Time and critical reappraisal has shone new light on Kinks cuts like “Love Me Till The Sun Shines,” “Strangers” and “Death of a Clown,” all written by the younger Davies. But Decade is an even clearer view of what he was capable of. It was recorded in an exploratory fashion in the Kinks’ own recording studio, Konk, during downtime between touring and recording sessions -- but Decade is satisfyingly fully formed. While his brother excelled at conceptual works that hung together like puzzle pieces, Decade is like a greatest-hits album by a rock n' roll band that only exists in Davies’ imagination.
And, according to Davies, Decade wouldn’t exist without his sons, Simon and Martin, who unearthed, mixed and mastered the project. Suddenly, these tracks, which he tells Billboard came from “half-formed ideas,” resembled the sound he heard in his head all along -- and contextualize him as a powerful artist in his own right.
Today we're sharing an exclusive premiere of the Decade track “Same Old Blues,” along with a far-reaching conversation Davies had with Billboard about the album’s origins, his creative life today and the future of the Kinks.
What headspace were you in when you wrote the songs that would become Decade? Were they mostly recorded as a personal exercise?
I’ve always been interested in sound and production. When we were at our studio, it was a good opportunity for me to get into production. When I got downtime, I’d go into the studio and mess around with ideas. They came out of ideas I half-wrote at home, and put drums on and changed them. I didn’t think some of them would see the light of day. But my sons Simon and Martin got all the music together and Simon produced it, editing the effects and tones with gadgetry. It probably took three or four years to put it all together.
But songs are about feelings and moods, concerns, worries, what-ifs and all those questions we ask ourselves. That’s why writing is such a great, expressive force. Because it’s really important to get those ideas out. When we don’t express ourselves, we develop weird ailments and things. It’s a part of our programming, I think, to express music. I personally think creative people have much more opportunity to devise ways to work out their subconscious problems.
I’m a big fan of Carl Jung as well, and when he talked about the collective unconscious, the collective something is just as well, I think. When we express ourselves in a creative way, we’re touching other members of humanity. It’s so important to get these things out. The internal hearing of ourselves can touch other people and make them say, “Ah, that felt right.” I don’t think we can talk in terms of just “me,” “my,” and what I’m doing anymore. Everything around us is so connected. Constantly.
When we sleep, there’s a whole world we can’t analyze. Ours is only a small part of it. Our dream life is so vast that we can’t imagine it. Modern thinking is very narrow. Even our conscious mind is very small compared to all the other aspects.
The larger aspects that dictate what we think, say and do every day?
Yeah. When Carl Jung was near his death, he said that after studying how the mind worked for his entire life, he still knew so little. We don’t know anything. You can really investigate the mind and what it does, but where is it? [gestures around room] Is it there? Is it there?
Have you come in contact with people in your life who couldn’t really express themselves, and ended up suffering for it?
Of course. A lot of us have these blocks. Human beings are so complicated. We’re all a bit crazy. We all have different ways of trying to come to terms with it, but also, craziness can teach us and give us methods to try and deal with everything. It’s like a painting, and I love painting. I did some art for the Village Green Preservation Society boxed set that comes out in October. It’s a great way to get ideas out, and in a much more fulfilling way than writing, even. I’ve experimented with different types of writing. Why does it all have to be in a story in linear forms?
But the songs on Decade were just written through a feeling. I didn’t worry about, “Oh, is that a full stop or an apostrophe?” It just rawly comes out. If at first it doesn’t make sense, eventually it will. Because music helps you make sense of things. It’s such an amazing gift, because it can keep you trying to turn over our imagination, our soul and our feelings. It helps us reach the parts of us that we’re not really able to express.
Do you think there are forces in the world that actively discourage self-expression and looking inward?
It’s funny, because in the early days of writing, we didn’t really know what we were doing. That’s kind of good, in a way. Because when you get control of how you speak, you start self-policing all the time. “Oh, I shouldn’t, I couldn’t…” it blocks out a lot of creativity in people. It becomes sort of an Orwellian thing. He said that in the future, there’d be “thought police.”
And we’re self-policing ourselves through language. “Oh, you shouldn’t say that.” And then you find you’re brainwashing yourself. That’s what’s confusing. There has to be spontaneity. We can get in our own way. You have to move yourself up the information string and let the information do it. Sometimes when you let your mind wander while painting, you look and say, “Oh shit, that’s good! That means something.”
When I was at school and about 10 years old, I had problems with reading. They didn’t have terms like dyslexia at school. They called you stupid. I used to see threes and e’s as the same thing. I would write “elephant” with a three. And then I found out a year or two later that I was smarter than a lot of these teachers. Because you’re using your mind differently.
You had a quantum mind from the beginning, rather than a linear, formatted mind.
Yeah, exactly. My son, Simon, who produced Decade, is very much like that. You look at him, and you can sort of see. A lot of dyslexics are very advanced people, it seems like. They kind of know what you’re thinking and what’s going to happen next, and they can figure in what you’re doing. There’s so much we don’t know. That’s why we need so much compassion and understanding. Because it’s not quite about what the content is, it’s about the feeling and the ideas they conjure.
When we constrict it by too many rules of how you’re supposed to speak at a certain time, it constricts your intelligence. You’re breaking through these walls of language to find meaning. Your meaning is vastly more important than the words, though you use the words in any way you want, throwing them up in the air and seeing where they land. That’s why music’s so powerful, because it’s sound.
It was like a lifesaving event for me to get an instrument. I had a lot of rage and anger, loved having girlfriends and playing soccer and all these things. It was only the beginning of finding out what was going on inside of me. And then, what’s going on inside some of my friends? What the hell is going on inside everybody?
But Decade was a very organic kind of process for me, because I’d be writing a song and not even be sure what I was writing about. I found Decade, in the end, to be a very cathartic experience. You’re learning about yourself all those years ago. Listening to it and remembering, having memories of the time, was very emotional. There are parts of us that change, but fundamental parts of us don’t change, in a way. There’s kind of a 16-year-old still in here who wants to express himself. If you can get yourself in that childlike state, everything seems new again.
That’s where ideas come from. From that newness. If we can get into that state, we can find solutions and other modes of operating things. When we block out childishness, we become sort of automated.
You grew up in such a large family, with six older sisters. Can you describe the dynamic at home?
I was very lucky. We didn’t have any money, but we lived okay. My dad worked very hard, and my mom was a very powerful woman. She had to be a strong woman. That family evolved around her, really. It was a matriarchal kind of thing. She made all the decisions and delegated to the girls. But everyone was highly creative. All my sisters sang or played piano. My dad played banjo. My mother sang. There were a lot of influences going on, from vaudeville to Fats Domino to blues and folk music. A wonderful outpouring, in that sense.
So, you and Ray grew up with a similar creative impulse, but judging by the songs, that impulse was filtered through two different ways of seeing the world. Would you agree?
Ray, as a kid -- and he still does it -- stood back, not being physically or mentally involved with a situation. He developed the power of observation. Sometimes, you can describe things better when you’re not [leans in closely] right in its face. It’s kind of a metaphor as well. I was always wanting to be involved in things.
But there was a telepathy where we met. We knew what each other wanted to do, and I always felt like I had a good connection with feelings, people and situations, because I think feelings are connected to the spiritual side of us. Whereas Ray had an astute way of drawing these characters.
This last summer, Ray stated that the band was getting back together, but with scant details other than a new album that would be “influenced by the Rolling Stones.” Can you tell me anything else about the band’s future plans?
We’ve been talking about doing something. We’ve got a couple of songs. Ray’s got some tapes similar to Decade that we can work on, maybe, and do some new stuff. It’d be great. I’ll be back in the U.K. in a couple of weeks and we’ll talk about it. But nothing really specific. We’ll see what we can do all together.
How’s your relationship with Ray been?
I think over the last couple of years, it’s been much better. You have to realize, through all this history between me and Ray, we both really like to express what we want to do. Strong opinions. So that’s where we’ve clashed, but also where we’ve met. It’s interesting. We’ll see.
Well, in the meantime, you’ve been plenty busy, hence why we get to speak today in the first place.
It’s great promoting Decade, because it makes me think more about these inner feelings that I had at the time when I was 30, and also, they come up again at 70. There’s still so many questions that raise themselves through your consciousness through music and memory and lyrics.
Do you feel like you’ll never stop learning about the world and human nature?
I think it gets more intense as you get older.
But don’t many others lose their curiosity as they age?
Well, I don’t know about other people. People I know are very agile.
I guess it’s just appealing that you have only found the mystery deepening.
I think so, yeah. That feeling that you have to learn. And then it’s got to be right! But what does “right” mean? It’s how far you can go with the concept. We have to analyze and explain why things are the way we are. Why people are the way they are. But let the universe worry about definitive answers. When we’re at play, I think a lot of special things happen. And that can mean many things. When you’re at play in your imagination, that’s a really important part of being a human being.
We drive ourselves crazy with all these rules we create. We quite willingly give up our search for spirituality. “Oh, I’ll let God deal with it. God knows everything, don’t worry.” We kind of blame God for everything. As spiritual beings, we have to find our own way around stuff.