At its essence, rock music is about little moments that become something big. Even if The Kinks were one-hit wonders, they’d still deserve a place in rock music history for THAT RIFF. You know it. The world knows it. A seventeen-year-old Dave Davies knew it when he slashed up his amp, attacked his guitar, and gave “You Really Got Me” the distorted power chords that changed rock music the instant it was committed to vinyl fifty years ago.
That The Kinks were responsible for some of the most influential music of their generation will never be in dispute. It was the fractious relationship between Dave Davies and his brother Ray that fueled the art and fury of the band, hurtling them into a superstardom that was always a thrilling hairsbreadth away from total implosion.
Despite being notoriously tormented by brother Ray, Dave Davies nevertheless enjoyed the massive success of The Kinks and lived the rock and roll lifestyle to prove it. His 1998 autobiography, KINK, was as much an exposé of his ongoing conflicts with his brother as it was an unflinchingly honest account of his dalliances in various lifestyles and substances. More than anything, however, KINK chronicled Davies’ journey as a stifled, deeply creative soul.
Happily, “stifled” is the last word that describes Dave Davies these days. He has had a prolific solo career; his latest album, Rippin’ Up Time, will be his second album in the last year when it’s released on November 24, and one of a dozen or so live and/or studio records over the last fifteen years.
Once widely known for being rebellious and incendiary, Dave Davies today exudes a sage-like tranquility. This is not merely an inevitability of time: a stroke in 2004 that nearly killed him sent him further down the path of reawakening that he began in the early ‘70s. Today, Davies is feeling humbled and wildly creative. The ever-present Kinks reunion rumors don’t seem to affect him as they once did. Right now, it’s all about the new.
Rippin’ Up Time is a collection of true Dave Davies musical musings: reflections on the past, fretting about the future, and appreciating the present. Davies opened up to us about the album, his creative process, and how quickly the last fifty years have flown by.
A few years ago, Rolling Stone named you one of their “100 Greatest Guitarists.” Do you feel like you’ve gotten the credit due to you, overall, for your contributions to rock guitar?
Well… not really, no. [Laughs] But I’ve had a very successful career up to now, and I’m happy about the work I’ve been involved in—The Kinks and my own work. I’m still recording and still out playing. I’m happy for what I’ve got!
When I read your autobiography, I was particularly struck by how cathartic it felt to read. You’ve been much more prolific in the years since the book was released; was there a creative shift for you once KINK was out there?
I thought the book was very important for me personally, just to get a lot of things off my chest. It’s important to express ourselves and deal with the issues we keep squashed down inside us. I think it was a very transforming exercise doing that book, yeah.
You released more solo albums after the publishing of KINK than before it. It seems as if it unleashed a backlog of creativity for you. Do you feel that’s the case?
Yeah! I think once I started [song]writing, it became easier each time. I felt the same way with my new album [Rippin’ Up Time]. I hadn’t written anything for a while, and last year I released an album called I Will Be Me and was writing this album virtually straight afterwards. Rippin’ Up Time was a very inspiring record to make and to write.
The new album is very much in your style of introspective lyrics coupled with what has been called “ferocious” rock riffs…
I think that’s what everybody really loves about your music, and are drawn to you for that. Could you talk about what drove you to create this album hot on the heels of I Will Be Me?
Well, I was thinking about how this was the fiftieth year of “You Really Got Me.” And that really got me thinking about the old days when The Kinks started, and how we started in the front room of the house where we grew up in Muswell Hill. I got to thinking about where I was today in my own emotions and my own mind. And then it got me thinking about the future; what will the world be like in fifty years time? So, these yarns sort of came together and I had the idea of “ripping up time” in songs sort of inspired by the past, songs that are dealing with how I feel about what’s going on now, and anxieties and fears about the future.
One of the first songs was “Rippin’ Up Time,” then I sort of started thinking back in time. “Front Room” came, and “In the Old Days” was an obvious idea that came. Each song really helped me write the next song. So, “Rippin’ Up Time” and then “Semblance of Sanity,” which is a similar kind of idea.
It’s interesting that you say that writing one song led directly to writing another. We’re huge fans of the album around here, but we’re also in this age where everything is instantly and conveniently available kind of piecemeal.
Do you feel like there’s still a place for the album in today’s world?
I think so, yeah. I think there’s something very spiritual about the concept of an album. I was talking to someone the other day who said that he could imagine Rippin’ Up Time being a vinyl album. But the sequencing of the songs was too difficult. I still think of things in terms of a vinyl album, having Side 1 and Side 2.
Why do you think people are gravitating to that format more and more, even as music becomes increasingly digital and singles-oriented?
I think vinyl just sounds very different. It’s a very different sound. There’s something quite special about it, isn’t there? I hope we end up releasing a few vinyl copies, maybe a 7”. We’ll see!
I’d like to ask you about one song on the new album in particular. “Through My Window” is a very wistful and reflective song with vocals from your son. Did you have him in mind when you wrote it as far as having him sing it or, perhaps, lyrically as a father passing on his insights to his child?
Well, that’s nice! There is an element of that in the song, but I starting writing it one afternoon when I was literally just strumming my guitar and looking out the window at the trees. I’d been writing a lot of songs and I thought that sometimes it’s difficult to put deep feelings into words.
You know that feeling when you close the last pages of a book? I had that feeling; it was like closing a chapter or writing the last song in a series of songs. I wanted the mood to be very different. I did want to write a sort of “parting” number—that’s a good observation.
I played the beginnings of “Through My Window” to [my son] Russ and he went away, and a few days later he came back with this arrangement! I loved it! I finished off some lyrics and he did some backup vocals to the song that I kept on the actual recording. I cut it up a little bit, but it’s basically how he arranged it. So, it’s a very important song for us. I think it has a lot of deep meaning for me, especially working with Russ.
It definitely comes across. I guess you get to a point in life, no matter what you’re doing, when you realize that family—especially your children—are really what it’s all about.
Yeah, that’s right. We go through so many philosophical ideas and notions about life and what to do about this or that or some politics… when it all boils down to the fact that it is about people: your relationships, your own kids, and family. We’re all struggling week by week to survive the particular life we’ve chosen.
You mentioned it’s been fifty years since “You Really Got Me” was released. Obviously, that’s a really big milestone. But I was thinking, too, about how you survived a very scary stroke ten years ago—another significant anniversary for you. You sound healthier and more creative than you’ve been in a long time. In all that time, did you ever see yourself not writing or performing?
Well, no. Obviously, the stroke was a massive episode in my life. I think I’ve learned a lot about the mind the brain and the body and how it functions throughout the long process of recovery. But it’s also a very creative process! To me, there always seems to be so much to say or write about. I’m just oriented in that way, creatively.
When I write songs, I tend to hone in on a person I knew in the past… I sort of write a screenplay. The characters are up in your mind, and they help you to get through the song. So, I think the stroke was an important episode in my life in that I could have died. Everything I do now is a bonus. [Laughs]
Thank you for answering that. I didn’t know how sensitive you might be about that even, but I was curious about it because I’ve known people who’ve experienced similar life-or-death moments and talk about a renewed sense of creativity.
I think that realization that we all like that we’re all so in control of our lives, always striving to do this and that. But in the end, we have no control over our lives at all. So, we have to have more hope and trust in the universe, I think, that maybe we are being looked after. It might not seem like we are, but I think that everything around us—our friends and family, the trees and plants, and the planet and universe itself—are here to help us. And I think that’s a really big thing that I felt through that episode.
None of us know how long we’re going to be here anyway, so we may as well try and make it happier, better place. It’s easy to be pessimistic and down on the world, but I think, after all, we’re here to enjoy life and make life as good as possible for the people we love and the people we meet. I think life is about sharing what we have rather than trying to take… there’s so much greed in the world, and in the hearts of people, and selfishness. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Through music, you have had an amazing opportunity to communicate all those things and reach enough people and inspire them.
I love the idea that maybe a chord or a phrase or a song or a sound will uplift people or make people think. It’s interesting that you talk about “Through My Window”… it’s very much about asking people to sit back and really make up their own minds about life. It’s not a song that preaches, but it’s a song about allowing things to happen.
Like you were saying, we all like to think we have control when in reality we just… don’t.
No, we don’t! [Laughs] But I think we need to trust in the world and trust that maybe everything is actually all right.
Did you ever imagine, realistically, that there’d ever be a musical landscape in which you and The Kinks would have a fifty-year anthology of music?
Incredible, isn’t it? No, of course not. I’m grateful for “You Really Got Me” and the few hits we had. I didn’t think for a minute that it would last a year. So, it’s quite phenomenal to look back over fifty years of music and all the different albums that we made. At the same time, it seems like “You Really Got Me” was like yesterday, or last week or something. [Laughs] Time is a great illusion, in a way. All of a sudden fifty years passed and it was like no time at all.
I think my feelings [about the fiftieth anniversary] came to the surface when I was writing Rippin’ Up Time. It’s a strange feeling… I don’t feel that fifty years have passed. It feels more like a year! [Laughs]
Dave Davies’ brand new solo LP, Rippin’ Up Time arrives in stores on Monday, November 24, 2014 via Red River Entertainment.