Recorded for an episode of Inside Tracks with Lisa Robinson, this interview focuses on the subjective side of Ray Davies’ career. This entails some revealing stories about what was happening on the scene when The Kinks first broke through as well as some vulnerable moments when Ray talks about loneliness and his relationship with an unnamed woman.
Lisa Robinson: Do you get in a state where you’re on the road where if you get lonely or depressed or anything, can you still write songs? Do some of your good songs come out of those kind of periods?
Ray Davies: I think first I really like writing out of being alone because it’s a good therapy if nothing else. I like just playing songs, making up songs, like any kid does on the piano you know. When they get a hold of a piano they start banging away… that’s the way I work. I’m very primitive in my work.
Robinson: Do you know when you’re writing a song if it’s a great song?
Davies: It’s like any writer who doesn’t know the strength of writing because there’s nothing as good as getting a charge when I get an idea. I don’t think any idea is totally original. It’s an original way of interpreting an idea, and I get a real charge out of that and I know when I’ve done that.
Robinson: What about “Lola”?
Davies: Oh, of course. Yeah. I knew that was good. I recorded that four times to get it right, to get it suitably. But I believe in that, “You Really Got Me” was recorded, this is an old old story, but I recorded it three times again. The first time we recorded it was a demo, which was great. The second time for real in a big studio and I didn’t like it so they gave us some money to record it in a tiny little studio without echo and things to get our sound. It paid off. At some point, everybody who does anything maybe even a little bit original, and I think “You Really Got Me” was original. You have to be positive enough to know and to fight for what you want, and I fought for that.
Robinson: Things happened pretty quickly for you, yes? I mean, you were sort of catapulted into the ‘60s swinging London, that whole scene… was there a mutual camaraderie between artists such as The Stones and The Beatles?
Davies: Yeah, yeah. After “You Really Got Me” was a hit, I remember I met the Yardbirds and some of these others and I remember somebody said, “Everybody’s a bit aggravated you did it first.” Because it was kinda a blues song in a pop-idiom and it was number one. I think a lot of people were trying for that combination. To do, something that really wasn’t in The Beatles format, in the song structure. It still had this creditability of being a blues song, “You Really Got Me,” and a lot of people were trying to get there first. You know, we didn’t really get on that well with many of the other groups.
Davies: We were considered wimpy, we were a lot younger than the other groups, and we were a few years younger. Dave was 15 I think when we made “You Really Got Me.” And it’s like, punk really isn’t the right word but sort of, what’s the word… upstart. We were considered to be upstarts even among our sort of peers and not really a blues band like The Stones or John Mayall, not really authentic blues (laughs).
Robinson: Do you think people don’t get your sense of humor a lot?
Davies: Oh. People don’t get me when I’m not being funny, you know? Sometimes, people think I’m really being cynical and I’m not. For a songwriter, a person who’s supposed to be a professional writer, I get lost for words a lot. You know, I find it very hard to put together words. It’s a big effort for me because I don’t always finish what I’m saying, people get the wrong idea about me. I’m amazed lately. I’ve been meeting a lot of people and I’ve actually got, “I’m a nice person” among them.
Robinson: You say always at a crucial moment The Kinks blow it. Well, maybe that’s part of the job. And maybe that’s part of why you are what you are.
Davies: I think so. It’s also held us back a lot. We’ve upset people. Well, I have. I know that. I’m trying to calm it down a bit but I can’t. I know when there’s something wrong and I say what I think.
Robinson: Well, do you think it’s a part of being sort of a misfit? I mean, seriously not fitting into what people want you to be. I mean it really is as simple as that. It’s like not getting along with people in school.
Robinson: (laughs) Why should people get along in school?
Davies: At the end of the day, I just know what I think is right and what I think is wrong. That’s all. Maybe it doesn’t agree with what other people think. It’s just the situation I think at the time. I say what I think or I’ll storm out or whatever or I’ll get drunk or something. I think with me, I’ve still got that 15-year-old annoying streak about me.
Robinson: Your onstage demeanor, I think always owed this certain debt to English musical. You know, it’s not something a lot of American fans know about.
Davies: I was taken to the musical when I was very young, I can’t remember it but I was never really that influenced by the musical, it died out when I was a kid. But it’s only Americans in a sense that have picked up on it. That sort of showmanship if you’d like, it’s hard to say that, it’s something, kind of a quirk in my character. A salesman. I was realizing I’m there to sell each song individually. A lot of groups like The Kinks, maybe The Kinks started it, all the songs were cast an image of the band. The Rolling Stones, every song they sing is cast for them. They can sing it. You know they don’t have to dress up for it. It’s them. It’s the way they live in a sense. With us, the style changes so much and I write for different characters, I have to become an actor to play the characters in my songs. There is a theatrical element in it but I wouldn’t say it’s all vaudeville, there are touches of it from time to time but I’d say it was theatrical, yes.
Robinson: Would you say you could have a home relationship and be in this business?
Davies: Well, I’d hope so because the odds are against us but I’m going to make it possible because I don’t think anything is written, nothing is written in black at all. Even the fact the odds are against, you see it happening to people everyday, people aren’t able to keep it together. But I think, personal marriage and all that is under assault anyway. The world’s not geared up for it. Maybe I don’t believe in a good and bad. I believe there’s good and evil in the room with you all the time and it’s up to you to decide which one you want to take.
Robinson: That’s a very religious way of looking at it.
Davies: Yes, but I’m not a religion person.
Robinson: Do you think you’re optimistic though?
Davies: I think what I’ve got, and what’s kept me going is kind of sense of humor. It’s the only thing I’ve got that’s worth giving other people. Because the things in my songs that have worked have got a sense of humor, it’s something I really couldn’t live without. And optimism is a part of that.