionally, I mean, not musically. We needed that stability, to be able to look around at someone else in the band and know that he was not as crazy as someone else was!
Is it true that Mick didn't play on the Kinks records? He certainly didn't play on the original records, because we were auditioning drummers right up until we did our first gigs. We used a sessionman on "You Really Got Me", "All Day and All of the Night", "Tired of Waiting For You", because Mick was slowly being integrated into the recording side. He played on the albums, but not on the early singles, up to "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy", I think. Later on, he played on most records until he left, except for some tracks on "Misfits", because we were going through a really strange time. That was another period when Ray and I joined forces again in a crisis, with this feeling that we still had something left to do, that it wasn't over yet.
Weren't you originally the Kinks lead singer? We used to swap over. Even Pete used to sing at the start. We all fancied ourselves as singers in the early days. I used to do the more R&B stuff, Ray would do the Buddy Holly-oriented songs.
And you were both writing songs early on? The first recording we did was one of my numbers, called "I Believed You". Neither of us knew how to write a song, so they really came out of riffs and stuff. Ray became an amazing writer, and I was really excited by that.
Did you make a conscious decision to stop writing, then, and leave it to him? A lot of it was to do with my age, and the time. I liked to get out and enjoy myself more. As I said in my book, I used to be out partying, and Ray would be at home writing about it, particularly in the early years. Remember, Ray got married quite early on, while I was out having fun.
You describe in the book that you and Pete Quaife used to enjoy "camping it up" in public in the mid-60's. Where did that come from? I think that originated with Pete. He worked for a fashion mag and then a designer, and I think that scene - we didn't call homosexuals 'gay' in those days, because it was much more closeted - really influenced Pete, and he brought that to the band.
That must have seemed very outrageous at the time. It was exciting to watch people's faces, to shock them. People thought you were different, so they reckoned you knew something that they didn't. It was just provocation - and contempt as well. In a way it helped bring our personalities out, helped us find ourselves. That feeling of thinking you could actually do anything - it was amazing. I was 16 years old, and Pete was 18 or 19, and it was a time of immense change, an incredible period.
If you look at early film of the Kinks, it's Ray who seems to be the campest on stage. We used to take turns, I think. For instance, when Mick first joined, he was a very sensible sort of guy, who had had a job in a building society. But it didn't take very long - about six months - before Mick was doing all the gestures as well! It kind of backfired on us in a way. Everybody thought we actually were gay.
And up to a point you were.... Well, yeah, absolutely. But it was more a case of doing anything that was going on. There were a lot of people having bisexual relationships then. It was the time. You felt you could do, or at least try out, anything. It was all experimentation.
Do you regret any of you experimentation into sex or drugs? When I think about certain incidents, I feel pangs of shame or whatever, but in a broad sense I don't think I regret anything. I don't like to imagine the alternative life I might I have had. It was that period in the early 60's when working class people were coming out - we could express ourselves, we could be artists, too.
When you started your solo career with 'Death of a Clown', did that cause problems with the rest of the band, or did they encourage you? I think everyone was anxious to see the level of success it would achieve. But our manager at the time, Robert Wace, was very good at spotting new ways we could express ourselves. We needed someone like that.
In other ways, though, none of our managers or aides were strong enough. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were much more organized than we were - they had all these people around who were grooming them and taking the rough edges out. We didn't have a personality round us who could do that. We needed someone much stronger, like a Peter Grant. Actually, we met Peter Grant before he set up Led Zeppelin, and he wanted to manage us, but I don't think Ray really liked him.
Why did the legendary Dave Davies solo album never come out in the late 60's? That stuff is still around. I was talking to someone in the States last week, who wants to put a Dave Davies anthology together. He's come across all this stuff, where I don't know.
A lot of people ask me why I started to record an album and never finished it, and I think the fact is, I didn't really want the responsibility. It seemed like hard work. They stuck me in this very low-budget studio, not like working with the Kinks at Pye, and I didn't like that for starters. I was still a bit of a party animal, you know!
Was the cheap studio a way of making sure that you wouldn't finish the album? Could be - I remember thinking, what are they trying to do? I don't know. I can't remember a lot of things that happened then. I was working on automatic half the time, which was probably a blessing.
How satisfying is it for you in the Kinks, just doing a couple of your songs per album? It seems really silly when I look back. Even on the recent albums, like "Phobia", I had two, "UK Jive" three... but it never starts out that way.
On "Phobia", for example, Ray called me up and said, have you got any ideas, and I said I had some, so we got together. The first song we worked on was "Close to the Wire", and it worked really well. I thought, this is fun, we're really doing something together. I suppose I'd got into the habit before, of Ray coming in with loads of songs, and me thinking, well, let's do an album, without much enthusiasm or effort.
But I soon became frustrated that it was taking so long - it was like, we had this song finished three months ago, and we're still doing it. Ray would say, there's something wrong with it, and I'd say that what's wrong is that we've been doing it for three months! Time and money were running out. It was draining financially as well as emotionally. I said, I want to do other things, I can't sit around this fucking studio anymore. So I ended up commuting back and forth from L.A., while was slowly mixing stuff. There was a point where I thought the album would never come out.
But there's also a positive side to working with Ray, that we're coming from different directions, and at it's best it can be great.
What happens when those two directions clash, though? I'm thinking of the early-to-mid-70's albums, on which Ray seemed to be doing his best as a producer to smother the rock side of the band? I think it was down to him realizing that he was respected as a lyricist, and that people actually hung on his words. That made his perception of what he did very different. It became more calculating. He went through that whole "Preservation" period.
I still think that's a great concept, though. When you think about how fragmented the Who's "Tommy" is, and compare it to the power of "Preservation" - it's much broader. Why no one latched onto it as a possible film, I don't know. But as recently as two or three years ago, Ray was talking about filming "Preservation". I suggested he should let me introduce him to some movie people, but I think he was frightened to let it go.
Are there any plans for another Kinks album? We're hoping to do one.....if Ray and I are still speaking by the summer. And then I thought, we're not speaking anyway!
Are you seeing Ray while you are in England? No. I don't even know if he's here.
Has he read your book? I probably shouldn't tell you this, but Ray phoned up someone at our office and said, have you seen Dave's book? They said they'd seen bits and pieces. He said (adopts serious, pained tone), "You know, I think this is going to be the end of the Kinks this year....."
He told me in 1993 that he was going to leave the Kinks and go solo. Well, he's done some solo shows, of course - he should have done it long ago. But its this weird shit - we did a great Kinks tour last summer, in America. I don't know why it was so great, but it was. Anyway, Ray did a little ten-minute acoustic set at the start. And one night he said, I'd like to introduce the greatest rock and roll band I've ever worked with. And I'm backstage thinking, God who's that? Where are they? I couldn't work it out!
Have you ever been tempted to leave? (groans and chuckles simultaneously). Have I ever been tempted not to leave would be more like it. But I'm looking forward to this year, actually. We've got new management, a nice guy called Deke Arlen, and a new record deal - with EMI worldwide, and an EMI subsidiary in the States. I always feel good at this stage.....
With the last couple of Kinks deals, particularly with Sony for "Phobia", I got the feeling that the band were almost trying to sabotage the contract before it had begun. That was a strange period. Maybe Ray didn't want to do it. Maybe that's why "Phobia" took so long. All I wanted to do was to make a meaningful rock and roll record. Maybe that's what I'm still waiting to make. But Ray's into his theatrics. You have to pursue your own creative instincts, so that's only right. But I think that I should be allowed to be given the same space to do that as well.
This is where a third person, like a manager, is really important. I suppose it's always been hard for me, from one point of view, because Ray's been the main writer, and his talent needs space. You can't constrict talent. But at the same time, mine has suffered. When you asked me about my biggest regret, I don't think I've got one, but if I have, that might be it.
Was there ever a time when you could have seized control of the band from Ray? That's the whole problem: I don't want control. He's the way he is, and I'm the way I am, and we're very different. My concepts about work, life, family and relationships are so much broader than Ray's. He's very suspicious of the way I think, and I'm very suspicious of the way he thinks. The idea of seizing control - it's so counter-productive.
But isn't that the way Ray sees it? Yeah, but I can't help thinking sometimes that if he'd been a bit more open, that would have had an influence on the music. Maybe it would have been a million times better, I don't know.
Does that creative tension keep the band together? In a way, it helps you create. There's nothing worse than going in the studio, and you know you are going to be in there for weeks and weeks, and everybody's all lethargic and waiting for the pub to open. Sometimes you need tension even if it's uncomfortable, to get people to do things. So in general I think that the tension Ray and I have between us has been really important to the music.
But if the Kinks went down in history as being Ray Davies, I'd be offended by that. It's an argument I always have Ray about things in general. You can't really do anything on your own. You need people to help you emotionally, because creative people are very sensitive - it's that fine line between going round the bend and being a genius. The creative process is an emotional one.
There's something 'family' about the Kinks. If you ask people who've been and gone from the band - once they've gotten past the stage of thinking, God, get rid of those fuckin' Davies brothers - you'd find there a real family feel. Coming from a big family and going into a band, it's like an extension of being at home.
But I was collaborating on a film recently with John Carpenter, it was like pure joy. The discipline of the work was enough, without all the mind games and the torture and the emotional abuse. I collaborated with John on the score for "Village of the Damned" - I don't think it's out here yet - and I had this idea for a theme tune, which we fell in love with. We worked on it together, went right through the film from beginning to end, we shared all these ideas. And when I saw the liner notes that he wrote in the CD sleeve, I just cried, I couldn't believe it. I was so used to doing it without getting any thanks, that it felt unusual, really odd.
We did another thing for a film called "In the Mouth of Madness", that came out a year ago. We wrote this whole piece - for the front titles and end titles - and I did the guitars for it; and he gave me a songwriting credit. I thought, this is great. Isn't this how it's supposed to be?
So why go back to the Kinks after that? The fact is that I do have to rely on the Kinks for income. We can romanticize about the wonderful business we're in, but the bottom line is money. With the Kinks, we can sell out arenas and the rest. I'd be a liar if I said that wasn't part of it. But there's another driving force, and that's the real Kinks fans. I kind of know what they mean by being Kinks fans. I love that feeling. I think that's important. I'm a Kinks fan!
How important was the spiritual experience that you talk about in the book, on the 1982 U.S. tour? It's constantly in my mind, even in my sleep, probably - there isn't a moment of pause in which I don't think about it in some way.
How has that altered the way in which other people treat you? I don't know. Do you think I'm weird? Do you think I'm down to earth?
You seem pretty grounded to me. I think that we've come to a really interesting time, the late '90s. The whole thing of creative people working with their imaginations doesn't make any of the things that I talk about in the book strange. What is imagination? It's everything we can imagine. I've always been of the opinion that we can't really discount anything.
Many people would be dubious about the idea of 'hearing voices'. But the whole process of writing is schizophrenic. Look at Ray and the imaginary characters in his book. If something productive comes out of it, what's wrong with that? We're so afraid of the mind. Schizophrenia is quite normal, I think - I'm sure people will blast me for saying that, but I feel that it's a necessary part of the mind. The voices were just like you and me talking.
Psychiatry is a 20th century device to bridge the gap between the magical and the analytical mind. I've known friends who have been seriously disturbed - even more disturbed than I am! - but they've been out of control. That's different.
You explain in the book that you were with your girlfriend when you first had this experience of hearing voices talking to you. But if she hadn't been there to support you, wouldn't you have been put away as a schizophrenic? Who knows what would have happened? I felt very safe, not as if I was in any danger. I felt in control. I thought I was going to stay like that forever - this is why I'm born, this is what I'm here to do. Then when it ended, I was devastated. The emotional effect of it ending was as if I was a piece of shit. It took me ages to realize that if I wanted to get back to where I'd been, where I felt comfortable spiritually, then I'd have to do it myself - which was really the lesson of the whole experience. We like to think we're wonderful, but I think we've only scratched the surface of our capabilities. Maybe these beings are out there, or inside us - but we can't discount anything, we have to keep a broad view.
Record Review Magazine, April 1996