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- Posted on Mar 27th 2008 6:30PM by Steve Baltin
How did being in Nashville influence you in the writing and recording of the album?
Well, I didn't do any writing in Nashville, because all the songs were written prior to going there. But certainly New Orleans influenced me on some of the tracks I wrote on the album. 'Morphine Song,' for example, 'No One Listen,' 'Imaginary Man' and 'In a Moment' were definitely inspired by or affected by writing in New Orleans. 'Morphine Song' was written in the hospital while I was waiting to go into an operation because they were worried that I was having heart problems along with the gunshot wound. That song was written literally in the emergency room, so it had a definite impact. If anyone listens to it they can hear the click, click, click of a heartbeat and the allusions.
The album really is adept at taking big picture things and making them personal. Here you were writing about a personal crisis in New Orleans, a city that is trying to rebuild from Katrina. Did you see any parallels between your experience and what the city went through?
I ask that question of myself when I start a song. I say, "God, this is personal, and how do I reach people with it?" If I'm angry about something I'm writing about I always try to add a bit of humor into it and then put it on a level where people can relate it to them. 'No One Listen' could be about anyone dealing with bureaucracy, so that was simple. And 'Peace in Our Time' on the album is originally about a relationship that is crumbling, but I kind of sung it in such a way that it could refer to the world having peace in the time. If somebody came up to me and said, "We want to commission you to write a song for the United Nations and make it about peace and love," I wouldn't have written 'Peace in Our Time' [laughs]. It's a song that's basically about a relationship, but it could be alluding to the situation in the world. I try not to be obvious when I'm writing. I wrote a song years ago called 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion.' Everybody thinks that's a real jaunty sort of romp, but it was actually written after I had a really bad physical fight with a designer who came to my house. I was wearing drainpipe trousers and he said, "Man, you're so out of date; flares are in." And it started off like a bad argument over fashion and it was written in complete anger, but when it's delivered in performance it sounds like a comedy song.
Which songwriters do you count as able to convey that double meaning and not be obvious?
Going back right into the annals of history a song called 'Stormy Weather' says more about a depression or a recession than any song ranting about the stock market can do. It can be done in a very stylistic way. And 'Blowin' in the Wind,' although it's so obvious that's about the liberation movement in the late '50s and early '60s with Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. But at the same time it has a melodic hold over the listener that goes beyond the message. I think that's the important thing, it can resonate far beyond the message that inspired the song in the first place.
Going back to your songwriting, are there any songs in particular that have been interpreted in ways that surprised you?
When I wrote a song called 'Sunny Afternoon' I thought I was just writing a song about a guy who was just down on his luck and his girlfriend had left him. But people came up to me and said, "Did you realize it said a lot about politics and England at the time?" It was written at a time when England won the World Cup [soccer tournament], so people impose and it relates to them. I guess that's why records for the most part are great communicators. People hold them special to incidents and events in their lives and without the knowledge of the writer.
But the songs can change for the artist as well depending on what's happening in your life situation. Are there any songs that have really changed for you?
A song called 'Waterloo Sunset,' for example, it was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country. A lot of people have their own images of what that song's really about, and I like the song, but I'm amazed at the affection, particularly in England, that song is held in. Then you've got other songs, like 'Low Budget' -- I wrote that song after I heard my U.K. record company wouldn't give me tour support. I thought, "Christ, we're going out to promote an album and they won't help us promote it." And I wrote the lyrics in the car on the way up to the studio and we recorded it that night, but when the album was released in America it was the beginning of the oil embargo and there was a track called 'Gallon of Gas' on it, so it didn't anticipate all that. It was a personalized song, but it reached a political level and socialization level with things I hadn't even anticipated or thought about. The big mistake people make when they write songs is to actually second-guess what the audience is going to think about it and how it's going to be received. So the best thing is always to try to write the songs, and if you sit down and you can play that song to somebody and they say, "Yes, that's a personalized song, but it's reached me."
Are there any songs of yours that were so personalized you were surprised anybody got it?
Oh, yeah, a little song called 'Fancy.' It's on an album called 'Face to Face.' I thought, "Nobody will understand this." To this day I don't understand what it's about. But I know that a lot of people like the song. It's reached them on a level that we can't put into words. And sometimes songs should do that.
Gorillaz had a hit a few years ago with 'Feel Good Inc,' a song that owes a lot to the Kinks. Who are some of the bands you feel have done a good job with the Kinks sound?
Mojo magazine gave me an inspiration award ... and in my acceptance speech, I didn't think of it until I got up there, I said, "Happy to have inspired all these people like Blur, Gorillaz, Green Day and all that. But the thing is, you inspire me, too, because you picked up on something. It kinds of validates what I've done." What I'm trying to do now, one of my next projects will be a collaborations album where hopefully I'll write something with bands like Green Day, Razorlight, Damon from Gorillaz, see what we come up with, and we'd do a whole album like that.
In a London Times article last year you said you weren't a fan of being a solo artist.
Even though I'm a solo artist I still like to think I'm still part of a band playing on stage. I don't consider them to be backup musicians coming along. And I made a big issue of this when I recorded in Nashville. I think it's important for me to do it cause if I just was Ray Davies with a bunch of sessions guys I wouldn't want to do it.
Does doing something like a possible collaborations album allow you to feel part of a project?
I've done some collaboration, but it's always good to get feedback. In a strange way, I used to get that with the Kinks. They'd come in the studio, play it, if it didn't sound right we'd mix and match things. I think there's something in that collaboration process that sometimes does springboard ideas that sometimes wouldn't occur if you did it by yourself.
Your label referred to it as your "American record." What three words would you use to describe America today?
Undefined, confused, optimism.
What are your plans for the rest of 2008?
Well, there are a few things: Start this collaborations record; I'd really like to do that and get that moving. There are great ways we can write with technology, e-mailing ideas to each other. Then I've got a couple of big concerts in the summer. Then I've got a shot at doing my musical, 'Come Dancing,' at a small theater at the end of the year. So there are a lot of things happening. And then at some point, hopefully get together with my brother Dave and see if we can come up with anything. I'd like to sit down with the original Kinks and say, "OK, what would we have done if we hadn't made 'You Really Got Me' and see what comes out."
What do you think the possibility is that'll happen?
It depends on how Dave feels when I get back. He doesn't want to spend a lot of time in the studio, but nowadays you don't have to.