This Man He Laughs Tonight
Dave Davies Spearheads Kinks Attack!
Sixteen years after "You Really Got Me," the Kinks are entering the 80's in better shape than anyone has a right to expect them to be. This band has carried on with stubborn determination in spite of having being written off by nearly everyone at one time or another during its long existence. Even the Kink's own self-destructive urge, which plunged them into short-lived retirement in the mid-70's, appears now to be successfully curbed; bass and keyboard personnel changes over the past decade (not to mention the coming and going of backup singers and horns) have benefited the band in the long run.
What's more, the Kinks have not only survived (no mean feat in itself) but avoided the senseless tragedies that befell their contemporaries the Who and the Rolling Stones - while spending more time on the road than both of those bands combined. The Kinks are not over the hill, obsolete or plagued with by the problems of aging. Like Johnny Thunder (Village Green Preservations Society's rebel who reemerged on Preservation , they continue to cut an impressive figure; unlike him, they are comfortable in the present as well as the past, still able to come up with new twists and surprises after all this time.
The Kinks have rarely been more surprising than over the past couple of months. First came news that a Dave Davies solo album - an on-again, off-again project for nearly a decade - had finally materialized (and on the Kinks' old label, RCA yet!). Then One For the Road, the third live Kinks album, appeared; like Dave's solo LP, people were beginning to doubt it's existence. Next, the Kinks emerged as pioneers in the inevitable rock/video connection by producing the first over-the-counter videotape (edited and overseen by Raymond Douglas Davies himself) tied with a record release.
Just prior to this onslaught of Kinkiness Dave Davies flew into New York to direct the mastering of his self-titled solo disc, which gave us a chance to sit down and talk about his and the Kinks' current activities. Unfortunately, neither Davies nor yours truly had yet heard One For the Road (Davies was unsure which tracks Ray, who was busy mixing and choosing tracks, would use since they'd taped all of last year's short college tour for use on the album). Nor had either of us seen the finished video, which Promethean Ray was completing work on around that time. That left Dave's album, which I had heard a grand total of once prior to meeting him in a rather plush conference room at RCA's New York headquarters. What's more, my exposure to the album's interesting graphics, including the lyrics printed on the inner sleeve, came literally as I walked into the room. So much for preparation.
Despite these obstacles, our discussion centered mostly around Dave's album, with some disgression in various directions - notably that of his earlier attempt at a solo LP in the late 60's. I hoped he would discuss the motivating forces behind his songs, particularly those on the new record. I had been forewarned to expect a rather reticent interviewee, and he lived up to that tag, particularly as regards to his writing. Whatever Davies feels about interviews, he comes off as good natured and quite affable, always quick to punctuate remarks with laughter - especially if he feels he's just said something that may not quite make sense. He tries to please but just isn't prone to self-analysis.
"I don't really like to analyze what I've done; once I've done it I'd prefer to do something else. Even the words I wrote don't adequately express the feelings in the songs. There was a clause in the contracts that said I couldn't do instrumentals, though," he laughs.
The saga of Dave Davie's solo album goes back to July, 1967. "Death of a Clown," a track from the then-current Something Else By the Kinks, was released as an English single under Dave Davie's name. The song was co-written by Dave and Ray Davies ("he helped me out on lines that I was stuck on"), and sung by Dave, although Ray's voice is conspicuous in the background (and, Dave says, Ray's wife at the time contributes a heavily-echoed vocal). Precisely why it came out under Dave's name rather than the Kinks isn't clear. Quite possibly Pye saw possibilities for the younger Davies as a solo artist and wished to do some low-cost test marketing.
"Death of a Clown" was released just as "Waterloo Sunset", the first single from Something Else, was winding its way down the UK single charts from #2. Within weeks, "Death of a Clown" had nearly matched it's predecessor, climbing to #3 before being supplanted by the next (equally successful) Kinks single, "Autumn Almanac."
Dave Davies appeared to be a hot property, so Pye put him to work on a solo album. Since this was 1967, 20-year old Dave's "solo" LP was to be nothing more than Davies singing and playing his own compositions with the rest of the Kinks behind him - just as they'd done on the handful of songs he'd already recorded on Kinks albums. And the producer?
"It wasn't really produced," Davies recalls. "It was just sort of done. Ray helped with getting the actual trimmings (strings and/or brass on several cuts) sorted out, which in those days we thought were necessary."
Davies insists, though, that it was never his intention to do an album. The project was foisted upon him after "Death of a Clown"'s success; "my heart wasn't really in it because I felt like I was being made to do it and I don't like being made to do things." Would he have been happier to record just one or two singles and leave it at that? "I know it sounds strange, but I never thought about it."
Nevertheless, an album was recorded. Pye rushed out another single first: "Susannah's Still Alive" was a fine follow-up to "Death of a Clown" but only reached #21. Somewhere along the line, however, Dave's album release was held back. After a long wait, Pye released another single, "Lincoln County," which flopped totally. (Dave: "That was great - great fiddle player. I remember the band coaxing the guy to do it and he got it right on the first take. Can't remember his name, though."
The single's diminishing success and Davie's own lack of enthusiasm for much of what he'd recorded - he claims he was "never happy with it" - combined to kill off the solo album. In early 1969, a final solo single ("Hold My Hand", a deliciously cryptic love song) was issued and went unnoticed by all but the most ardent collector.
Cuts from the shelved album have surfaced from time to time. The Great Lost Kinks Album contains three (though not credited to Dave Davies): "There Is No Life Without Love" (b-side of "Lincoln County"), "This Man He Weeps Tonight" (ditto for "Shangri-La") and the previously unreleased "Groovy Movies."
Davies is not exactly pleased that the tracks were released at all. "When I heard "Groovy Movies" again, with all that brass on it, I hated it. It felt like a stranger; I didn't know it." Despite his misgivings about the LP, Kinks kultists and kollectors always hoped the six remaining unreleased tracks would eventually surface. (One, "Creeping Jean," has been bootlegged.) The likelihood of that ever happening is dim.
Dave Davie's recorded songwriting output during the last decade was minimal; five songs recorded by the Kinks. Three, "Strangers", "Rats" and "Mindless Child of Motherhood" were all recorded for "Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround", though "Mindless Child" appeared only as the b-side of "Lola" before inclusion in the "Kinks Kronikles". All three were brilliant, among the best Kinks songs of the decade. The two latter efforts, "You Don't Know My Name" and "Trust Your Heart" (from "Everybody's In Showbiz" and "Misfits" respectively) don't come up to the first three, but are solid, interesting tracks.
If Davies is at all frustrated by his limited contribution to the Kinks repertoire, he isn't saying so. "Sometimes an idea can be great, but when you get together with other musicians in the band, nothing happens. I've recorded a lot of things over the years that I never had the proper feeling about, things that just weren't quite right, or whatever." He estimates his recorded-but-unused material at 10 to 15 songs.
Something obviously convinced Davies to record an album of his own. It wasn't old material or new song ideas piling up; all but a couple of songs were written after the album had gotten underway. So what was it?
Davies pauses a long time before replying. "I don't really know - a lot of things, I guess. Primarily, I felt like doing it now and I didn't a year ago, or 10 years ago, for that matter." Does that clear everything up? (Davies does add later that everyone in the group had wanted to do an album for some time, and Ray had been particularly helpful.)
Davies finally went to work last September at the Kink's own Konk Studios in Hornsey, London. He'd planned at first to do the whole album with a couple of friends, bassist Ron Lawrence and drummer Nick Trevisik, both of whom appeared on "Misfits". After recording four songs with their help, Davies decided to handle all the playing on the rest of the album - guitar, keyboards, bass and drums himself. Davies made rough demos in a small basement studio at home; "they sounded great on that day, but as soon as we started working on them properly they wouldn't work. That sort of thing happened so many times that I thought, "Those people who would genuinely like me to have an album out will have to wait until I learn to play drums."
Aha, so that's why it's taken so long! He cracks up. "Actually, I was toying with saying that because I think it's funny. As a matter of fact, I've had an old drum kit at home for a few years now. I find that all music I like is based on really good rhythms." What music does he like to listen to?
He thinks for a moment. "I like most everything...I guess that's a pretty vague answer." Yup. Does he ever listen to old Kinks albums? "No, never. I like to be surprised whenever I do hear them. It sounds fresh; it's nice. When I see them in record collections I sometimes feel like I just shouldn't tamper with them. I don't know - it's scary. Some of them, which shall remain nameless, make me think of the problems and tensions that went into making them. I feel better leaving them in their sleeves. I have my favorites, though. Going backwards: Low Budget, Sleepwalker,. Muswell Hillbillies, Arthur, Village Green, Face to Face. That's about it."
Conspicuously absent from the list are any of the Kinks' mid-70's concept albums. Davies is on record as having been pretty unhappy with them, particularly with live performances.
Getting back to his multi-instrumental role on the solo album, Davies mentions non-guitar work with the Kinks. We made a record years back called "Dead End Street" - one of my favorite Kinks songs. Peter Quaife was still in the band, and we recorded two basses on it. The two lines were similar except in one part where he'd play descending lines and I'd play ascending ones. I might also have done "Oklahoma USA"; I can remember recording a bass part for it, but I'm not sure if we used that take or a similar one."
Asked about his prowess on keyboards, he laughs and holds out one finger. "I like treating the piano [altering the sound mechanically]. On a couple of numbers I use an octave device which really gives an extreme, ridiculous bell-like sound against the actual sound of the piano itself. Sometimes synthesizers will do that sort of thing for you, but I find it a little bit too easy. I like experimenting with sounds; I've always liked treating acoustic instruments.
On the whole, Davie's instrumental work on his album really shines. For too long he's been underrated as a guitarist, but his work on both this and the live album should silence any doubters for good. His drumming and bass playing, while facile, provide a steady anchor for his neat, complex and powerful guitar parts. Up to 20 multi-tracked guitars give some songs a layered, almost lush fee that is the albums most striking aspect on first hearing.
"I didn't think of it that way, actually. I did a lot of the album reasonably quickly and just filled things out on guitars which we would have used keyboards to fill on a Kinks album. What I would've liked to have done was to have recorded it on a four-track machine, but it's so limiting and the sound quality gets screwed up."
"I was originally going to do a couple of tracks all on my own because I wanted to capture the feeling of making it up as I went along. Ordinarily, you get funny sorts of harmonics on guitar and funny noises that are intangible, but when you go into a studio it's all cut down; something goes out of it. I tried to retain those things on what started out to be maybe one or two totally solo tracks and enjoyed doing it so much that I kept doing more. I like the fun of starting out and not knowing where it's going to end up; if I happened to hear a harmony I'd throw it in."
"Some of the songs on the album are very straightforward; a rhythm track and lead guitar with a bit of echo on it, that's it."
Other cuts are a bit more complex. "Doing the Best For You" sports a nifty synthesizer riff that almost acts as a hook throughout the song; reggaesque rhythm guitar accentuates the off-beat underneath. "Nothing More to Lose" employs a good deal of guitar overdubbing, which Davies says he knocked off in an afternoon ,making the parts up as he went along.
Lyrically, Davies tends to reject outside forces (politics, government) in favor of self-reliance - an inward source of coping with a cruel, inhuman, bureaucratic world.
"It's not a deliberate or conscious sort of thing, but I suppose it's inevitable when you're doing things in a short space of time that one thing overlaps with the next. I don't ever sit down and say 'I'm going to write a song about this.' Somehow I just can't function like that. I don't know why. All I need is something that feels right; even if it's only four notes I find that it helps. Once I get started things are all right. Did you ever sit down and you've got all these things inside of you - emotions and feelings - and you try to relate the way you feel in a word or a couple of lines? Sometimes you write the word and it gives you a different feeling; it kind of takes over and you start to follow it. When you finish you look at it and wonder 'did I write that?' Once I start it just goes from one thing to another. A problem I had in writing a few years ago was that I used to stop and criticize maybe too much, but now I feel I don't care as much. I do care, really, but I allow myself to just let it come out and see what happens rather than worry about it so bloody much."
In an earlier TP interview Davies admitted that depression used to be his main inspiration to write songs. Is it still the case? "Yeah", he smiles, "and I've been fuckin' depressed lately!" He laughs a bit and then gets serious. "No, not now, but I do find that I work more when I'm discontented, and I suppose I'm pretty discontented person in a lot of areas."
"One of the reasons I haven't made a solo album after such a long time is because in the past I've tried to do something and then not liked it. Now I don't get as depressed as I used to. I've come to terms with where I am. I suppose we all have a different set of experiences in our lives, and I think that painful and destructive situations can sometimes be of more help than having a pleasant experience. I like extremes of things; intensity, exotic food."
That intensity comes through in nearly everything Davies does; his songs, what John Mendelsohn called his "strange, strangled vocals," and the wild abandon of his guitar solos from "You Really Got Me" to the manic treatment of "All Day and All of the Night" on "One For the Road".
"We always tend to project the way we feel inside to the world and to the people that we meet. I think I might have projected what's going on in that inner conflict, but at the same time realized that outside conflicts could have an adverse effect on me inside. It's quite a mutual experience. I've always sensed that need to fight, not in an intellectual way, but in a feeling way. At last I've come to terms with words and lyrics, which is some sort of compromise."
Now listen to Dave Davies
Dave Schulps, Trouser Press, August 1980