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Kinks' Ray Davies 'just another punk trying to make contact'

  • Story Highlights
  • Ray Davies' new solo album is "Working Man's Cafe"
  • Davies wrote many songs before and just after being shot in New Orleans
  • Kinks' frontman is proud of group's work, rejects "elder statesman" tag
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By Todd Leopold
CNN
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(CNN) -- Even Rock and Roll Hall of Famers aren't free from the hassles of touring.

Davies

Ray Davies said he considered giving up recording and touring after being shot in New Orleans.

During a phone interview from Tasmania, where Kinks frontman Ray Davies is scheduled to play an afternoon concert, he stops suddenly and sneezes three times in succession.

"The Australians haven't mastered the art of air-conditioning yet," he pointedly says when he recovers.

No doubt Davies has experienced worse. As the primary singer and songwriter for the Kinks, who were inducted into the Rock Hall in 1990, he's been traveling and making music -- including such hits as "You Really Got Me," "Tired of Waiting for You," "A Well Respected Man," "Lola" and "Come Dancing" -- for 45 years.

The songs have never gone out of style: Kinks tunes were recently featured in the movies "Juno" and "The Darjeeling Limited."

But other than respiratory reflexes and a bit of discombobulation -- it's the un-rock-star hour of 11 a.m. -- Davies, 63, is in an expansive mood. Slideshow: A chat with a Kink »

His latest solo album, "Working Man's Cafe" (New West), finds him in fine form, despite the sometimes offbeat subject matter of his tunes, including some about his recovery from gunshot wounds received during a robbery in New Orleans in 2004. (With typical English understatement, he refers to the incident as "when I got injured," as if he'd tripped over a curb.) The melodies are crisp and the lyrics cutting, witty and thoughtful.

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Davies talked with CNN.com about his new record, some of the Kinks' old records and his status in the pop firmament. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: The Kinks are one of the bands who don't have a good part of their catalog on iTunes, or a box set. How's that coming?

RAY DAVIES: Well, we're working on it now, with all these company takeovers and things. When this tour is over ... I'm going to have some meetings with people and set the dogs on all these people (laughs) and try to bring them to light.

'Cause I think a box set would be great. ... [It] would really show the evolution of the band, along with a very good DVD with it, to show how this band evolved. Because in a sense, with the Kinks you had to be there.

CNN: How do you feel about the changes in the record business? I know the album was initially released as a newspaper supplement in Britain.

DAVIES: I knew [the UK label] were sort of scaling down. ... The record company closed down a week after my album came out. I think that's what made their decision partly [to release] through a newspaper. And I have to say, for the record, I was not consulted over it. ...

I've got a few -- issues to deal with there. But everywhere else, it came out [the way I intended].

CNN: Do many of the songs on this album date back a few years, like some of the songs on [your last album] "Other People's Lives"?

DAVIES: Well, I was in the middle of starting to record some of these tracks when I got injured in New Orleans. ... At that time, I had no idea I was even going to go on making records or wanting to perform again, because I was lying in that hospital, thinking, "Well, what is this dude really saying to me?" Sometimes these things, it's not just an anonymous gunman robbing and shooting someone. Maybe there's a bigger picture to this. I thought about stopping and not doing any more touring and recording. ...

Some of [the songs were] written during my experience in New Orleans -- "Morphine Song," "No One Listens," "Imaginary Man," "Angola."

CNN: Do you have any impressions about the city, positive or negative, based on what happened?

DAVIES: I think it's a great city. It's a miracle that it's alive, that it exists. ...

I thought I was going to live there at one point. In fact I looked at a place around the back [of] Decatur Street ... but I understand that building was very badly hit because of the floods.

[But] I'd be worried about growing up in a city that's 6 foot below sea level. Where I'm living at the moment in London, it's the highest point in the city. ... I think I'm a hill person rather than a below-sea level person.

CNN: Some of the songs on "Working Man's Cafe" talk about globalization -- "Vietnam Cowboys," particularly.

DAVIES: Yeah ... it's like the empire strikes back. ... [It used to be] the world got the [American] culture -- through the movies, primarily, and later through rock 'n' roll. And now it's all coming back to America. You look at any T-shirt and it's made in China or Taiwan.

CNN: Because of albums like "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society," you've been called nostalgic, a throwback. Do you think that's true?

DAVIES: No. I believe that right now is the only time. [But] I am an assembly of what I am now, what has been my past and what is going to happen to me in the future. ... Right now I'm talking to you, I'm watching "JFK" with the sound turned down, and I'm getting ready to do a show right now. And I'm from England, which is like a dying culture. ...

I'm really pleased to have made "Village Green." ... It sums up a time when the possibilities were still there [in England]. I couldn't tour the States because there was a ban on the Kinks, so I was stuck in England, and I just was celebrating my Englishness in case that was the last record we'd ever make.

CNN: The Kinks' next album was "Arthur," which has the song "Australia." Do you play that song in Australia?

DAVIES: Well, we've rehearsed it. (laughs) ... I will be doing it probably this summer. ... I'm doing Hampton Court Palace ... and I'm going to perform possibly "Australia" along with another song called "Shangri-La" with an 80-piece choir.

CNN: You've been such an influence on others. Who inspires you now?

DAVIES: I keep going back to the influences that inspired me -- country, R&B ... I do like some jazz. ... But I get influenced by all sorts of things -- little bands who come through the studio at Konk. The Zutons, the Kooks. I get to talking to a lot of these kids, and there are some good bands out there, some good people coming through.

CNN: Do you see yourself as an elder statesman now?

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DAVIES: Aw, no. When I get up on stage I'm just another punk trying to make contact with the world. Yes, I'm older, but I'm not that much wiser. I still make the same mistakes I would have made years ago. ...

I know people look to me to have all the answers [as an elder statesman] but remember, I don't have all the answers. Maybe that's why I'm still doing it. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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