Dave Davies sounds calm and good-natured on the other end of the phone, now 73 years old. But his history is shaken: being the last of eight children, he formed with his brother Ray in the early 60s the group The Kinks, a band completed by bassist Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory, in addition to becoming one of the symbols of the so-called British invasion of that decade, establishing together with The Who the foundations of both hard rock and a more conceptual and narrative songbook.
There are many bands led by brothers in rock, from AC / DC to Happy Mondays, through Oasis to Devo or Sparks. But, before the Kinks emerged in 1963, the obligatory reference was The Everly Brothers, one of the inspirations for the Davies. So says Dave, in dialogue with Culto from his home in England.
“With Ray we were fans of the Everly Brothers. Thanks to them we realized that by joining together our voices could be complementary, as in the song ‘Lola’, which is a perfect example, since I sing an octave higher and Ray an octave lower. It was an advantage to be different, both musically and in terms of our personalities ”.
For 1970, the year the album containing the single was released –Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, part one-, the Kinks were in a new stage after the glorious decade where they were part of a whole generation of creators who forever changed the songbook of the 20th century. They now added a keyboardist named John Gosling and his original bassist had to leave the band after a series of back and forth following a car accident in 1965.
After the success of his previous production –Arthur (or the decline and fall of the British Empire), 1969-, they were back on American soil after a five-year ban, the result of the punch that Ray Davies gave a producer of the Dick Clark television show behind the scenes.
“We Kinks just happened to have all those hits back in the sixties and now we were realizing that there weren’t a lot of nice people in the music business. It really is a very difficult business to get into. The album ‘Lola’ is one of my favorites of all the many albums we made, precisely because it is transitional. There is a lot of anger there, like in the song ‘Rats’, which has this anger because the Kinks felt permanently in this rat race of life ”.
There was a belligerent mood on the LP, inspired by the winding paths of the music business, continuing the exploration of the conceptual format begun in 1968 with The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, released a year before the iconic Tommy from The Who. But not only in concepts were they pioneers: the influence of Indian music on the single “See my friends” preceded “Norwegian wood (the bird has flown)” by The Beatles by four months and by a year “Paint it black ”by The Rolling Stones; and even “Lola” – whose character reappeared in the song “Destroyer” (1981) – is about a meeting full of dance and romance between its protagonist and a transvestite. A clear advance to “Lady Stardust”, by David Bowie, or “Walk on the wild side”, by Lou Reed.
-Where did the idea of making concept records come from?
In the sixties we had to put out singles very often and, sometimes, the topics our songs were about fell short because they were very deep and required more than three minutes to talk, as in ‘A well respected man’, ‘Dedicated follower of fashion ‘and’ Autumn almanac ‘. That’s why we made concept records.
-At the end of that decade, you had so much of your own material that you tried to put out a solo album. How do you explain how prolific the band is?
The Kinks never had a problem composing songs. When we grew up with Ray, in that small working family home, together with our six sisters and with the entire extended family, there were always many people singing and dancing. Music came out of the air, from the walls. The influence of music growing up there was just amazing for us.
Since he was little, Dave says, he always experienced psychic phenomena in that home in Muswell Hill, north London. His mother saw fortune in tea leaves and read the palms of the hand; but, more importantly, between him and his brother Ray there was a kind of telepathy when composing. “He was playing something on the guitar and I instinctively knew what to do to accompany him,” he says.
-Your song “Strangers” seems to speak precisely of that relationship with his brother, of these opposites that generate something glorious.
That’s what it’s about, basically. To realize that we had to be together against everything. It’s about camaraderie, brotherhood, and sticking together through it all. Since we were kids, Ray and I were always different, and I think that finally helped us. We used to fight a lot and there were times where we told each other that we were wrong, but when it was time to push back, to be against the wall, all of that helped us.
Twenty years before the Gallagher brothers, the Davies were experts at hitting each other right hands, like that time at the family home when Dave knocked Ray out so hard he was knocked off the ground until he fell to the side of the piano, unconscious. Thinking he was dead, Dave went over to check his brother’s breathing. Suddenly, Ray opens his eyes and punches him back instantly.
But that anger also turned against the world when necessary, as in the songs “Powerman” and “Rats”, his favorites from the work that this season turns 50 and that in December they celebrated with the release of an imposing box set that brings alternate takes, singles replicas, and never-before-released images.
“In them there is a great attitude, there are emotions and there is a combative spirit that reveals the true nature of the Kinks. But on the album there are also more reflective pieces that I have particular appreciation for, like ‘This time tomorrow’, which is a question about where we came from as a band, what we were doing and where we were going. The album perfectly expresses the state we were in in those days. “
Although they were pioneers in conceptual work, in the use of Indian music and in title albums with endless phrases, the most determining legacy of the Kinks for many is the riff of “You really got me”, the band’s third single, released in 1964. The harsh sound of that lacerating guitar is considered the first cannon shot of hard rock and its secret is only one: a razor.
-What was going through your mind when you took your knife and broke your amp in “You really got me”?
I was a very angry kid and had this little amp. I was using a razor to shave, I was starting to do it in those days and the amp wasn’t sounding right. So the first thing that occurred to me was to break it with the knife, destroy it. Who knows where that idea came from!
-I know you believe in reincarnation. Would I do the same again in another life?
No (laughs). It happens that I was very angry, and I think it is better to use that hatred in a creative way than to hurt someone. I used it in an artistic way and that’s better than going around causing harm or getting mad at the world. For that reason art can help us as human beings, that’s what it exists for, to channel different ideas and do something useful that helps us all.
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Dave Davies, founder of The Kinks: “It is better to use hatred creatively than to hurt someone”