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- Posted on Nov 20th 2010 9:00AM by Julian Marszalek
At their heart was the idiosyncratic songwriting of Ray Davies. A wry observer of the minutiae of everyday life, Davies wrote songs that still stand up against the best of Lennon and McCartney and his music touched and inspired the punk scene of the late 1970s, American rock in the following decade and the Britpop explosion of the mid 1990s.
With his new album, 'See My Friends,' Davies has elected to revisit his back catalogue with a number of musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Lucinda Williams and Spoon among others. Spinner got together with Muswell Hill's most famous to find out why...
What made you decide to revisit your back catalogue and re-interpret the songs as duets?
Well, everyone has their favourite Kinks songs from different periods and I had a friend in New Orleans -- Big Star's Alex Chilton -- and he said, "Why don't we cover one of your songs called 'Til the End of the Day'?" He expressed an interest in recording it with me -- and I don't normally collaborate with people because Kinks records stand for what they are and I wouldn't want to change them -- and Alex came to England about 18 months ago and he played it on an acoustic guitar and sang it with a really strong Southern accent. I then never really thought about and then Lucinda Williams came round and picked an unknown song called 'Long Way From Home' and I found that I quite enjoyed going back to revisit these songs because all the other artists drew something out of the songs and played with their character.
Metallica then backed me on 'You Really Got Me' at Madison Square Garden and that's when the idea started kicking around in my head that it might not be such a bad thing to do it. Metallica really wanted to do it because they saw that as a link to the music that the Kinks started.
'You Really Got Me' is regularly cited as inventing heavy metal. With Metallica, did you feel that you were playing with your musical heirs?
Yes, I think so. Like James Hetfield says, 'We didn't pick the song -- the song picked us.' And we both share that common denominator. It makes me realise that the song stands up under that kind of scrutiny. Sometimes it's the weakness in the song that gets exposed and with Mumford and Sons they came with a load of gung-ho spirit and wanted to do two songs -- 'Days' and 'This Time Tomorrow' -- and I thought about and said, 'Why don't we put the two together?'
How did you choose the artists to work with on these duets?
A lot of then phoned me up. Paloma Faith rang me up and said she wanted to do 'Lola' and I said, 'Do you know what this song is about?' But she knows about transvestites and burlesque and she brought a great soul feel to it. And in other cases, I've admired Jackson Browne for a long time and it never occurred to me that he might have fitted in to this record but he insisted that he wanted to do 'Waterloo Sunset' and brought along his old battered Gibson guitar, detuned it and started singing and I just drifted along with him and did it for what it was.
Some of these songs are true rock milestones that have set standards for generations of music. How easy was it to detach yourself from this fact when re-working them with other artists? Did you ever look at your collaborators and think, 'No, you're not doing that right?'
I never thought that on a single occasion. Billy Corgan wanted to combine 'All Day and All of the Night' with 'Destroyer' and I said, 'Yeah, let's make it work' and you have to detach yourself from all that because the songs exist and they can be cut up and chopped around and put back together.
Take 'Better Things' with Bruce Springsteen. We talked about and discussed it a lot over the phone and worked out an arrangement but the thing is, I've already done the work by writing the song but the interpretation is the hardest part. But I can detach myself because I'm the creator.
With so many of the album's collaborators spread all over the world, how much of a logistical nightmare was it to put the album together?
Well, the secret was to stay calm. We spent maybe a month recording and about six months hanging about. Not everyone could be in the studio at the same time so I had to slot in with people's schedules.
Your emotionally charged performance at Glastonbury came soon after [original Kinks' bassist] Pete Quaife's passing...
I only found about Pete the day before and it wasn't until I got out there on stage that said to myself, 'I'll acknowledge Pete and give him a tribute from the stage' and I just about held it together and got on with it. But really, I was trying to do my job whilst being very upset about Pete. That kind of helped the performance, in a sense, and I just wanted to get through it and that added to the poignancy in a strange way.
This must surely put paid to any notion of a Kinks reunion?
Well, the original line-up, anyway.
And your brother, Dave, has recently said in the press that there won't be a reunion.
He's always saying things like that. I think it's a cry for help. I'll think about responding to it. I haven't read the article in question but I've heard about it. He's got his own life but I think that he's such a good musician with such a good musical head that I think it would be tragic if he didn't participate. And in any event, we'd only do it if we had new material. But I've been writing new material and that what drives me as an artist.