The Complicated Life of Ray Davies

Ray Davies discusses his new book, another new book, two musicals, his first solo album and the future of the Kinks

Ray Davies performs in London. Credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images

"I'm all coffeed out," says Ray Davies as he stands at the counter of a Timothy's on the Upper West side of Manhattan. "Is your apple cider alcoholic?" There's a wry look in his eye that suggests he's joking -- probably -- but the young coffee jockey looks clearly perplexed. "No? Good." With a steaming cup of the virgin brew in hand, Davies finds a seat and pulls out an advance copy of his new book of short stories, Waterloo Sunset. It's the Kinks' frontman's second foray into literature, following his acclaimed "unauthorized autobiography," X-Ray, and disregarding the few inevitable typos, he seems quite happy with the results.

After his early afternoon cider, Davies will catch a plane back to England to dive back into the making of his first studio solo album. He's also got two theatrical productions to wrestle with - the London musical "Come Dancing" and a projected Broadway endeavor. The only medium he doesn't have on his plate at the moment is film, though he toys with the idea of revisiting his 1985 short-feature Return to Waterloo. The chilling short story version that closes Waterloo Sunset suggests that he didn't quite get his way the first time around. "I wanted the character to be a man who murdered people, and my producer said we won't let you finish the film if you don't make him friendly," he says, exasperated. "I said, 'He's a rapist. What do you want me to do? Give him a song and dance?'"

Should the stories of down-and-out rocker Lester Mulligan in Waterloo Sunset be read as a sequel to X-Ray?
No. I've actually started drafting out the follow-up to X-Ray, and that's a totally different thing. People always think that it's something autobiographical -- this is a curse. This could have been a thousand people that I know. I think a lot of people had a blank in 1985 and came to life again in 1990. It just happens to people - they go sleepwalking through careers and through lives, and sometimes it takes an event to jolt them back into reality. I chose Lester Mulligan because he represents all of my fears and paranoias, and he's much more strung out and stretched out than I could ever be. He's a more extreme version of me. More romantic. I never took the pills or anything. I almost wish I had, because it would give me the credability - it would make a much better Behind the Music. I think the Kinks Behind the Music would probably be the boring let down of all time, because I suffered through my own seriousness and mundane lifestyle, which is not very attractive. And I really like the name Les, because if I'm out looking for a new guitar player, there are two names where no matter how well they played, I just couldn't employ them - Ken and Les. They're so un-rock & roll. [Laughs]

What's the status of the solo album you've been working on?
At the moment I'm writing songs, and I'm being so picky. I'm doing sketches of songs before I even make a demo. So its going to go through three or four process before I make the record. But I'd rather eliminate stuff now than have it all eliminated when the record's done. I've got about forty songs I'd like to work on, and I'll cut it down for the record company. But I want to make sure the demos are done as high fidelity as possible because I'll definitely want to use them as bonus tracks.

How are you approaching your solo album differently than you would another Kinks album?
Well, I'm trying to get Dave's phone number! There was a meeting in London before I came here. I was doing my will, because I've never had one, and I told my lawyer and my accountant, 'I really miss being in the band, because there's nobody to be angry at.' We're actually on contract to do one more album Kinks album for EMI. But I've spoken to my people at Capitol, and my priority is my first solo studio record - 'please get that done.' Then, who knows.

The theater's kept you busy lately. Are there any ties between your 'Come Dancing' show in London the production you're planning for Broadway?
They're two different shows. The one I'm doing on Broadway is basically an extension of my one-man show. 'Come Dancing' is a musical with lots of actors and actresses. It's about my sisters and how they lived through that time in post-war Britain. This summer we did an eight-week workshop at the National Theater in London, which is unprecedented, they don't give that much time to people. But I think it will be a piece not for national but for the commercial theater. It's a very fine line to tread, because theater is a world that is so focused on the bottom line. There's no courage in the theater. I'd say next to films, it's the most paranoid, time wasting, exploitive creative environment, but when it works, its wonderful.

What is the status of the Broadway show?
It's going off Broadway. I'm changing producers, because one of the producers isn't right. It's a small show. The difficulty with it is it's gleaned from a concert piece. It's not like normally where a writer goes in with a play, the producers read it and the producers say, 'We'll do it.' With this, its coming from something that's not only proven theatrically, its proven on television on VH1 -- it started that series [Storytellers]. So it's a difficult one for them to understand. I think you have to adapt in the modern theater world the same as in independent films. And it's getting them to be flexible. If they're inflexible, it can't happen.

How would it be different from your regular show?
Well during my last stint at Edinburgh last year, I thought, 'God, it would be lovely if I could get somebody else to this so I wouldn't have to work my guts out every night.' It's a tough piece to perform. And one of the arguments we're having in negotiations is about the amount of performances I do a week.

You can hear the collective groans, though: 'Ladies and gentlemen, tonight the role of Ray Davies will be played by...'
Martin Short! I can't imagine that. Who would I get to play me? I guess David Letterman knows all the tunes. Conan O'Brien knows all the tunes. But maybe somebody old and grouchy like David Letterman would be a good stand-in. He could have Paul with him. It will be difficult to cast, but that is a reality, because if this happens I have to have an understudy, because you've got to have a show every night. Maybe they might have to do a reduced ticket, I don't know. But they might get somebody who comes in and does such a great performance that they'll come in and earmark it as their piece. Which would be fine for me.

There's another reason to give your brother a call.
Yeah. Strangely, my new script, seriously I'm trying to make it something that somebody could step into. The script is revealing; it's almost in a sense that I'm the villain of the piece, and this person that I loathed since I was born ends up being my salvation, because without him, I couldn't have done it. Its about brotherly love basically - that's the essence of the piece. And if I could do that, I'm sure accomplished actors could do it with the right script. I think that's the thing that differentiated my original Storyteller from other people that have done it since. I was talking to Elvis Costello the other week, and he said he modeled his show on what I did, but he said 'We could never bring the same thing to it because you were up there, and it had a beginning, middle and end to it, and our show is just to fill an hour time slot on VH1.'

Even with multiple books, musicals and a solo career, your name still usually comes with "of the Kinks" after it. How important is it to you to forge a new identity?
Well the only example of an answer I can give you is, when I first started my Storyteller show, I played the Birchere Community Center. And they phoned up my agent last year and said, 'We'd love to get that show back.' My agent said, 'What, Ray Davies of the Kinks?' And they said, 'No, the show...we want the show back.' To me, that's success, because they remembered the show, and I was the performer. That's a real compliment.

Last question: where does X-Ray II start out?
It starts in Belgium. The first line is, "I woke up in Belgium, and I sneezed." I like things like that.