Interview: To Ray Davies, America Is Still A Land Of Opportunity The former Kinks leader speaks with Steve Inskeep about Americana, a musical distillation of his sometimes tumultuous life as British rock star in the U.S.
NPR logo

To Ray Davies, America Is Still A Land Of Opportunity

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/523019764/523369463" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
To Ray Davies, America Is Still A Land Of Opportunity

To Ray Davies, America Is Still A Land Of Opportunity

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/523019764/523369463" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The newest album by Ray Davies features him in a reflective mood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

RAY DAVIES: (Singing) Girl, I want to be with you all of the time.

INSKEEP: Ray Davies. His name looks like Davies to Americans. He's riffing on one of the hits he wrote and sang for The Kinks from the '60s to the '90s. His latest solo album captures him musing about a lifetime in music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: Touring relationships are fine when the hotels take care of the housekeeping and you've got room service. But once you check back into the reality motel, the dust appears on the furniture. The laundry piles up. And there's no room service to clear away the trash.

INSKEEP: The album is called "Americana." It explores this British songwriter's experiences in the U.S. It draws on his memoir by the same name. Taken together, the book and the album amount to a self portrait of a man whose music flooded American radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOLA")

THE KINKS: (Singing) Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls. It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world except for Lola. La-la-la-la (ph) Lola.

INSKEEP: I want people to know who haven't seen the book that you'll be writing, you'll be giving some narrative, and then suddenly there'll be several verses of a song.

DAVIES: Yeah.

INSKEEP: I'm curious if that's a representation of what actually goes on in your life as you move about. Do lyrics pop into your head?

DAVIES: Well, they do. I think in song. And I think that's something that's rolled over the years. I got this soundtrack going around in my head. I'll write a song for any kind of situation I'm in. Not a great song but kind of background music to the world.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) People talk about having a soundtrack to their life, and I guess your soundtrack is Ray Davies music.

DAVIES: Yeah. And to your life, Steve, I'm writing one about you right now.

INSKEEP: That's good to know.

DAVIES: It's very atonal at the moment.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Sorry to hear that.

DAVIES: No, it's good. It's exciting.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE KINKS SONG, "YOU REALLY GOT ME")

INSKEEP: When I listen to your really early stuff, it's really simple.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU REALLY GOT ME")

THE KINKS: (Singing) Girl, you really got me going. You got me so I don't know what I'm doing.

INSKEEP: It's one thought, maybe repeated 20 times. But if we advance a few years, you have stories with more specific characters and tales being told. And later on, you're writing books. How did that happen?

DAVIES: Well, "You Really Got Me," there's not much research to do that.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) That's my point.

DAVIES: You know, but look. Then I was asked to follow it up with other songs. And I had no real life experience, so I wrote about people I knew in my neighborhood, the well-respected men and dedicated followers of fashion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEDICATED FOLLOWER OF FASHION")

THE KINKS: (Singing) Eagerly pursuing all the latest fashion trends 'cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.

DAVIES: I was learning about the craft of writing and it became fun. So the songs I write now, the new songs on this record, are taking writing a step further for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICANA")

DAVIES: (Singing) I want to make my home where the buffalo roam in that great panorama.

INSKEEP: Did you consciously take on the United States as your main subject here?

DAVIES: Well, United States, it's called "Americana" which isn't the United States really. It's an emotion. It deals with history in America which as you know, may not know, is kind of fluctuating between good and bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICANA")

DAVIES: (Singing) Running high on inspiration taken from those Wild West heroes full of expectations of the road.

INSKEEP: In the 1960s, The Kinks were effectively banned from performing in the United States because of alleged misbehavior onstage. Once Ray Davies made it back in, he reveled in America, even living in New Orleans for a while. But it ended unhappily in 2004, when he became the victim of a crime.

How did you get shot?

DAVIES: With a gun.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) As people tend to be.

DAVIES: Yeah. Yeah. It's well recounted in the book, and I suggest you read it.

INSKEEP: I want people to hear a little bit of this though. Where were you in New Orleans?

DAVIES: I'm not going to answer that question. I was just west of the French Quarter.

INSKEEP: And what time of day was it?

DAVIES: It was a really beautiful day. They had a football game in town. And the police were occupied looking after the crowds. Just an empty street. And suddenly somebody came along, shoved a gun in me face. And I chased him down the street. He got in the car, turned around and shot me. Need I say more?

INSKEEP: You didn't want the guy to get away with it. You went after him.

DAVIES: Well, it's a flight or fight situation. You never know how you're going to react when you get there. My instinct said get the guy and bring him down.

INSKEEP: I think you've been kind enough to tell me a little bit of a story that it sounds like you really don't like telling even more than a decade later.

DAVIES: Yeah. It's one of those moments that sticks with you because the summation of lots of things happening in my life - leaving England and changing my life in many respects - that brought it to a halt and made me reevaluate everything.

INSKEEP: He later wrote about that moment in the emergency room when you're not sure if you'll live or die.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MYSTERY ROOM")

DAVIES: (Singing) Now I'm faced with mortality. Yeah.

INSKEEP: It was just one experience for Ray Davies in a country he says he loves.

DAVIES: But I still don't know it. It's such a giant space. You're going around, you go to the Midwest, and you go to LA, Northwest, they're like countries in their own right. That's what I find fascinating about it, not like Britain which is tiny. It's the ability, I think, in America it's the ability you can get lost there.

INSKEEP: When you talk about different nations in different regions, there actually have been cultural anthropologists who've written books and tried to divide the United States into ethnic nations, that the Deep South is a different place than Appalachia, which is a different place than the Pacific coast. It sounds like that's the experience you've had traveling across this country.

DAVIES: I've had that experience. It's exactly true. But somehow, something pulls America together as one country. That's the joy of it and the scary thing about it because it's so powerful when it merges together as one country. And I'm still trying to work out how I feel about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GREAT HIGHWAY")

DAVIES: (Singing) I had this dream. America was always a very special space.

INSKEEP: That's Ray Davies, whose new album is called "Americana."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GREAT HIGHWAY")

DAVIES: (Singing) Heroes of the great Wild West, Wild Bill Hickok and the rest. The romantic on a reckless chase till reality hit me in the face. Hey. Hey. Hey. I'm riding on the great highway.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.