The Kinks guitarist on his new album, the 70s, growing up, personal struggles and a new Kinks record.
Dave Davies refuses to slow down. Since recovering from a stroke in 2004, the 71-year-old has issued a series of collaborative and solo albums, as well as revisiting his own archive. His latest release is Decade, which gathers together ‘lost’ songs from the 70s that his sons Simon and Martin salvaged from “under beds, in attics, in storage”. Together they represent a striking, poignant snapshot of a key moment in Davies’s life.
Davies founded The Kinks with his brother Ray in London in 1964. The band had a string of Top 20 singles and albums in the
60s and 70s, and in their heyday were one of the great British bands of the era. October sees the release of the 50th anniversary edition of the classic The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, with the addition of previously unheard extras. A Kinks exhibition is currently running at Proud Central Gallery in London (see p10).
What’s the story behind the songs that make up Decade? Were the tapes missing, presumed lost?
Not lost. Neglected, really. I’d had these songs hanging around for years and they kept nagging away at me, but I was so immersed in the emotions of the time in which they were written that I just couldn’t face going back to them. So I thought I’d let my son Simon have a go at producing them, and he did such a great job. He really brought them back to life again for me. It was really quite an emotional roller-coaster.
What were the seventies like for you?
We set up Konk [studios] at the beginning of the seventies, which was a good opportunity for The Kinks to record whenever we liked. We were going through such a busy time, recording and touring, and Ray was really getting into concept albums.
And on a personal level?
I was going through some major changes, personally. A lot of my contemporaries made the big mistake of thinking that drugs were the way, but I realised that I had to reassess my whole life. There was a lot of reflection and disillusionment: “What am I doing?” “What’s going on?” I had a spiritual and emotional breakdown in the early seventies. Then I got into yoga and astrology, which I found really helpful. They enabled me to piece together my inner framework in terms of what I was going through. It took me a good couple of years to get out of that rut. And some of these songs touch on that. You can tell I’m in a weird place. It can be a struggle trying to be human. It’s hard work for all of us.
So it was difficult going back to specific times and places?
Oh yeah, and with all my craziness as part of it. But that’s what we’re supposed to do as artists: to bring out things that aren’t necessarily always pleasant. I always thought that music was a great means to explore the subconscious, as well as everything else it does for us as humans. It’s a way of exorcising a lot of weird shit in us. [Celebrated psychologist] Carl Jung spoke about the collective unconscious. I’m a big fan of Jung, but he only really touched on what was going on. One song on the new album, Midnight Sun, seems to be a particularly personal one for you.
It’s about my best friend at school, George Harris. We grew up together and played music together and were going to start a band. We were big blues and folk fans, into people like Davy Graham, who was an absolute genius. George is the reason I do music, really.
The Kinks started to happen, I went away, came back and began looking for him. His mum told me George had died. It was a drug overdose. I was totally devastated. He was so young. Another friend of mine died of a drug overdose too. Those memories still haunt me today. It’s like losing a family member. Every time I sat down to write a song I was partially writing with George in mind.
By contrast, Cradle To The Grave is a very nostalgic piece about family and childhood.
Ray and I grew up in Muswell Hill in a very loving, supportive family, with six sisters and countless uncles and aunties. Folk music grew up out of that kind of environment – small communities, people hanging out at weekends, someone with a banjo and someone sitting at the piano. That kind of sub-plot played throughout all The Kinks’ music. You can find references to that in Muswell Hillbillies , for instance, or Arthur , which is about family going away and losing touch.
The release of Decade also coincides with the new edition of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Is that cause for celebration?
It’s such a very special album for us. I’ve been working on some paintings for the reissue package, and there’s a video of me, Ray and Mick [Avory, Kinks drummer] talking about Village Green and its various characters.
Ray has said that it symbolises the end of innocence. Is that your take on it too?
Sort of. But I would always delay growing up as long as possible. There’s a part of me that will forever be like a teenager. I like that youthful part of myself. I think it helps you do creative things. I’ve always had that feeling of being old and young at the same time.
So what’s next for you?
I’m coming back to England this autumn to do some stuff with Ray that will result in new music, hopefully.
Are these the new Kinks songs which Ray alluded to earlier this year?
Yeah. Hopefully it’ll be a new Kinks record. So we’ll see how that goes. Ray and I are both going through a prolific stage at the moment. As you get older you can ponder over things in a different way. Sometimes you get more ideas. I’ve always been a very impatient person, and I still have that impatience when it comes to getting things done. It’s such an exciting time right now.
Decade is out now via Red River Entertainment/BFD.