Ray Davies Talks 'Arthur' Reissue, His 'Project Kinks' Reunion - Rolling Stone
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Ray Davies Talks ‘Arthur’ Reissue, ‘Project Kinks’ Reunion Project

“The word ‘together’ is misleading,” says Davies about the Kinks reunion. “We were never together. But we’re back to our dysfunction again”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09:  Ray Davies performs on stage at The Last Night of the Proms at Royal Albert Hall on September 9, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Jo Hale/Redferns)

Ray Davies has finished up work on the upcoming 'Arthur' box set and has turned his attention to recording new songs with his brother Dave.

Jo Hale/Redferns/Getty Images

The Kinks were on the verge of collapse when they began 1969’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). They’d just parted ways with original bassist Pete Quaife and their previous album, 1968’s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, failed even to chart in their native England despite excellent reviews. Making matters worse, an ongoing feud with the American Federation of Musicians made it impossible for them to tour in the States, a devastating blow at a time when groups like Led Zeppelin and the Who were rapidly building huge audiences in America thanks to relentless gigging. The very real possibility that they’d go down in history as an also-ran British Invasion band that burned out in the late-1960s lingered in the air.

The obvious move would have been to write some poppy singles like “You Really Got Me” and “Tired of Waiting for You” to get back on the charts, but Ray Davies had no interest in that. “I had become bored with the singles format,” he says on the phone from London. “I was tired of doing three or four singles a year and your whole body of work is judged by what those singles are like.”

He teamed up with English playwright Julian Mitchell to write a television play about a British man (inspired by Davies’ real-life brother-in-law) that grows weary of life in his home country and moves to Australia with his family. The play never happened, but it did inspire Davies to write 12 songs that told the story across two sides of a record. “I called it a documentary album,” says Davies about Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). “It’s about the generation that won World War II, but somehow lost the peace. It’s a neat package that tells the story of the decline of the British empire.”

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The single “Victoria” became their most successful song in three years, and the album received the best reviews of their career. “Less ambitious than Tommy, and far more musical — no fillers, no waste tracks, not a matter of ideas but of perceptions worked out by bass, drums, voices, horns and guitars — Arthur is by all odds the best British album of 1969,” Greil Marcus wrote in Rolling Stone. “It shows that Pete Townshend still has worlds to conquer, and that the Beatles have a lot of catching up to do.”

As the 50-year anniversary of the album began looming last year, Davies began poring through archival tapes from the period to create a four-disc edition of the album, due out October 25th, packed with demos, outtakes, alternate mixes, and rehearsals. “The rehearsal tapes show the band was very tight back then,” says Davies. “We were turning a corner and the energy was different. There’s a song called ‘Some Mother’s Son,’ and I found a version before we wrote the bridge. I hadn’t heard that first draft in 50 years.”

The set also includes 12 songs intended for a Dave Davies solo album that was never released. “That came after he had a big hit with ‘Death of a Clown,'” says Ray. “I told him to form a band and go on tour with it. He didn’t want to do that. He wanted to stay in the Kinks, but it really shows him develop as a very strong songwriter. He’s not doing a lot of heavy rock on it. It’s sensitive and quite beautiful.”

Unqualified praise for the talents of Dave coming from Ray may seem surprising to some Kinks fans, but they’ve finally made peace in recent years and have even taken tentative steps toward a Kinks reunion. Right now, they are focused on writing new songs. “Dave and I are having a collaboration on a few songs, which will be a first,” says Ray, who wrote the vast majority of the Kinks catalog on his own. “I’ll be like, ‘Here is the chorus, you write verse two.’ I’m trying to keep the energy flowing, and I really want Dave involved creatively.”

The Davies brothers have been largely recording with drum machines to flesh out their demos, but Ray hopes to call in Kinks drummer Mick Avory soon, despite Avory’s famously combative relationship with Dave. “It was a childish spat,” says Ray. “I got them to say ‘hello’ last year. I want to get them in the studio together. I’m calling it ‘Project Kinks.'”

As of now, Project Kinks is short a bass player. Quaife died in 2010, and Jim Rodford, who played with them from 1978 to 1997, died suddenly last year. That does leave John Dalton, their bass player from 1969 to 1976. “I haven’t spoken to John about this yet,” says Davies. “I did see him last year, and I might reach out soon, perhaps November. Dave also has a couple of guys in mind that he likes. Right now, though, the songwriting comes first. This is a song project and keeping it in the family is something to enjoy.”

The Kinks haven’t played live in any capacity since splitting in 1996. A tour would be a huge moneymaker, but Ray is taking things one day at a time. “We have to make the record first,” says Ray. “But if we do play again, we’ll come to America. That’s another conversation though.”

Does all of this activity mean the Kinks are now officially back together? “The word ‘together’ is misleading,” says Davies. “We were never together. But we’re back to our dysfunction again.”

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