How Dave Davies’ Decade re-writes the story of The Kinks
There are moments that break the spine of our cultural history. After these, nothing is quite the same. Dave Davies created one of these in July of 1964, when he was just 17 years and five months old.
Until this day, the electric guitar had been, in essence, a rhythm instrument that accompanied a melody, or a place keeper, something that imitated (in compact form) the boogie-woogie figures of the bass fiddle, the left hand of the piano, or the alto and bass horns. Its value was its utility; its efficiency, not its potential. True, there were blues masters who could wring a near harpsichord-like purity out of the acoustic guiutar (Blind Blake comes to mind), but, by and large, the electric guitar was still an atom waiting to be split.
Although both Bo Diddley and Eddie Cochran had made enormous inroads into creating a modern mode for the electric guitar (using it to summon a horny, rhythmic, teen rage that no other instrument could create0, it was left to Dave Davies to really bring the instrument fully into the post-blues, post-jump blues, post-big band era. On “You Really Got Me,” he used barre chords to create a slobber, a blur, a space-age rocket of stuttering lust–a sound that was the electric guitar doing something no other instrument could do: spit, soar, stammer, roar.
We all know what happened next (that is, in addition to the entire universe of Golem-stomp rumble and riff that followed): The Kinks evolved. From that curious mixture of the feral and the fey they grew, magically and uniquely, into a band that translated the split in the seam between the pastoral heart and the soot of modern industry into song.
We’re all well aware of that story.
But on Decade, an astounding collection released late in 2018, Dave Davies re-wrote the story of the Kinks, in turn re-writing the story of British rock.
Decade is not merely an odds-and-sods collection of unreleased tracks. It reveals that throughout the 1970s, David Russell Gordon Davies was doing (unreleased) work that was as good or better than what brother Ray was recording and releasing. These “hidden” tracks, this strange and magical secret history, reveals that Dave was writing and recording some of the most evocative and emotionally rich work of any artist of the entire decade.
The thirteen tracks on Decade – all recorded and largely completed in the 1970s, but dusted up recently by Dave and his adult sons, Martin and Simon – are so strong, such a staggering surprise, that even a pretentious sod like me finds words elusive. Inside Decade, you will find work that reminds you of Elliott Smith, Mike Nesmith, Nick Drake, John Cale, Robert Wyatt, Tim Buckley, and every hero of the elegiac red-dusted sadhappy shimmering pink blues.
Not only this, but Decade reveals something that many of us had long suspected: Dave Davies, in his ability to use his voice and guitar to conjure the spirits of hope, loneliness, and the mysteries of the universe, is, honestly, very much the equal of George Harrison. My first reaction, after repeated listening of Decade, was this: My god, it’s like they delayed the release of All Things Must Pass for forty-seven years.
(Why did these songs never see the light of day? Aside from a moment here and there on Lola vs Powerman, Everybody’s in Show-Biz and Misfits, it’s hard to picture work of this grace and delicate emotional affect fitting anywhere on Ray’s often unsubtle, story-driven concept albums).
Dave Davies, who is just about to turn 72, is one of my favorite people to interview. Smart, intuitive, intense, eager to listen and investigate, he respects each question and welcomes the chance to examine his own work, history and motivation.
I’ll also note this: If you ask Dave about reuniting the Kinks, you get an interesting answer. But if you ask him about everything else, everything under the sky and anything that vibrates the chakras and the heart, you get really interesting answers.
Decade is like finding a secret history. If this stuff had been released when it was recorded, I think it could have changed the whole narrative of the Kinks story.
That’s quite a statement. You’re probably right, but…who knows what you’re going through at the time, when you think back — all the different motions, emotions, and dealings, everything that’s going on around you. It’s certainly easier to view it all from a distance, and make a statement like that. We won’t ever know, but it’s an interesting thought.
I was going through a lot of change around that time, embarking on a spiritual inner life, and coming to terms with all these new ideas – or old ideas, but new to me – concepts about living a spiritual life. It was really inspiring, as well as daunting. Many of these songs, well, I wasn’t sure how they would be accepted at the time.
I certainly was very busy with the Kinks. Consider a project like Soap Opera – my writing is very different from anything like that. My writing is very internal, about trying to find solutions to my own problems, and my own spiritual questions.
“Strangers” (a Dave song on the Kinks 1970 album, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One) was always one of my very favorite Kinks songs. I find that a lot of the material on Decade shares much of the same emotional quality.
That’s quite interesting, because it was “Strangers” that really seeded a lot of the ideas that are on Decade — notions and emotions and whole kinds of situations that don’t seem to work, but if you hook up with someone or meet someone, it can help you or you can help each other. We find that it is all better with collaboration and co-existing, moving this whole mess along together — trying to make some sense of it together. Sometimes it seems the only way forward is first to connect with each other…well, that seems to always have been a driving force behind everything I’ve done.
I sometimes say that the past is a stranger I share a hard drive with. I remember when I first saw you onstage at the Palladium in New York City, when I was 14 or 15 years old, and I remember seeing this top-hatted vision, just dancing around on stage, this grinning space urchin… I’m wondering…is he a stranger to you, someone you share a hard drive with? What’s your connection to that person?
It’s probably a more interesting question than answer. The really important feelings stay with you, they’re embedded in your soul. We all change our viewpoint as we grow older, but some experiences remain permanent, engrained or scarred on our soul, if you like. There are things that never really go away, we try to learn from them or move forward, but they are always part of us. I don’t treat the past as a stranger at all. I try to treat it as a friend, to help me in the present and in the future.
Your sons are a big part of this new/old album, and of course you were in a band with your brother. Obviously, family is, was, and always has been an enormous part of what you create.
Ray and I grew up in a family with six sisters. And my mum was really the boss, it was very matriarchal. My dad used to go out and get the money, but it was my mum that organized everything. I’ve always found great inspiration from growing up with these weird and wonderful characters. The women were more intuitive. I think that those feelings informed a lot of my own ways and the way I saw the world, and I’m sure they had a profound effect on Ray growing up as well. I had a great time as a young boy, always inspired. We never had any money but we always were encouraged to get on with things, to do things, to experiment with music. Whereas a lot of my friends in school at the time had a lot of pressure to get a proper job, like their dad, we were encouraged to be more artistic. My sister Rene, who died in 1958 I think it was, she was an art painter and musician and I think she passed on a bit of the legacy to Ray and also to me. It was a wonderful upbringing, I think.
Do you think growing up in a matriarchal way encouraged your later spiritual voyages? Do you think there’s a connection there?
A profound connection, because… I don’t know how to say it but I’ll say it anyway: The contact with the feminine stuff in all of us is important for making the other stuff work. I don’t think it’s a sheer fluke that there’s male and female, there may be at some point in our human history where we had one brain and where we’d been both man and woman. One helps the other. When you’re writing you can see how the interplay of these energies work. The whole purpose of it is to fuse these energies so they become more powerful. I’ve done quite a lot of research on these yogic principles. I’m a firm believer that once we can bring the left and right brain together, it’s a spiritual journey. And that, of course, encompasses the male and female, cause one side of our being needs more help than the other. We all struggle with it on a daily basis. We’ve got that imbalance in our makeup. Fundamentally, my own belief is that when we bring some kind of yogic inner balance to ourselves, we can affect the whole world.
We’re living in an age where it’s all up for grabs, all ideas are relevant. The mere fact that we service these things means that they become real, in a sense. I might be talking shit, who knows. But I believe that we can change our surroundings and conditions in our families and towns, and globally, too, just by the way we send energy into this weird and wonderful world. Everything is magnetic energy and it seems I’ve always known that, even when I was a kid. Even when I was small, I knew about energies, emotions, and love, and then music came along and it was a perfect channel for me.
This may sound like a superficial question coming after that, but perhaps it fits. In the past, when you and I discussed the potential for a Kinks reunion, I told you that I did not think a reunion was in any way, shape or form necessary. I didn’t think it would contribute anything to your life or the lives of your fans – and I don’t mean that as a negative. I mean it as a positive. The Kinks, to me, were a beautiful and complete experience, and I don’t see how a reunion would add to that. Why do you think people want a reunion, or why do you think they think they want a reunion?
It’s interesting, cause it does relate to what we just talked about.
There’s something kind of incomplete. Everyone’s going through a process at the moment, something needs to be completed but we don’t know what it is. So we obviously look towards people in the public eye, like musicians. Creative people have always been on the cutting edge of change or revolution or newness. I think people feel incomplete. They think, “Well, the Kinks have always been important to me, I love those songs and the messages and the language of the Kinks but I want it somehow to feel whole or complete again.” We don’t really know how to speak emotional language. Maybe one day a different form emerges, because language itself can be limiting. You can put your hand on someone and give them energy to aid their own lives, we can all do this through music. It can be a happiness vehicle for all that. Since it’s language that sometimes fucks everything up, we probably can connect easier through music and love. I don’t want to sound like an old hippie but these things are just real. Wasn’t it Madame Blavatsky who said, “Energy follows thought”? I’ve always been a big fan of hers.
We all have a say in the way we use our energy. Human beings are blessed, we have all these energy fields around us and we can direct this energy to good or bad. I think we all carry inside us a purer way forward. Some of the great art in the world, you just keep looking at it and it informs you with something new every time you look at it, something new that you totally did not realize before. For all our technology, for all our cleverness — we think we’re so clever — we’ve only scratched the surface. But also there’s the problem with accepting things, because we’re so burdened with mistrust and the forces that teach us to steal and lie. We’re so programmed by the naked energy we all have within us, and we need to address the balance somehow. I think it’s an inner process at first, and the inner informs the outer process.
It’s just the way I think. A lot of people are starting to realize it’s not just a whimsical notion. A lot of people are starting to really ask the proper questions, not just be involved with the linear part of our brain, conscious mind. The conscious mind thinks it runs everything. It goes, “I think I know the rules, I know how to do this.” But we actually know so little. I’m a big fan of Carl Jung and I think towards the end of his life he spoke about neutral energy through the collective consciousness, which I think is a very interesting and very profound idea. It’s a spiritual concept, I think, this idea that we can go within and change the collective, like the Borg. (Laughs) I feel bad using the analogy of the Borg, but we are connected.
There is this wonderful film of the Kinks playing a set at the Olympia in Paris in 1965, where you are doing these very pure but radically different interpretations of American music. And you are singing a lot of the lead vocals, and you’re out front and center a lot. Also, when I listen to your very earliest records and when I see that early film of you on stage, you seem like a co-leader of the band. Yet obviously that changed.
I agree. I was a big supporter of Ray’s point of view, where he was coming from and what he was trying to create. I always felt I needed to be there for him, as he was going through change. Ray and I, we might be brothers and we have a certain telepathy and closeness, but we’re vastly different types of people. We work and function in totally different ways, which I think are complimentary. I was a young kid, enjoying the music so much.
Observing both your career (I mean the kind of stuff you were writing, especially as revealed on Decade) and your spiritual and emotional life, it almost seems like you were the big brother in many ways.
Well that happened a lot. I’ve spoken at length to many people, brothers and siblings, and the effect they’ve had on each other. I’ve done a lot of research as well. It seems to be that in many cases — not every case but many — the younger brother physically might be the older brother spiritually. I’ve seen it a lot in astrological charts of people. These hidden sides of life, like metaphysical and spiritual, sometimes active in certain ways that uplifts and encourages… Sorry, dropped me phone! (Laughs) I was starting to wave me hands around and I pulled the phone off its support. Anyway, lots of charts of married couples, people that are close, you think, “How could these two people even be in the same room?” But on a deeper level you can see, these people are really trying to help each other. Not by being the same, but by nurturing each other’s differences. And I think that’s a lot that’s happening in the world, not just you and me or me and Ray, it’s happening across the board. We can feel good with each other, but we can’t explain why.
I have to come right out and ask if there are plans for you and Ray to play together again.
Whenever we’re together there’s still that feeling of unfinished business and I think we’re gonna try and do something, I’m not sure exactly what. Obviously the first thing is try and get some songs together and maybe try and record some Kinks songs and see what happens.
Do you feel like there is unfinished business with Mick Avory and John Gosling and John Dalton too?
I love those guys. They‘ve got their own path. You can’t go down the same path. Apart from it being desperately depressing and boring, spiritual energy doesn’t work like that. They have to find their own way forward in their journey. There’s a track called “The Journey” on Decade. I actually wrote it with the idea that it is like an overture for a movie. It wasn’t to be, but I was glad to finally get it out there, mixed, and to hopefully inspire people on their own journey.
That’s one of my favorite songs on the record.
And it’s full of the feelings I carry with me always. You know when you’ve got a great overture for a film? The expectation, the possibilities that lie ahead, it’s something that’s really deep within me.