Ray Davies: 'If We Do a Kinks Show, We're the Kinks'

Singer on the Who ripping him off, Wes Anderson and whether he and his brother can agree to a Kinks tour

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Ray Davies
Ray Davies says the Kinks "have a bunch of tracks in some stage of completion. I'd like to get them finished." Rafa Rivas/Getty

Kinks frontman Ray Davies wrote a staggering number of songs during the band's early years. For proof, look no further than The Anthology 1964-1971, a new 139-track collection that includes 25 unheard demos and outtakes. There's also talk of a Kinks tour, which would be their first since 1995 – but first Ray would have to come to terms with his brother (and Kinks guitarist) Dave. "He's a lovely bloke, my brother," says Ray. "But he's got his way of thinking about things."

In the Kinks' early years, you may have been the most prolific songwriter in rock.
The record company, and probably our manager too, thought we wouldn't last long, so they made us record more. Every time a record got into the Top 10, they said, "You've got to have another one." So it kind of was like an assembly line.

The Who's first few singles sort of ripped you guys off. Did that bother you?
Well, they were influenced, to put it politely. When I heard "I Can't Explain," I thought, "Someone's cocked our rear!" Pete [Townshend] has said that it was an influence. But that wasn't as bad as when the Doors came out with "Hello, I Love You."

Which sounds just like "All Day and All of the Night."
My publisher wanted to sue. I was unwilling to do that. I think they cut a deal somewhere, but I don't know the details.

It's interesting to hear the early version of "Waterloo Sunset." Why do you think that song was huge everywhere but America?
It's a song with a subject matter that's very English. But it also came out during the period when we were banned from America.

That was when you were barred from touring by a powerful musicians' union.
It was a severe blow because America was the source of most of the inspiration I had as a kid. It was nirvana, the better place to go. We couldn't tour there, and so we disappeared from radio. The ban lasted for two and a half years, I think. When we finally were allowed to come back, we sounded like a different band. We changed our style quite a lot.

Wes Anderson has used some of your songs in his movies. Do you think he introduced your music to young fans?
I do. It has been really flattering, and what's great is he doesn't use the obvious hits. He picks lesser-known songs because they fit the story more.

It's amazing that "Lola" was such a big hit in 1970, considering the subject matter.
The subject matter was concealed – it's a crafty way of writing. I say, "She woke up next to me," and people think it's a woman. The story unfolds better than if the song were called "I Dated a Drag Queen."

You turned 70 this past summer. Do you feel any different?
I don't think about it much. I'm just trying to get my writing together. The Kinks have a bunch of tracks in some stage of completion. I'd like to get them finished.

Are you thinking of taking unfinished songs and going back into the studio to finish them?
I'd like to do that. We've got tracks back from Dave, Mick [Avory] and the original band members. We're talking about the Seventies and Eighties. There have got to be 20, at least. Then there are other finished songs I have in various forms of demo.

There have been lots of rumblings about a Kinks tour next year. Is that going to happen?
I can't think that far forward. Over the years, I've been doing a few new tracks with Mick, our original drummer. You know about the war between Dave and Mick.

Those guys have been at each other's throats for 50 years.
I don't work for the United Nations. I'm just a musician. I had a drink with Mick last week, and I asked, "What happened to you guys?" They shared a house in the 1960s. I think some things went on there that created a rivalry.

It's crazy that it's still going on.
It's like a bad Harold Pinter play.

Dave said he doesn't want a Kinks tour to be the Ray Davies show, with his kid brother in the corner.
I don't understand what that's about. If we do a Kinks show, we're the Kinks. Ray stands on the right of the stage and Dave stands on the left. Look, my brother is very intelligent. He's a good writer. We actually put down a few demos last Christmas. He came to see me, and he played me a couple of new songs.

So...there will be a tour next year?
I don't know about next year. I'm doing a studio album of my songs from my book Americana, and I'm going to do a small tour. As for the Kinks, I have to talk to Dave.

From The Archives Issue 1223: December 4, 2014
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