Dave Davies: There’s Madness There!

By Jeb Wright

Dave Davies has, in some respects, lived in the shadow of his brother Ray.  As a member of the band The Kinks Ray wrote some iconic songs, “You Really Got Me,” “Lola” and “All Day and All of the Night” among them.  These are songs that are part of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s DNA.  Ray wrote ‘em and sang ‘em, but each and every one of these classics has an electric guitar part that takes the tunes over the top and makes them what they are today: Classics. 

Can you imagine “You Really Got Me” on a piano?  That’s how it was written, but that’s not how we came to know it.  It was Dave Davies who took a razor blade to his amp to give it a distorted sound… and music was never the same again.  His use of distorted power chords helped rocket The Kinks to international fame, as well as influence the future genres of hard rock, heavy metal and punk. 

It was 50 years ago that Dave hit those chords in the front room of his parent’s house.  The anniversary of that cataclysmic event got the electric-playing Mr. Davies to thinking...  He pondered on the past and even took a trip to England, and ended up back in the very front room where the magic happened five decades before. 

He had a dream -a nightmare really- which he describes in the interview below that melded the past, the present and the future into one thing.  The terrifying event led him to pick up his guitar, which was out of tune, and to do what he has always done: write a song. 

The result is Rippin’ Up Time, perhaps his best solo effort to date and certainly his most Kink’s-like.  This one looks at the past, but doesn’t dwell on it.  Yet, the past affects the present, just as the present gives birth to the future. Time is all twisted together, much like Dave’s dream.  

During this interview, Dave talks about revisiting his old front room as well as that terrifying dream that inspired the new album.  He also talks about what would have to happen to make him interested in a reunion with Ray in The Kinks. 

Jeb:  Rippin’ Up Time is the perfect title for this one.  

Dave: Some people say it is not one of the stronger tracks, but I think it encapsulates the album in my mind. 

Jeb:  On this album you are looking back at the early days of The Kinks.  What took you back fifty years ago?

Dave: The idea of the album came to me in a dream.  I was dreaming and it was actually a nightmare.  It was a dream where I was thinking about the past and what was going on in the present and what the future was going to hold.  It was like all of these different times all amalgamated into one place. I woke up saying, “There is madness here!”  If it was all happening at the same time then I think it would be madness.  That gave me the idea for the first track, as well as the second track “Semblance of Sanity.”  That was really the seed behind the whole record. I started thinking about the old days.  I was thinking about how we started fifty years ago in the front room of our house.  We would play and copy The Ventures.  I was thinking about the past while in the present, and I was thinking hopeful thoughts for the future.   

Jeb:  Imagination can allow you to travel through time.

Dave: You can go anywhere. 

Jeb:  Revisiting the past can be emotional.

Dave: Of course, that’s the way I work.  Once I can feel my emotions then it gives me the energy to move through the story with the characters and the memories. 

Jeb: Were the memories of the old days flooding-in during this process?

Dave:  Yeah, they were.  I try not to be too sentimental.  I think our past is important, but it’s not more important that what we have to do today.  I think when we get a bit lost in memory and the past, in the good old days, I don’t think it is very healthy.  To have fond memories and to see how you got to the point of life of where you are today can also be healthy.  We are all confronted with different problems today as we are living.  It is not really nostalgic.  It is a blend of different ideas and thought and imagery. 

Jeb: I have described it as ‘you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.’

Dave: I agree with that, but we can’t lose our self in the past or we really don’t have any future. 

Jeb: I love the dirty guitar sound on this album.  Is this just natural for you to sound that way?

Dave: We were rehearsing this week in New York, in the city.  I didn’t like the amp I was using so I had to work at it, but, normally, I know how to get where I want pretty straightway, more or less.  With a live show you have to go through different phases of your tone, so I don’t use it at all times, but I like to bring it out for the main events of the show. 

Jeb:  With this album, as on your classic moments with The Kinks, you use distortion almost as an instrument. 

Dave: That is what it is to me, really.  I think production is about making the sounds come together.  It is like a composition.  Production and composition are very similar.  I like to use different sounds and, hopefully, they come together to complement the characters, or the idea, I am singing about.  I like to blend sound like a painting, or a picture. 

Jeb: Rippin’ Up Time could be a Kinks album. 

Dave: Maybe, yeah, it could be in a way.  That is a nice thing to say, really.  There are very similar emotions to a lot of other periods of time that I’ve gone through.  It could have been. 

Jeb: Ray Davies writes with humor and he is topical.  You do that with the song “King of Karaoke.” 

Dave: A lot of the characters on this album came from when I was traveling.  I was in England and I discovered the “King of Karaoke” in a club.  I had gone to visit an old haunt from when I had lived there a few years ago.  I took my girlfriend to a pub and she wanted to see Karaoke properly.  I was amazed how these guys spend so much time getting it together and getting it right.  I wrote about that guy I was watching in that little pub.  As I was writing, he came to my mind and he got bigger and bigger and I wrote it from there. 

Jeb:  Was he any good?

Dave:  He was pretty good. 

Jeb:  Describe how you write.

Dave: I am just glad that I get the ideas.  Sometimes you don’t get the ideas at all, but then you play a little riff and an idea comes.  On the new album it happened on the song “Johnny Adams.”  I wasn’t even thinking of the guy.  I just played this riff and it made me thing of Johnny and all of those years ago.  I felt a bit sad for him and all he had to go through.  He wasn’t a bad guy, but he had to go through all sorts of shit.  I kind of brought him back to life with that riff, as it was like him screaming, or shouting, at the world. 

Jeb: My favorite guitar riff on the album is “Ripping Up Time.” 

Dave: That is pretty much where I come from and from where I started.  It really came from that dream and me saying, “There is madness here.”  The guitar was kind of out of tune when I picked it up and I thought, “Damn it.  Well, I’ll just play it flat.”  The riff just came out of that.  It was those two ideas that made it happen, me saying, ‘there is madness here’ and the out of tune guitar. 

Jeb: That is what makes you, you; there are many more technical players, but you create art in a more simplistic manner. 

Dave: There are some great players out, but it’s not just about technique.  It is mostly about how you can inject certain feelings into what you play.  I’ve always said that it is more about style than technique.  When you think of all the great players like Pete Townsend and Jeff Beck and they are very unique; you know who they are when you hear them. 

Jeb: Do you put yourself in that category of being easily recognizable by your sound?

Dave: I don’t know really.  A lot of people think I am very technically accomplished and they ask me all sorts of questions and I have no idea what they are talking about [laughter].

Jeb:  Look at the work you did with The Kinks.  You added the electric flavor like “You Really Got Me” or “Lola” but you bring that sound and people know it is The Kinks as soon as they hear it.   

Dave: It is a part of me.  You carry everything with you that you’ve been and that is what makes you what you are today.  My observation on life today is even more important than my observation of the past.  It’s like you said, you have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. 

Jeb:  The song “Front Room” sounds almost therapeutic for you.  It is the beginning of your life as a musician.  Was this cathartic for you?

Dave: Of course it was, especially this year when there has been big talk about the 50th anniversary of “You Really Got Me” and people are thinking Ray and I should get together.  People think that The Kinks should unite. 

Jeb: Will they?

Dave: We are not sure whether we can do that.  We might try and do something, but I don’t think it will be a tour.  All of those thoughts came to my mind and made me think back to fifty years ago.  I thought about us playing and how I tried to get my guitar sound for “You Really Got Me.”  Even before that we were listening to all of these great people like Howlin’ Wolf and Eddie Cochran and we were trying to copy what they were doing.  A big part of my childhood was based around that front room with the funny old upright piano.  That is where I played my first guitar and where Ray played his first guitar.  It seemed an obvious place to retrace. 

Jeb:  Did you two really ever think you could make it?

Dave: In those days you just kept moving ahead.  You just learned as you go.  I remember making albums and thinking, “I don’t know what guitar bit to put there” and I would just push ahead.  Music is a continuous process of learning.  You don’t just stop once you’ve accomplished something.  To me, it is always a process of learning something.  You think of something new to fit a certain song.  There is lucky accidents like what happened with “Johnny Adams.” 

Jeb:  Your throw out the riff to “You Really Got Me” in a couple of places on this album.

Dave:  I did that for fun.  I did it in “Front Room” because that is where I got that guitar sound.  Ray played those notes on the piano and I translated them to my newly razor slashed speaker on my guitar.  It is where “You Really Got Me” was born, right in that front room.

Jeb: Is that house still in the family?

Dave: No, it is not in the family.  It has been through many different owners since.  Last year I did go inside it.  The woman who owns it now saw me and recognized me as I walked by.  Actually, I think it was early in this year.  I went in and had a look.  It looked posh.  It has a very posh bathroom that we didn’t have.  The front room is a bit smaller because they had to accommodate for the new posh kitchen and bathroom.  It was pretty weird.  They say you should never look back, but I really only just looked over my shoulder [laughter]. 

Jeb:  Tell me about finding a picture of Ray and you ripped in half.

Dave: That came from that dream.  When I came up with the idea of “Ripping Out Time” I had a moment of sentimentality.  I thought about me and Ray being on the cover of a Kinks album, in make-believe. 

In me mind, I saw a tear down the picture and then tore the picture in half in me mind.  I tried to recreate it on a cheap art program.  I actually thought the album cover should look like one half of a picture where the other person has been ripped out.  You think of so many ideas when you are putting an album together.  That is one of the ideas. 

Strangely enough, the first idea I had for the album was to call it Sad Alien because I used to do doodles and drawings and pictures, and I did this little alien and he was like an E.T. and he was looking up at the sky. He was trapped in this place and he couldn’t get out.  “Semblance of Sanity” is like that.  You’re in this place and you don’t want to be here, and you don’t know how you got here, and you want to get out, but you can’t.  You’re trapped.  You have to do the best with what you’ve got at the time.  

Jeb: Does not being in The Kinks ever make you feel that way?

Dave: Yeah, I think that is a good observation.  I think I have always been the sort of person that after all is said and done would rather move forward and lose something rather than to sit and be miserable.  Everybody goes through these things in their life whether they admit to it or not. 

Jeb:  Legacy Recordings is coming out with a lot of Kinks reissues. 

Dave: That is one of the reasons I was back in the UK, as I was approving the art and the liner notes.  I did a few interviews about it.  There are a lot of reissues coming out, globally.  It is very exciting.  There is a lot of Kinks music that people have not really listened to and really been able to savor.  There are bonus tracks that were left off and never used.  I really love some of those old tracks.  

Jeb: It is amazing how it keeps going.

Dave: That is why we always have to be positive in the present, as how we are in the present will affect how we are in the future.  Maybe different time placements play off each other and support each other.  I am a big science fiction fan.  I like Star Trek and there are a lot of deep philosophies in the stories and they excite me as well. 

Jeb: You are a very spiritual person. 

Dave: My spiritual life has always been very, very important in my life, and it should be in everybody’s life.  I think my spiritual life helps me with my feelings, my relationships, my music…I think my spirituality and my music are very closely linked, as that is one way I express myself.  It is very important to learn about ourselves, as well as the world around us.  I think it all is integrated.  Self-expression and our spiritual life are connected.  It might seem like there is madness there, but maybe, if we take a step back and look at it, at some point of our life, it will all make sense.  Let’s hope!

Jeb: Last one:  Have you and Ray seriously discussed a Kinks reunion?

Dave: Ray and I have talked a few times about it but nothing is definite. 

Jeb:  I get a gut feeling that you’d be up for it. 

Dave:  Maybe, if it was under the right circumstances and not dominated by what Ray wanted to do.  If it was more of a collaboration I would have interest in it.  It has always been like that, contrary to what a lot of people think.  All of the great Kinks music was collaborative.  Of course, Ray is an exceptional writer and an observer of life, but I think together we’ve proved that we are a very powerful and creative force.