John Dillon & Viv Nesbitt had the pleasure of interviewing singer/songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Dave Davies of The Kinks fame. Below is the transcript of that interview.
John: It’s our great pleasure to be talking with Dave Davies today on Art of the Song. Welcome.
Dave: It’s great to be here.
Viv: Dave, we’re so excited about your new album “Open Road”. You know, there are times in your life when you don’t know that there’s something missing and you hear it and you think, “That’s what’s been missing from my catalogue” and I felt that way when I tuned into your record today. I just was like, “That’s the sound.”
Dave: That’s really inspiring to know that it’s working. We had a lot of fun recording it and Russell did a great job in production and arrangement and pulling the whole thing together. So it’s good to hear.
Viv: So, Russell, your son, was the producer on the album?
Dave: That’s right. He was the producer and he pulled songs together and he did a wonderful job. It was a very pure collaborative venture. The songwriting and lyrics. We shared vocals. Most of the vocals are my lead vocals but there’s a lot of layering going on. We did whatever we needed to do to make it work.
Viv: So this is the second generation of Davies playing together. I’d like to talk about your history of recording with Russell and how this particular album “Open Road” came about.
Dave: Well, Russell and I have recorded a couple of albums before. In 2010 we did an album called “The Aschere Project” which was like a sci-fi, experimental album, which was great, and previous to that, many years ago, we worked on an album in a similar vein. Kind of a spiritual, science fiction, out-of-space story. We decided the beginning of last year to maybe try and record a rock album with regular songs and hooks and choruses. So Russell got a bunch of ideas together and I listened to them and then we got together and we just wrote ideas down and it went from there really.
Viv: What I love about the album is it has a really strong sound that is so familiar and yet new and it also has a very strong thematic sense for me.
Dave: Oh really? Oh that’s good.
Viv: Yeah, because for me there were interesting themes that go along with the spirituality that you’re talking about in the other ones and previous albums but, for me, I heard so much of particular lines that dealt with forgiveness, they dealt with giving life meaning again, and I am so intrigued about the role of music as we move forward in kind of a treacherous time in the world.
Dave: Maybe music is more important now then it’s ever been because it seems like, as a race, we have a lot of really bad communication problems with each other. Maybe we need to find new language because obviously there’s a lot of strife and a lot of pain. Sometimes music can be a healer and heal a lot of imbalances in psychology or in our feelings so Russell and I we made a conscious effort to make it optimistic but at the same time realistic. Especially, for example, in a track called “Chemtrails” that we sing about the days of innocence are over but, at the same time, we’re still optimistic about our hope for a positive future. So that’s kind of like a sub-theme for the record. Even on “Path is Long”, it’s reflecting about days gone by when I was a child and learning guitar and pondering over the present and trying to add an optimistic tone to ideas about the future. It’s interesting that often when we’re confronted in troubled times we tend to reflect on things that happened before, but really I feel we need to pin a lot of hope and positive energy into what we’re doing now and hope it transfers into the future.
Viv: That’s brilliant because with this record I don’t sense a shred of nostalgia, there’s this wonderful sense of reflection like you were saying and yet this power for the future and I really deeply appreciate that. Tell us about your guitar sound. It’s a legend. It’s almost unmistakable. When you tune into the new record you think, “This sounds familiar. Oh I know who that is!” It’s like a fingerprint.
Dave: Yeah, but it’s the way I play. It’s just a stylistic way of playing. The way I tried to treat the guitar, I wanted the songs to work more than anything so, in some songs, the guitar plays a very secondary role unless it needs it. It’s Russell’s sense of arrangement that really shows up well on the record I think. In all the songs, the vocal delivery and what the song doing, the instruments have to compliment the song, not the other way around. It was a good approach I think. You don’t always need to have heavy guitar going through a song just for the sake of it.
Viv: Isn’t that interesting because with Russell’s background in electronic dance music, to let the lyrics and the songs take the lead I think is very compelling, particularly paired with your legendary command of guitar. It would be tempting to go the other direction.
Dave: Yeah, but I think it was a conscious effort at the beginning. They wanted to make the songs work and the instruments to perform on the song, to make the song work, which, hopefully, we’ve achieved that to a degree. It’s an interesting process and Russell’s production you can tell it’s very aware of placement. Russell kind of work like he gives you a landscape. Russell and I think very visually. Music is visual as well. For example, it’s like a musical landscape with certain lines put in there to prompt my own ideas of it. I’d sit and I’d listen and come up with my own ideas. It’s like painting. It’s like two people making a painting and one’s filling in some details and then the next changes it or moves on. I think because each of us trusts the other one to know what they’re doing it works I think for the most part.
Viv: Well, it did for me. Trust seems to factor pretty high on the list of things that you need in collaboration in a musical setting, or in an artistic setting. You’re working with your son and in the past you’ve worked with your brother, is that something that just comes with the territory or is it something that you sort of have to earn?
Dave: Sometimes you have to work at it, but yeah I think in the early days me and Ray had that kind of rapport of trust. It opens you up to ideas when you feel safe in someone’s company in a creative sense in what they have to offer. It does open you up to ideas and “We can do this..” and it doesn’t limit the scope of your involvement, your creativity. So trust and love and, cliché I know, but it does free up the creative process.
Viv: I love that. Sometimes we get so caught up in that the creative process is for other people and that if you rely on the love and trust that that process can be opened up through others, that’s pretty amazing.
Dave: I think as music is so important to my life and to a lot of people’s lives and if you can convey genuine intent and genuine feeling in music, it can be a catalyst for other people’s emotions and what they’re thinking about and inspire people hopefully.
Viv: So, Dave, how did you start to learn guitar? When did songwriting come into play for you?
Dave: When I was quite young, 9, 10, 11, I used to keep a little notebook. I had this imaginary record company and I had make-believe artists on this label that I borrow from real people like George Harley or Buddy Presley, I mixed people’s names up, and I made tunes each week. “Ok, back to my notebook!” and I’d write so-and-so’s #1 and Fred Presley or whatever it is, it’d be #2. I always played that game in my head about music and music was really important too because both Ray and I come from a fairly big family and I’m the youngest of eight kids and then we have six sisters. So the scope of music when we used to get together was everything from Perry Como to Elvis to everything. It covered a big spectrum of musical tastes. So music was very important to me. My dad used to keep a banjo, he played banjo and all my sisters play piano so I think a lot of the roots growing up was like folk music. On a Saturday night, put the party on, everyone would be around the piano and singing the songs they like. It’s very much like folk music. But when we got hold of a gramophone, seems like a hundred years ago, but just fifty or sixty, that was amazing playing people like everything from Al Jolson to Billy Eckstine. I loved him. Frank Sinatra. Everything. One of my sisters liked Hank Williams and he just made beautiful music. He was a great writer as well as a great singer. So all these elements go toward influencing people growing up.
Viv: Then you went on to create a band that influenced a whole other generation with a really unique sound.
Dave: Yeah, you kind of pass it on, don’t you? Then, when you start playing an instrument, Ray and I loved instrumental bands like The Ventures and Johnny and the Hurricanes, mostly American music. They caught our interests. The sounds and the styles and then people like John Lee Hooker came along and really change the whole shape of how we saw music. There’s more depth in it. Bill Broonzy was a big influence because he was a songwriter, he had a great voice, and he was a great guitar player. So you had the full package really. Also, culturally, being working class and seeing our uncles working on the railway and the hardship of working class London at that time, there’s some parallels to a lot of the blues singing about unions and not getting a job because they’re the wrong color and it’s a similar thing in England but it was a working class thing.
Viv: If you didn’t speak the Received Pronunciation, you’re from the wrong town or the wrong side
Dave: It’s like that coming out of the war years when everybody was finding their feet, especially in the 60’s. Working class people started to listen. When you think of the painting side of art and movies, movies changed drastically at that time. So it’s all a period of great change and newness. I remember when we had our first record playing and it seemed like everything you did was good. Every idea was a good idea. So that made it very spontaneous, because I like to work in a spontaneous way if I can. I find if I spend too much time on things I get bogged down.
Viv: Interesting, well, Dave, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I know you’ve got other interviews and other things to do, but I was just wondering if there’s anything you really want us to know about this album in particular and then I have one more follow-up question for you. I just don’t want to leave any stone unturned. It’s so fascinating to hear your take on how music has changed and what brought you up. Is there anything that we’ve left out about the album?
Dave: Well, no, I think people need to live with it and listen to it. I still play it and I’m learning new things about it. It’s got different layers. I think all the great paintings and great art I hope it stands the test of time. Really good stuff does. You get something different from it every time you play it. I’ve got hopes that people enjoy it and I’m very excited about it.
Viv: Well, it’s on the top of my list now. One of the things we try to do with Art of the Song, our radio show, is inspire people to find their own voice creatively. What would you offer to someone who is searching for theirs? What little nugget of wisdom or advice or a thought you might offer to somebody who was trying to find their own particular creative path.
Dave: It’s difficult because I was a pretty stubborn kid and I never listened to criticism and maybe that’s a good thing when you’re young and starting out. Don’t get put off by what other people say or think about what you’re doing because that’ll just stop you dead in your tracks. It takes time to develop a style, a way forward with music, as with everything, so you can’t expect to get it right as if there is a right or wrong way. It’s just the way you feel. Just persevere is the main thing. And don’t take no for an answer.
Viv: That is absolutely beautiful.
John: Thank you so much, Dave Davies, for talking with us on Art of the Song.