Interview - 12 July, 1995, Los AngelesFrom: Peirson Robert
Date: Mon, 24 Jul 95 09:09:00 PDT
Subject: The Kinks review....
Here is an interview of Ray that appeared in the L.A. Times yesterday (boy are my fingers tired). The Interview took place on July 12th after the first HOB show.
A Well Reflected Man
EVER THOUGHTFUL, THE KINKS' RAY DAVIES LOOKS AT HIS THREE DECADES OF ROCK AND TRIES TO FIND HIS BAND'S NICHE IN 1995.
By Richard Cromelin
"I wasn't going to do any interviews, because we don't have anything to sell," the Kinks' Ray Davies says, his soft chuckle acknowledging the strange state of affairs: One of rock's indisputably great bands is on tour here without a record out or even a record contract to its name.
It's the latest twist in a colorful, tension-filled saga -- three decades during which Davies has examined postwar English society with a blend of satire and seething rage. He has explored rock opera forms, produced classic rock singles (starting with 1964's "You Really Got Me") and fashioned one of the pinnacles of elegiac pure pop, the 1968 masterworks "Waterloo Sunset."
That has made him one of rock's most well-respected men, to borrow one of his titles and remove the irony.
But Davies and company have never managed to brand the public consciousness in the manner of the Beatles, the Who or the Rolling Stones, their most prominent British Invasion peers. Davies' music might be too intimate and literate for that, and in recent years the band's profile has been going from low to missing in action. The group left its latest label, Columbia, after only one album, 1993's "Phobia," and is now unaffiliated.
But not, it turns out, inactive. In England, the band's Konk enterprise runs a recording studio and develops young groups. Davies, 51, produced and directed a biography of Charles Mingus for Britain's Channel 4, and he conducts songwriting conferences for the British Arts Council. He recently published his autobiography, "X-Ray."
Last year, the Kinks (Davies and his guitarist brother, Dave, are the two enduring mainstays) released "To the Bone," an independent CD of live performances. Davies plans to expand it to a double CD for the States and will tour small theaters in the fall performing acoustic music and readings.
And the Kinks suddenly surfaced earlier this month after a three-year absence, starting a U.S. tour with their first L.A. shows in seven years. One afternoon during the band's three-night engagement at the House of Blues, Davies sat for an interview at a Sunset Strip hotel. Pensive and serious, he paused before each answer, considering the Kinks' distinguished past and uncertain future.
Q: You don't have a record out -- you don't even have a record contract. What's the reason for touring in America now?
A: To see if I can face playing here again. I haven't played America for about three years. I didn't think I could play here again.
A: I don't know. Just signs and signals. Last time I was here I had two really ad injuries on the tour. It's like a football player. Something's telling you something.... It's not that my confidence was knocked, but i felt a bit threatened. I still do. I can't put it down to specifics.
With us, it gets to a point where we have to step back and start again. It's constantly rebuilding....You do need to step back and find your audience again occasionally, and that's what we're doing this time. I'm just seeing if there's an audience for us....If this works out, hopefully my inner demons will disappear, and I can bring myself to tour here really strong.
Q: You have a variety of interests and outlets. Why make a great effort to keep the Kinks going?
A: Yes, exactly. I still have questions whether I actually want to do it here with the Kinks. But you know, so much of what we do - and it came through last night in the show - it does a lot of the spirit of what we do. As we get out and play, I realize there's something that drives the music.
It's not me, it's not Dave, it's something - the only way I can explain it is there's a very famous soccer team in England that I've been going to see a lot recently . . . and the players play the same for that team - whoever goes there, they end up playing a certain way.
It's got a spirit to the team. It's nothing to do with who's the captain or who's playing the forward line, or the lead vocalist or the guitarist. It's to do with the spirit of the band and what it represents. And in a strange way it comes through in all the songs.
Q: Do you follow new music? Are there any bands inheriting the Kinks' legacy, the way U2 is seen as carrying on the spirit of the Who, or Guns N' Roses with the Rolling Stones?
A: Most people say Blur and Oasis are of that style. I think because our material has been more diverse in style than the ones you mentioned, there are more bands that can relate to it in a strange way . . . It's been our blessing and our downfall, the diversity.
Q: Is that why the Stones and the Who have a presence to the general public, while the Kinks are more of the cult item or specialized taste?
A: I think it's because possibly I'm quite difficult to market as a person . .. . We've never done high-profile publicity. I admire Mick Jagger for being a very good exponent of PR. He really knows his PR. I think the PR has overshadowed the music in recent years, but you've got to give him credit . .. . It's Disneyland. You're not going to see the Rolling Stones really - you're going to see Disneyland.
Q: Who were your first inspirations as a songwriter?
A: My attachment to songwriting only came after I'd had a few hits. I had no real ambitions to do it. We were a cover band; we played blues music, covers - Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters. I just thought, "Well, I don't like this material there're asking us to do. I'll write my own.
The end result was we had a couple of bad singles, then the third one was "You Really Got Me." Then after the next couple of hits I thought, "Well, this is interesting." It suddenly came to me that it was a great way for me to communicate, to get my ideas out. I didn't realize until the records had come out and we got on tour and people came up and said, "Oh, yeah, I really relate to that." I thought , "How strange that people think the way I think."
Q: Your music has been likened to that of Cole Porter and other pre-rock writers. Did you ever study them?
A: When you go through the toil of writing and it becomes like your job, then you think about other writers. I'm always fascinated to think about the different periods, like the great days of the standards, I suppose. But I didn't study them. . . . I found that my instinct were better than the knowledge I had.
That's the hardest thing to retain when you do something a lot, is that instinct. I think that's what drives a lot of writers, novelists . . . to have odd lifestyles. 'Cause there's so much analysis. I can understand why lots of these people go into drink and drugs and whatever and end up screwed up somehow.
Q: Do take pride in the Kinks' longevity?
A: It's nothing to be proud of really. Why did Alfred Hitchcock keep making movies? Why do all these people keep doing what they do? 'Cause it's what they do. I definitely feel better when I've written a tune than if I haven't. At the same time I know I can't rely on that forever. In everything I'm just trying not to spread myself too thinly. That's the danger. Longevity's great. I just sometimes feel I which I'd made better music sometimes or that I'd been bolder.
Q: Do you feel as productive as ever? Do you ever face a creative crisis?
A: My creative crisis come from having to deal with an environment where I I know that the music won't be presented properly. . . . With the last record, "Phobia," I was working in a situation where I suspected from Day One the people I was making the record for didn't understand what they wanted. So I couldn't help them.
It's a pity this country can't really handle independent distribution. You can't do it, it's too big. We've always had this air of independence about what we do. Even though we've been signed to majors, we've always come from a kind of independent root.
The record industry here is in a tremendous state of turbulence. As in movies, cost are going up, so there's more on the line, but ironically, at the end of the day a CD is more disposable than anything else I can imagine.
Q: That's always been said about pop music, not necessarily disparagingly - that it is disposable.
A: yeah, but it's also dealing with people's dreams and their emotions, and you've got to tread carefully. Because you're dealing with something that becomes somebody's memory, something they carry around with them. They come home - I've been the same - they want to hear a great record today. . . . It gets you though the evening, sets you up. It becomes the soundtrack to people's lives. It's disposable, but a lot of people rely on that to get them through. So it can't be trivialized that much.
(Hear the Kinks: To hear a sample of the Kinks' album "To the Bone," call TimeLine at 818-808-8463 and press *5721)
E-mail Dave Emlen