The Kinks have a strange relationship with America. Their influence on American popular music is undeniable-from "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" to "Lola" and "Come Dancing"-but the band are rarely thought of in the same company as their British Invasion brethren, like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who. A 1960s Musician's Union ban, which prohibited the band from touring in America, certainly didn't help, nor did the fractious relationship between founding brothers Ray and Dave Davies, but the band were stadium killers in the 1980s and were amongst the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Still, they often seem forgotten to all but the diehard fans here in America.
But in England, the Kinks are legends. They were indisputable godfathers to 1990s Britpop, and the song "Waterloo Sunset" is an unofficial national anthem (Ray Davies closed the 2012 London Olympics with a performance of the song).
And now Ray Davies has been knighted, but he's not resting on his laurels. The West End musical Sunny Afternoon, based on the Kinks' rise and fall, continues to be a huge smash, and he's got a new album, Americana, out today, on which he teams up with the band the Jayhawks to tell in musical form the story of the love/hate relationship with the country that inspired him to pick up the guitar in the first place-a story that was the basis of his memoir of the same name in 2013.
Davies spoke with Esquire.com about being awarded knighthood, predicting a rise in the political right, and working on his latest album about his affection for America.
No matter how much of a legend you are, it's still hard to accept people calling you "Sir."
I was shocked when I got the news. Shocked and surprised, really. But there was also despair mixed with the astonishment and joy. I'm a simple guy. I don't really know much. You know, the Kinks didn't really consider ourselves to be part of the industry, so it really impacted me when I realized I was part of that world and that's what they do in that world: they give you awards. But the guy that delivers my post where I live has been doing it for 25 years, and he hasn't won anything. Nevertheless, it's a great honor. Also, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when it came it was for the body of work more than any one thing. And many of my songs were about England and celebrating that, so I suppose it's more to do with that. So I'm very pleased, and it's growing on me.
He predicted Trump and Brexit.
The street where I grew up had four stores where you could buy everything you needed. I wrote about that in 2008, on Working Man's Café. Now you have to have a car to go anywhere, and you have to go to a shopping mall to get what you need. I'm not bemoaning it, but there's definitely a sense of lost community, and that's been happening slowly for a long time. My elder sister immigrated to Canada in the '60s and she used to write letters home about the joys of shopping at the super market. I'm not saying it's a bad thing people live like that. They know nothing else. I'm just saying I think that in losing all of those little shops, we've lost the sense of community. It's certainly true in London. Our sense of community is falling apart, and so society isn't forming in the way it used to. I think down the line it will affect the way that people think and put their lives together. But, you know, I grew up in different times and people who know nothing else enjoy it. But I think there's something missing in the interaction that you get from community, and we're seeing it in the anger and fear that's driving people's choices.
His new album has been a long time in the making.
Originally, it was intended to be a record and a book at the same time. But, like all these things, you can't get one part of the industry to work with the other. So we had the book first, in 2013, which took a couple years to write, and then I embarked on the album. But in between that I was busy with the West End musical. That used up most of my time for two years. And then, when I came to make the record I wanted to find a band and my record company suggested the Jayhawks, and working out the scheduling took some time. But I wanted a band rather than session musicians, because I came from a band and, even though sometimes maybe the Kinks were a bit too intimate in the way we played together, we had what I like to think of as lots of happy errors. I think it was worth the wait.
He approached the new album as though it were a cinematic experience.
I started with the ideas I had of America as a kid, growing up, watching the cowboys get the girl. But then, as things progress in the story, I tried to reconcile that with reality, on the song "The Great Highway," because life is not a movie and you have to wake up to reality. So it gets real, and then there are little cutaways inside stories. You know the characters are never going to find what they're after, but it's the quest, the yearning for something better. I still feel-even in modern times, in the age of Trump-Americans are still yearning to take things forward to a better to place. That's what I find energizing, and tragic in many respects. But, you know, we're just making records. I'm not writing a novel. We're making an audio movie, I suppose.
Teaming up with Minnesota's Jayhawks was key to making Americana the record it became.
Finding a band is like finding an actor. If you don't find the right band-the right set of actors-the song won't get made. I started making it with my touring band and couldn't get far. So the difference between this record and my last few solo albums is that if I hadn't found the Jayhawks, this record might never have been realized.
Even after being banned by the Musician's Union and shot in New Orleans, he still loves America.
I had a childhood ambition to go to America. I became very disillusioned after the Kinks were banned, but when I got the chance to go back, in the late-'70s and early-'80s, I was able to rediscover America. It's a tremendous country. You can't really learn about a country unless you live there, and I was able to live in New Orleans, more recently, and in New York back in the '80s. And during those times I found myself shopping in little stores and stopping on the street, just talking to people. You find out more about the culture that way than just watching movies. I came to think of it as a wondrous place, and really invigorating.
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