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I Will Be Me: An Interview with Kinks Guitarist Dave Davies
Supplying the bad-ass growling fuzz-powered gonzo guitar solo that ignites the Kinks’ proto-metal classic You Really Got Me would have guaranteed Kinks lead guitarist Dave Davies speedy entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As such, Dave – along with fellow Kinks band mates Ray Davies, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory – was eventually inducted into that hallowed institution in 1990, through the course of his alternately tumultuous and triumphant career with the legendary British rock outfit and his acclaimed solo work, he’s rightfully recognized as a defining figure among England’s rock elite.
Now in 2013, Dave Davies is back with a solid solo album, I Will Be Me (pick up a copy from our Online Store here), which combines the spirited aggression and fevered frenzy of prime Kinks “klassics” like You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night and Til the End of the Day on the supercharged Little Green Amp. The album is also represented by more reflective and introspective fare, such as the song When I First Saw You.
RCM was given the opportunity to speak with Davies about the new album and his enduring career – enjoy the interview below.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Your new solo album, I Will Be Me, marks a return to a heavier guitar mixed with more intimate, acoustic based songs. The album cover image shows you wearing a cap with the “Ohm” symbol on it: how does spirituality figure into your work?
Dave Davies: Well I think my spiritual life is the most important thing in my life. I think without having that, there would be nothing for me, no music or anything else. The most important factor in my life is my spiritual life. I thought it would be nice to include a representation of what I believe on my new album. I have a very flexible concept of my spiritual life and my spiritual work. So it’s not based on any one system or process.
It crosses over with a lot of ideologies and ancient teachings. It’s basically a Hindu-based thing. I’ve also got a great love and connection with Tibetan Buddhism. The thing is sometimes we get motivated by the strangest things and sometimes we might be sitting at a keyboard or guitar and an idea comes to you. The first song that I wrote for this album was Living in the Past. The character in the song is asking questions about his life and wondering where he fits in. He’s not happy about the present and he really doesn’t know what the future is gonna bring so he keeps looking back to the past for solutions. But the spiritual part of him is saying “Just embrace what is happening.” (Recites lyrics from song) “No matter what they do or say, the future’s here to stay.”
The future is here for him to embrace and make something of it. It’s not gonna go away.
The past has been done and it’s over with and it’s not gonna help him move forward by living in the past. The question that the guy’s asking is a spiritual one, “Where am I? Where am I gonna go” That’s how the album began.
RCM: Little Green Amp is the first song on the new record. Tell us about the importance of that amp in launching The Kinks’ heavy rock sound on You Really Got Me. Does the amp still exist?
DD: With Little Green Amp, I thought it would be fun to do a tribute to that time and what I was doing and feeling. I went through a relationship. I fell in love at 14 and it all went weird. My little green amp was an Elpico. The natural amp didn’t sound that great. I was going through emotional turmoil anyway so I decided on a whim to cut the speaker cone with a razor blade and see what happened. And to my amazement, the sound was raw and dirty and actually worked really great on a song like You Really Got Me.
RCM: Besides You Really Got Me, did you use that little green Elpico amp on other Kinks records?
DD: Oh yeah. We used it on All Day and All of the Night, Tired of Waiting for You.
RCM: Does the amp exist?
DD: Unfortunately no. God knows what ever happened to it. I really don’t know.
RCM: You suffered a stroke in June of 2004. Bring us through the challenges you faced. Were you ever worried you would not be able to play the guitar as well?
DD: No, I didn’t think for a minute that it was gonna be forever. I knew the first few weeks were tough. I went through rehab and learned about muscles and how the brain works. I learned about muscle memory and how you have to keep on keeping on to get results. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to get through it. It was a lot of work to get better but it also opened my mind to other sides of my being and my emotional life and my spiritual life. At that point I realized those things were much more important than anything else.
In turn, all the different aspects of a person, the body and the mind and the drive help support the whole thing. It’s like a machine, all the aspects and facets work together to create who we are. In some sort of strange way, having the stroke kind of helped me.
RCM: After your stroke, how long did it take for you to get back to speed?
DD: I made an album called Fractured Mindz. The idea of fractured minds came from that illness. I started to write through that and I realized it was all coming back for me. It took some time to come out on top after having a stroke but I was determined to do it.
RCM: The Actress is a standout on the new CD, is it written about anyone in particular?
DD: Well, it is written about someone but it’s cross synthesized with a couple of other people that I had in mind. I don’t want to reveal the name of the actress who the song was primarily written about because she’ll kill me. (laughs). The song is about a guy who is trying to nurture a younger performer to be a singer or an actress. He really believes in her and thinks she’s gonna make it big one day. You go through him looking after her and she gets an agent. As she starts to break through, she doesn’t feel the need for this guy anymore and she moves on.
Show business is like a burial ground (laughs). There are a lot of people who only last a few years. He figures maybe one day she’ll realize that it would be nice to have him around again. He thinks maybe she’ll look back on all the things that happened to her and feel she needed that genuine support as opposed to people loving her for her money and her fame. That kind of scenario was what I imagined.
RCM: When did you feel you captured your voice as a songwriter? Was there a song that crystallized to you that “I am a songwriter with my own distinctive take and voice”?
DD: I don’t know really. I wasn’t terribly conscious of songwriting. Songs that I would write would kind of just happen and then I would sing them. I tended to be influenced by everybody from Hank Williams to Little Richard to Chuck Berry. I was influenced by a lot of blues. One song that really captured who I was as a songwriter early on was a tune called Wait ‘Till the Summer Comes Along. I liked what it was about, that loneliness, lost love and upset and I thought that was a good one.
RCM: With Ray being such an accomplished writer, did that make it harder for you to make your own mark?
DD: I wouldn’t say he was more accomplished, I would say he was more dominant. (laughs)
RCM: As a songwriter, what did you learn from Ray, was he encouraging?
DD: No, he didn’t help me that much to be honest. Maybe he helped me on a couple of things. He wasn’t terribly gracious about helping me write because he wanted to write. I always supported him. It didn’t occur to me that it was a competition. I thought it was a loving, collaborative effort. I didn’t consider it being anything else. Whenever there was an album looming Ray would invite me ‘round and say, “What ideas you got?” There was an awful lot of my input and ideas and energy and support in that music. It’s not all about Ray Davies. All the great Kinks stuff was highly collaborative in mood and feeling and inspiration; everything that goes into trying to do a creative piece of work.
RCM: In 2007, much to the joy of your fans, a Dave Davies Hidden Treasures CD was released culling many of your 60’s solo recordings. With songs like Susannah’s Still Alive, The Man He Weeps Tonight and Mindless Child of Motherhood, there remains a great innocence and purity. Looking back in hindsight, is it hard to recapture that element today in your work?
I think it’s important to try and maintain that sense of innocence if you can because it gives you ideas, phrases, lyrics and characters. I still think I have access to some of that today.
RCM: How do you look back at the material that comprises the Hidden Treasures CD?
DD: I’m proud of that material. I love everything about that time. I tend to look back at those little pieces of music and songs and realize how it’s an important part of your life. It’s all important at the end of the day because it’s all a continuous learning process. That music on the Hidden Treasures CD brings me back to a place and time. I get so much from that music; I get the emotions and the smells and the places that it evokes.
RCM: While you’ve written your share of heavy rock songs, your more intimate, acoustic driven work also carries high appeal like Strangers, a song you wrote for the Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, Part One album and one you’re performing on your new tour.
DD: Strangers was written a long time ago, maybe 1970. We were trying to pull some ideas together for a new Kinks album. At the time I was kind of looking at my future or the Kinks’ future or me and Ray’s future. I had a similar feeling with that song when I wrote Trust Your Heart and Living on a Thin Line. They were the first songs of each period. “For the Misfits album there were no song until Trust Your Heart and then Ray wrote Rock and Roll Fantasy; it kind of grew out of those feelings. Living on a Thin Line kicked off the Word of Mouth album. Living on a Thin Line has a lot of inner threads to it as Strangers. Strangers is about the realization that you can’t always do things on your own, you need people around you that can help and support you. It’s a mutual support based thing. I realized with Strangers if The Kinks worked and continued in this mad business, we could have easily broken up then as well. So that song tied a lot of my feelings together about support and help and notions about the future. I still believe it today. Not one person has all the answers or the solution. They might have ideas for parts of solutions.
But it’s when we come together we realize we need each other to create more wholesome solutions to our problems that the real solutions come into view.
The line in Strangers, “We are not two, we are one” is a metaphor for many things. It’s like, “Stop fucking about and get on with it!” Maybe at this level we’ll really connect and realize we’re one soul and one being. It covers a lot of layers. Strangers is a very spiritual song and that thread of spirituality runs throughout my work. It’s the most important thing to me.
RCM: A Kinks song from early ’70s that is criminally under-appreciated is King Kong. To me, it sounds like the best song that Marc Bolan of T-Rex never wrote.
DD: Yeah, I never really thought about that. Marc could have done a good job with that song. King Kong, as with many many Kinks songs, was a song that just came up in the process of jamming and playing. I was a big fan of movies like King Kong as was Ray. It was written with the idea of this symbiotic thing about big business and big shots ruling our world and all the parallels that brought together.
RCM: The Kinks’ original bass player Pete Quaife tragically passed away in 2010. How do you remember Pete?
DD: Terrible isn’t it? Pete was there since the beginning with me and Ray and in many ways he acted as a go between me and Ray, which was very important. Pete was very optimistic. He would always take a very optimistic viewpoint of any given situation. He’d say, “Things will work out, don’t worry about that” sort of thing. I think that helped us a lot in the early days having that energy and that drive and that “Let’s get on with it” kind of feeling. He was also a very funny guy and very clever and he was a very intelligent guy too. We were like brothers really. He was an important cog in the wheel and an inspiring guy to be around.
RCM: Starting in the late ‘90s while Pete was still alive, there was talk through the years that the original lineup of The Kinks were planning to reunite, how close did that get to happening?
DD: It got close when we all appeared together at the English Hall of Fame event. I was talking about it with Pete and Pete said he would try and sort the situation out with (original Kinks drummer) Mick (Avory). I know Ray was very up for it and I was to a point and then sadly Pete got ill again and then it kind of faded away. Then Pete got really ill and you know what happened with that.
RCM: Back in the ’60s, The Kinks shared a bill with the Beatles in Bournemouth and wound up going on after them, how did that happen?
DD: The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, worked it out that way. He wanted us to go on after them.
What happened is a year before we played before The Beatles at Liverpool Empire, I think, and they couldn’t get us off the stage.
Epstein was pissed off because he wanted The Beatles to come on but people were shouting for The Kinks!
So I think with Brian arranging it for us going on after the Beatles at that show in Bournemouth was his way of showing us who the boss was. I mean, you try and follow-up the Beatles but we thought we could. Epstein had that sort of humor.
RCM: You must own many guitars. If you had to ditch all of them and keep one, which would you choose?
DD: The fact is I used to have a lot of guitars. I owned a lot of guitars but not anymore. I now only own two electrics and a couple of acoustics. I got rid of most of my guitars and ex-wives. (laughs) The days of my owning Flying V’s and Gretsches and Guilds, those days are all over.
RCM: Away from music and touring, what are the main pleasures that occupy your time?
DD: Well, at the moment due to being on tour, not much. But I have a very active spiritual life. I research everything; I have meditation groups and I’m involved with visualization therapists. I do a lot of alternative things like that. My son, Martin, is a filmmaker and he did a film Mystical Journey, which he directed. We’re doing part two now so that’ll be something we’ll be working on when we get back from this U.S. tour. The film touches on my interest in spirituality, Eastern philosophies, the paranormal, astrology, Tarot, everything. It’s all interlinked.
All the roads tend to lead to the same route.
Stay in-tune with Davies by following him on Facebook.
And click here to purchase his new album I Will Be Me from our Online Store.