Dave Davies of The Kinks: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Dave Davies of The Kinks Interview

Feature Photo: courtesy of Big Hassell PR/BMG.

An Interview with Dave Davies of The Kinks

By Andrew Daly

As the founding member of The Kinks, Dave Davies forever re-shaped the sound of hard rock with his distinctively distorted open chords heard on “You Really Got Me,” released in 1964.

Of course, there was no way that Davies could have known that when he sliced open the cone of his Elpico amp, he’d be creating one of the first mainstream examples of distortion. Nevertheless, this serendipitous moment in guitar-related history —in all its fuzzed-out glory— went on to influence droves of heavy metal and punk rockers, in particular.

Beyond the groundbreaking sounds of The Kinks’ early records, there was the matter of immense songsmith. With songs such as “Dead End Street,” “Strangers,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Death of a Clown,” “Lola,” and more, few bands painted such vivid pictures through their lyrical prowess and uniquely phrased chord structures.

Through the years, The Kinks lineup shuffled about. But at the heart of it all —despite their differences— Dave and his brother, Ray Davies, soldiered on. Through whimsy and a string of utterly classic records, the Brothers Davies unfurrowed a battering ram of hyper-memorable music that is still as impactful today as it was over 50 years ago.

“Yeah, Ray and I have had words over the years,” Dave Davies tells me. “But I think at the core of it all, it was our mutual love for each other that kept us going through it all. Family is funny because you still love them even though you’re fighting with them. Sometimes we hated each other, but there was always a lot of love and a powerful bond between us.”

“It’s not always easy to love someone,” Davies continues. “But the love was always there. We’d argue, and sometimes we wouldn’t talk for ages. But it didn’t matter; we could always set all of that aside, find common ground, and do something creative. So, our love, bond, and creative respect for each other gave us a lot of space to venture around and stay in the proper mindset.”

Though The Kinks folded their proverbial tent in 1996, their legacy looms large. Now 30 years after their final studio offering, Phobia (1993), fans of the British stalwarts are still clamoring for more. To that end, Dave and Ray Davies, along with Mick Avalon, have heard their fan’s calls, leading to the release of The Journey – Part 1 —an expansive set covering The Kinks’ 1964—1975 era.

When asked about The Journey, Davies quipped: “It’s a compilation we’re putting together with our record company, BMG Music, that will cover 1964 through 1975: myself, Ray [Davies], and Mick [Avory] hand-picked the songs. We put a lot of thought into which ones we’d pick, especially regarding how they had affected people’s lives. We’re very excited about it in celebration of 60 years of The Kinks.”

Dave Davies dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into The Journey – Part 1, his memories of The Kinks’ formative years, and the writing and recording of some of the band’s most iconic music.

The Kinks

Portrait of the Kinks (Mick Avory, Ray Davies, Pete Quaife and Dave Davies) photographed in 1966. Courtesy of Big Hassell PR/BMG.

When you think of the earliest hours of The Kinks, what comes to mind for you?

We were so young, and when I think back, I can remember so vividly that we were very aware that we were doing something we’d never done before. It was a very different way of living, and we were very naïve. But we were also fortunate because we could put our heads together and create some unique music. I’d have to say that the unexpected success of “You Really Got Me” changed things for us entirely.

Is there one guitar that you feel most defined the early sound of The Kinks?

The very first guitar I remember playing was a Harmony Meteor H-70. That was the guitar that I used along with the cup-up speaker when we recorded “You Really Got Me.” I used it on a bunch of the other early tunes, too. It wasn’t a terribly expensive guitar, but it had a unique sound.

Do you remember how you came up with the riff for “You Really Got Me?”

It was unintentional. I had no idea that I’d be able to come up with that great guitar sound. And I had no idea that it would go on to be so influential. But that sound was something much heavier than anything else at the time. The way I did it was I cut up the speaker of an Elpico amp that I’d gotten, and then I ran that through a Vox as a pre-amp, so to speak.

I don’t think anyone would have advised me to do that, but I did. The result was remarkable; my cut-up amp produced this deep, heavy growl that was very different from what was happening then. When it came to “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” there was nothing else like it. It became a starting point for many bands in the future.

Can you recall putting together “Celluloid Heroes?”

I can. So, the way that came together was Ray thought up a lot of the lyrics and themes while he was walking down Hollywood Boulevard. He was walking down the road to the studio, where we were all preparing for a session. As far as my guitar parts are concerned, it was all very freeform and in the moment. We’d talk about ideas, and then we’d try them out and see if they fit the songs that we had. As I recall, it was a lot of talking, agreeing, and then impromptu jam sessions while we were in the studio.

What set The Kinks apart from other British Invasion bands of the ’60s?

Firstly, our influences. We had an immense number of influences growing up. I recall my older sisters would go to see musical shows, like county/western types of things, and that music was always around our house. I think that gave The Kinks a broader sense of music than some of our contemporaries, who were all incredible.

The result was that The Kinks had a broader spectrum of music incorporated into the songwriting, I think. I also think that family was a big part of it. Being in the band with Ray, my brother, and being influenced by family growing up all played a significant role in developing our sound. But things were competitive between all those bands. We really had to keep our cards close to our chests and operate in secrecy to stay ahead. But as all those bands —ourselves included— got older, we became more open.

The Kinks

Photo: courtesy of Big Hassell PR/BMG.

Did The Kinks have a tried-and-true method of songwriting?

We drew inspiration from everywhere. Much of it was observational, as we drew ideas from the things that happened around us. And from that, we always seemed to have a lot of ideas. But as musicians and creative people, the trick is keeping that going and finding new ideas. So, we were always looking for new and different ideas. We never wanted to play the same thing repeatedly. That never appealed to us. That led us to write more politically oriented songs, which I supposed was a sign of growing up and maturity. So, the approach was always to be looking at things differently and keep new ideas flowing.

Looking back, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneyground, Part One was ahead of its time. Do you recall putting that album together?

I recall having a lot of material going in, all of which was pulled from all our various influences. There was country, blues, rock, etc. We went in wanting to tell stories about our countrymen and the people who we saw and knew. But it was important for our stories to be relatable and up-to-current. We wanted a flow across the record where the lyrics we incorporated would produce an effect of one thing leading to another.

Looking at a song like “Lola,” while the lyrical content has become accepted in the modern age, it was uncommon subject matter for 1970. What inspired you to tackle that, and were you concerned with the potential backlash?

Interesting question. You’re right; it has become much more common to talk about gay people within the arts and in general. But back then, it wasn’t. All the members of The Kinks were always very open-minded when it came to gay people and the way that people view sex in general. Also, it was more common to talk about those things within our business than within the public sector. So, no, we weren’t concerned with backlash. We just did what came to us and did our best to stay creative.

Do you feel that a song like “Lola” aided people within the LGBT community to gain more acceptance within the music community and in general?

Yeah, I think so. Many people have said, “Oh, man, ‘Lola’ showed me a different view of the world and helped me grow up. Thank you for that.” When you’re young, you don’t always realize or fully understand the differences between people. And you don’t always understand how these things can affect people. But we had many friends that were bi-sexual or in transition, so it was pretty common and maybe more common than people used to think.

Did the at-times volatile nature of The Kinks make things difficult mentally?

Being in a band with family wasn’t always easy, but that’s how it goes with families, right? Things don’t always go perfectly, and sometimes you fight. But the other thing about family is that you tend to group together and support each other much more when it gets hard. Yeah, we would fight, but there’s always been a lot of love, too. So, in that way, being in a band with my brother was helpful because there was an underlying layer of support, even if there were issues, too.

I will say that the first five years were critical to The Kinks. Being in the band was entirely different from how we’d grown up. We met some strange, unusual, and talented people, but it was much different. We felt like we’d made the big time, but it got harder when I realized that this was also a job and actual work. That wasn’t there at the very beginning. I have to say; I didn’t think it would last.

And what did allow it to last?

I think the evolution of the subject matter helped a great deal. The decision to write about actual events and real people was important. Because real people and real events shift and happen over time. When we shifted toward writing songs about real life, the ups and downs, and how things can sometimes go wrong, I thought that was wonderful. We always wrote good songs, but that gave us a lot of longevity.

Dave Davies of The Kinks Interview

Dave Davies of The Kinks – Photo courtesy of Big Hassell PR/BMG.

Dave Davies of The Kinks: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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