Preservation Act II Interview
The Kinks are legendary. Their first U.S. single, "You Really Got Me," was a hit in the summer of 1964. And it was generally agreed that the Kinks were provocative innovators on the order of Dylan and the Beatles. Nearly a decade after "You Really Got Me," the Kinks are sailing along, behaving the way they always have - outrageous, but light, wry, subtle.
The prevailing wizard of the Kinks is Master Warlock Raymond Douglas Davies. He is a man who can flick a wrist, kick a leg, shower his audience with Piels Light Draught, and get more applause by singing a few bars of "Mr. Wonderful" than the Queen of England would get announcing that London pubs would be open all night long. Davies is the Kinks' spokesman, songwriter, rhythm guitarist and vocalist. But, even as the star focal point he is totally enmeshed in the kinky fiber of the band.
Preservation Act II, the Kinks latest album, raises the curtain again on Davies' funny-sad rock musical. Widening his vision of the human comedy, Davies peoples the album with some new and some familiar characters, both low lifers and saints. More musically powerful than Preservation Act I, Preservation Act II sharpens the struggle between the forces of "the People's Mr. Black" and Flash, the rape-artist land developer. In a fake nasty voice Davies sings "I'm the scum of the earth" while an Oom Pah bounces along in a music hall background. The "Second hand car spiv" (up from the slums) snarls, "don't double-cross me or my hoods will dissect you!"
Davies' lyrics haven't been this clever since Everybody's In Showbiz. John Gosling's keyboard work is snazzy and eccentric with whistling notes and devices hurtling through the air. The tuba and horn section is fully integrated into the Kinks now, and the girl chorus croons artfully in pseudo-soul.
The "He's Evil" opens with a sizzling guitar line by Dave Davies. Then Ray's throaty voice cuts in outrageously with "his skin is soft, but his mind is hard," while the chorus whispers "Look out! He's evil." The chorus builds to a kind of scat incantation, rising in intense repetition through the use of subtle echoes and distortion. By the end it's a kind of kinky Gregorian chant - perverse and hilarious.
But Preservation Act II is sadder and harder than Act I. "Nobody Gives" is a half-angry commentary on history and apathy while "Oh Where, Oh Where Is Love?" is an elegy to lost romance, lost fantasies and dreams.
The end of "Oh Where, Oh Where Is Love?" leads startlingly into the sounds of somebody snoring and moaning in sleep. Flash is woken up by his own "soul". At this high point of the album Flash fights against his "soul's" searing accusation while thunder roars and the chorus sings snatches of "Demolition" in a ghost of Christmas past flashback to Act I.
If ever there was an epic-novel of a rock and roll dream, the Kink's Preservation Act I and Preservation Act II (along with the earlier prelude LP, The Village Green Preservation Society) would be it. Davies is definitely creating a new form for rock album and this latest installment is the most unusual yet.
On the road, Davies was a hard man pin down. Ace interviewer Scott Cohen followed Ray through three states before finally pinning him down in New York where the chase to speak to Ray began. At an intimate party in the Warwick Hotel, Ray Davies was shuffled aside by his close friend and record company liaison, Barbara Bothwell. With the beautiful blond Bothwell on one side, and RCA's high level publicist, Stu Ginsberg, on the other, Ray was interviewed in a loud, crowded bar just several hours after Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th home run.
Davies, a gentlemanly throw-back to another kinder age, looked very British, but kinky. He was dressed in a classic tennis sweater and navy blue flannel pants. Cohen flipped on his pocket recorder, and as they sidled up to the bar, the interview began.
Circus: What will you have to drink?
Ray: I'll have a club soda.
Circus You're so extroverted on stage and so shy off stage.
Ray: I thought about that a lot. I'm not always shy. Maybe I'm relaxed on stage more, because I enjoy it.
Circus: When you are on stage, you are in total control of the audience.
Ray: Not all the time. They're usually very polite to me, but they're not always like that.
Circus: The audience loved you the other night at the Felt Forum. Ray: Well, that's nice then. I tried hard. It was a difficult place to play, the Felt Forum. I like intimate atmospheres. I don't like playing large concert halls. We can't play cabaret type places anymore because we have a large amount of people to carry around. Our act is more or less set for the size of the Forum. I could adapt it if the group was smaller. When you got ten people on stage, it's difficult to get everybody to play down. There isn't that much telepathy going on.
Circus: Would you feel comfortable playing in Las Vegas?
Ray: No. I'd play Broadway. A musical. The thing I'm working on now is going to be a musical, "Preservation Act I" and "Preservation Act II." There's Act I, an interlude, Act II and that's it, the end.
Circus: What's "Money Talks," a new Kinks song or is it an album?
Ray: It's a record being put out in the Kinks name, but in the show, the hero, or villain, which ever you like, sings that song with his floozies. Do you know what a floozie is?
Ray: It's a loose lady who hangs out in bars.
Circus: Oh, I know a few floozies.
Ray: Well, "Money Talks" is their anthem.
Circus: Did you know that "Lola" is the Gay Liberation's song? It's their anthem.
Ray: No, but I had a suspicion it might be. That's nice. "Lola" is several people really. I tried to analyze it because I do think she's several people. Suppressed love.
Circus: Is it true that the Kinks feel that groupies are ruining the rock scene.?
Ray: They can't ruin the industry, but they've ruined a few musicians.
Circus: When you ask the audience to sing along, they sing. When you ask them to clap, they clap. Your wish is their command. Have you ever asked them to do anything outrageous, to see how far you could go?
Ray: No, but it's interesting that you raised that point, because "Preservation" is about what a mass of people will do - how masses react. The character I'm going to play in the musical can do that to people. I'm not saying that I can, but people, when they want to enjoy themselves, will show it. I think what I do in the musical is break down any of the barriers I've got as a person. I think what I do is, I put barriers up so I won't get hurt. I'm not sure I'm sensitive, but I have to put up little barriers or else I get bruised.
Circus: When you're up on stage, do you think of yourself as a target?
Ray: What as, something to aim at? No. When I'm up there I'm feeding off of the energy of the other people - from the band and from the audience. There was a girl in the audience the other night who gave me a mirror, and it helped my performance. She contributed instead of taking. She actually gave me something and I did something with it.
Circus: It's been eight years since the Kinks Greatest Hits came out.
Ray: That's a geographical fact. It's concrete. Sometimes I think dreams have as much to do with the past as they do with the future. Sometimes I don't think it's happened.
Circus: Your songs give the impression that they weren't made for these times.
Ray: I don't think any of us were. That's why people have ulcers and take drugs. If I had chosen to live some other time I would have liked to be a songwriter in the 40's. Not to have lived, but to have written. There were some nice songs going around then. I would have liked to have lived at a time when I could have said I'm working on a new project and could have taken five years to do it. Actually "Preservation" took a few years to do.
Circus: What's the life span of a Kink?
The lasting power? The life span is as long as you can put things into and get things out of it. You know, there's certain degrees you can be involved in with the Kinks. We have no time for someone who's a star. I know I have to front the band. When I mean star I mean someone with ego problems. I think the overall thing is the Kinks are bigger than any one person.
Circus: Could the Kinks go on without you?
Circus: When do you think you'll quit?
Ray: I thought about that this morning. I think about it every morning, you know, until I get up and start playing music and I get interested in it again.
Circus: Didn't you retire once?
Ray: Yeah, I gave it in for a week.
Ray: I was upset with what I was doing.
Circus: What brought you out of retirement?
Ray: I wanted to play.
Circus: What's the definition of a Kink?
Ray: Someone who can take down all the barriers. And I think someone who plays with us is a Kink. We got a new horn player as a latest addition, but he didn't know what to do at first, so he got upset by certain things. Now he enjoys it. The barriers have been broken down and he can be himself. We argue when we have something to argue about. We don't let things build up.
Circus: Have there been close calls when the group almost broke up?
Ray: Oh yeah. Mostly because of me and my brother. Because we are a little bit closer, we argue a bit more intensely.
Circus: Are you and Dave anything like David and Ricky Nelson?
Ray: Well I don't know much about them. My brother likes Ricky Nelson. I like his records.
Circus: Is there much sibling rivalry?
Ray: Not really.
Circus: Are you brothers in mind, body and spirit?
Ray: I think so, unfortunately. I wish we weren't as close as we are. You know, we don't talk much to each other, though we are quite close.
Circus: Do you think your mother understands you?
Ray: No, I don't think so.
Circus: Where are the Teddy Boys now?
Ray: They turn out for an occasional concert. In England we did a tour before we came here and Bill Haley played with us. All the Rockers came to hear us.
Circus: Did the Rockers go on to become the Teddy Boys?
Ray: Rockers and Teddy Boys I think help each other out.
Circus: What about the Skinheads?
Ray: They lean more towards the Mods. You got the Teddy Boys and the Rockers on one side and to the right you got the Skinheads and the Mods. The Mods got short hair and are cleaner and more continental. They look like French people. The Hitler youth, they were Mods. The Rockers look like Rockers all over the world.
Circus: The American equivalent is probably the Hells Angels.
Ray: Possibly. I'll tell you one of the things I'll always remember is one night when we finished playing I saw two Mods dancing to a record by the Beach Boys called "I Get Around." It was fantastic.
Circus: What do you think of Allan Price?
Ray: He leans more towards the Mods. He used to play with the Animals and they were more of a Rocker band I think. A good band. They may have made best record ever, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place."
Circus: Why did the Kinks add two girls and a brass section to the band?
Ray: That's the sound I wanted to project. I wanted a girl to sing the lady's part in the show "Preservation," so why not have them in the band. They tour with us because I want the stage act to sound as close to the record as possible. The only concerts I like are the ones that sound like the records I like.
Circus: When you tour, do you sing the same songs night after night?
Ray: When you got ten people you got to keep some format. But they change quite a lot.
Circus: Does money determine how many people go on tour?
Ray: Not really, because I could have an orchestra - the London Symphony Orchestra - but I chose to have ten or fourteen people and I got the sound I wanted. The sound I want determines it.
Circus: How is "Preservation Act II" different from "Preservation Act I"?
Ray: "Act I" is just dealing with ordinary, mundane things, the everyday world of everyday people. The second half is blacker and more violent and more athletic. Musically athletic.
Circus: Where was "Act I" written?
Ray: It was written partly in England and partly in Denmark.
Circus: Do you produce your own records?
Ray: Up until now, yeah.
Circus: Your stage act has a vaudeville flavor to it.
Ray: Is that vaudeville? I'm into walking because I put one foot in front of the other. I think it's something that's been handed down in England. A way of life.
Circus: Do you think about who goes to Kinks' concerts and who buys Kinks' records?
Ray: I don't know. I don't really think about that. When Dave made "You Really Got Me" he was fifteen and just left school, and I didn't think about it then, so I don't think about it now. A good record is a good record. I get knocked when older people come to hear us. When older people come up and say they like my music it knocks me out.
Circus: What do you think the Kinks have that audiences like?
Ray: I don't think the Kinks are popular. I still get knocked out when I see my name on an album.
Circus: Whats' the Kinks relationship to the Who? Their image is so much different than yours.
Circus: I only met Pete Townshend once, a long time ago. I think we'd get on quite well. We don't mix with other groups, though. I should, really.
Circus: Is "Arthur" the other side of the coin from "Tommy"?
Ray: Not ever having heard "Tommy" I don't know. That's where I fall down. I don't listen to other things. And I'm not going to hear "Tommy." I don't see why I should.
Circus: What records do you listen to?
Ray: Last year I listened to two records, Mahler and a record called "Hooray for Hollywood" or something like that, with Bing Crosby. I played those two records all the time.
Circus: Are the Kinks campy?
Ray: If we are we don't know about it.
Circus: A few months ago Lou Reed said he only listens to two albums, "Preservation Act I" and "The Great Lost Kinks Album."
Ray: I don't play his stuff so I feel bad when you say that. I felt really ashamed when I never heard of his group before, the Velvet Underground, until I signed with RCA. I really thought I should have. There are so many things I miss, you know.
Circus: What would you be doing if you weren't a Kink?
Ray: I don't know. That's what I wake up thinking about in the morning. When I'm on stage, or I'm not writing in the morning, I'm thinking about getting out of bed. And then I go back to putting up barriers, and I don't like that.
Circus: What are some of the tricks, or barriers, that you have?
Ray: I don't have any tricks that I'm aware of. The only trick that I've got - that I've acquired - is not making decisions first thing in the morning. If I feel depressed in the morning I don't tell anybody. I was for about a half-hour and then I don't feel so bad. I don't believe in acting hasty about things like that.
Circus: Who do you like more, the Stones or the Beatles?
Ray: Well, I worked with the Beatles when we were starting and I think we played with the Stones. I like them both for different reasons. I like Beatles because their tunes were nice. They were very tight and I like their records, which surprised me because I didn't think I would. I think Ringo was a better drummer than most people give him credit and I like George Harrison's productions. But I'm closer to the Stones because I used to play in blues bands in England so maybe I'm a bit closer to them, in a geographic sense, than the Beatles. When I hear Stones records, for instance, "Brown Sugar", it's nice and honest, you know, and I thought some of the last tracks of the Beatles weren't honest. I couldn't describe how I felt. I think the Stones were more honest than the Beatles. Maybe that's what gives them the edge. At first, when the Beatles came out, George Harrison did interviews in the papers and said the Beatles were different because they never use echoes. But their first album is all echoes.
Circus: Why haven't the Kinks become super-big?
Ray: I think because they don't want to. I think it isn't in them. Maybe they're selfish, they didn't want to sacrifice everything
Circus: Are your songs autobiographical?
Ray: Not so much in "Preservation" because I tried to create characters. I identify with them a certain amount because I'm related to them.
Circus: Are you the person you're singing about in "Sunny Afternoon"?
Ray: Not in the way people think. I do associate with it. I am kind of easy going but I don't try to live pleasantly above all else. I'm much closer to the person in "Waterloo Sunset."
Circus: Is there anything more beautiful to you than an Autumn sunset?
Ray: More beautiful? I don't think anything's more beautiful.
Circus: When you write a song, do you write the words or the music first?
Ray: I get the idea and after the idea I think I do both. When I've got something I'm really going to enjoy, I save the words for last. I do a couple of framework choruses and verses, and then I write pages and pages and take out what I call the juice.
Circus: How old were you when you sang your first song?
Ray: I think I was three. I sang "Temptation."
Circus: How do you get that live sound on your studio albums?
Ray: I use old fashioned BBC mikes on most of the things I like to get a live sound on. Now I don't use them so much. I haven't' used them on "Preservation." I used good mikes, modern ones.
Circus: Do you prefer mono or stereo?
Ray: I'm coming to terms with stereo, gradually.
Circus: What's the difference between London and Hollywood?
Hollywood is the film capital of the world. "Waterloo Sunset" came out of London and "Celluoid Heroes" came out of Hollywood and they're both the same as far as I'm concerned. The difference is you can't be in two places at once.
Circus: Do you remember seeing your first palm tree?
Ray: I remember saying how strange it is to see a palm tree in England. The first one I saw was in England. It was in a seaside resort called Torqueay in the southern tip of England.
Circus: Is everybody in showbiz?
Ray: Yeah. Everybody could do a performance of what they do. I remember when I was in drama school we had to act out an everyday living scene, ad lib, and everybody else was doing clever things, really inventive things and I couldn't think of anything. I'll tell you what I did. I sat in a chair and I fell asleep. Everyone else was running around and they noticed me not doing anything so they asked me what I was doing and I said I was watching television. I was doing a performance and I wasn't doing anything. I was contributing to the performance around me and I believe everybody does.
Circus: Is that why you make your audience perform by singing and clapping along?
Ray: They wouldn't be there if they didn't want to be involved. But they're not at all overwhelmed by what I do. They go and see a great guitar player, or a great musical band, and it's their performance to sit there. It's their part to play, to be absorbed or be overwhelmed by it, so they're contributing the same as our audience is.
Circus: Which star's footprint in Hollywood is your favorite?
Ray: One thing I noticed about the footprints and hand thing is the size of Jean Harlow's hand. It's the tiniest. She was an enormous property but she had little hands. I really wanted to put that line in "Celluloid Heroes" but never did.
Circus: Is "Celluloid Heroes" the Kinks best song?
Ray: No. Perhaps it's the most dramatic. It moves along nicely and builds up an image. I don't know if I have a favorite song.
Circus: Where would you go on a dream date?
Ray: You mean I could go anywhere I wanted with anyone I wanted? Oh God! I'd go out with Salome - down 42nd Street - to the pictures.
Scott Cohen, Circus Magazine, 1974