“Sorry, I am chewing gum,” says Ray Davies 5 minutes into our interview, earlier than extracting the offending substance from his mouth.
It is a becoming interruption. We’re right here to speak about his newest album, Americana, which charts his love-hate relationship with the US – and there is nothing extra American than chomping on a stick of Wrigley’s.
In fact, our most recently-ennobled rock star is greatest recognized for his writing about England on songs like Waterloo Sundown, Muswell Hillbilly, Sunny Afternoon, Devoted Follower of Trend, however his obsession with the States began early.
As a schoolboy, he was captivated by black and white cowboy motion pictures and the be-bop information his older sisters would convey dwelling.
After receiving a guitar for his 13th birthday, he devoured information by Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo. His love affair with the blues was so robust that when he wrote The Kinks’ first hit single, You Actually Obtained Me he supposed it to be “a blues tune”.
“Then it turned out to be a pop hit.”
Considerably disingenuously, he tells the BBC You Actually Obtained Me was alleged to be The Kinks’ solely tune (regardless that it was their third single).
“I needed that to be a success after which I used to be going to get out of city,” he says.
“Sadly they requested me to jot down one other one, and one other one.”
The Kinks’ success meant Ray and his youthful brother Dave might lastly go to the Land of the Free – however issues did not go totally to plan, as he describes on the brand new album.
“They referred to as us The Invaders, as if we got here from one other world,” he sings. “And the person from immigration shouted out, ‘Hey punk, are you a boy or a lady?'”
The band might have overcome the bias in the event that they weren’t already in disarray – susceptible to combating on stage, and let down by a promoter who refused to pay them in money.
Issues got here to a head whereas taping Dick Clark’s TV present The place The Motion Is in 1965.
“Some man who mentioned he labored for the TV firm walked up and accused us of being late,” Davies wrote in his autobiography X-Ray.
“Then he began making anti-British feedback. Issues like ‘Simply because the Beatles did it, each mop-topped, spotty-faced limey juvenile thinks he can come over right here and make a profession for himself.'”
A punch was thrown; and the American Federation of Musicians refused to challenge the Kinks permits to carry out within the US for the subsequent 4 years.
“It was a horrible blow to our profession,” says Davies. “We could not tour. We could not play Woodstock.
“Being a bolshy 21-year-old, I mentioned, ‘Let’s make information and tour the remainder of the world’.
“However deep down I used to be actually damage, as a result of America was the inspiration for a lot of our music.”
When the band had been lastly allowed again, in 1970, they needed to begin from scratch, plying their commerce in tiny golf equipment and highschool gymnasiums.
“It was fairly a humbling expertise after being actually profitable earlier than,” Davies remembers.
But the US turned the band’s lifeline within the 1970s, offering adulation, success and monetary reward as curiosity dwindled at dwelling.
“We ended up taking part in Madison Sq. Backyard in 1980, which is an indication you have made it again. So it was a 10-year programme. It was laborious work however, in a wierd manner, we constructed a loyal fanbase in that point.”
So maybe it is no shock that Davies sings “I wish to make my dwelling/The place the buffalo roam” on the title observe of his new album.
Close to-death expertise
Certainly, he moved to the US for a number of years, discovering his religious dwelling – and sanctuary – in New Orleans.
“I am simply one other particular person there, which is very nice,” he says. “And I fitted in with the music scene.”
Residing throughout the street from a church, he would regularly witness the town’s brass band funerals, which stretch by way of the streets in celebration of native musicians and dignitaries on the finish of their life.
However his sojourn within the metropolis ended badly one Sunday night in January 2004.
Davies was strolling alongside an unusually abandoned Burgundy Avenue together with his girlfriend Suzanne Despies. A automobile pulled up alongside them, a younger man obtained out, and demanded Despies’ purse. She handed it over with none resistance, however Davies immediately determined to present chase.
His assailant was armed, and shot Davies within the leg, breaking his femur.
“Why did I do it? That is the unanswerable query,” he says.
“I’ve by no means actually been the form of one that would chase a person with a loaded gun. However I did. Foolishly, maybe, and irresponsibly. However I did it. It was a kind of warmth of the second conditions, and I’ve no clarification aside from that.”
He ended up in hospital, closely drugged and, for the primary 24 hours, an nameless “John Doe”.
The expertise knowledgeable a tune – Thriller Room – by which the star faces his mortality for the primary time: “My mind’s hit a brick wall / My physique’s in free-fall.”
It is partnered with one other observe, Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys, which equates ageing rock stars with gunslingers about to hold up their holsters.
“Rock and roll cowboys, the place do you go now?” asks Davies. “Do you quit the chase like an outdated retiree? Or do you stare within the face of latest adversaries?“
It is a query that is flummoxed a lot of his 60s contemporaries. Has he ever contemplated giving up?
“Each author who’s written and toured for greater than 5 years reaches a degree the place they assume, ‘Do I preserve going?’ or, ‘The place do I’m going subsequent?'” he says.
“Each day I get up and say, ‘I like writing songs however do I wish to do that?’ and the reply is I do.
“I like making information. I like taking part in in entrance of individuals.”
America is ‘off-kilter’
For the brand new document, he sought the assistance of alt-country stalwarts The Jayhawks, whose deft preparations present a wealthy backdrop to Davies’ wry and incisive lyrics.
Was it difficult, I’m wondering, for him to stroll in and take cost of an already-established band?
“It was a diplomatic scenario,” he says… properly, diplomatically.
“At first, they had been making an attempt to sound English of their backing vocals, however I deterred them from that.
“The explanation I picked them is as a result of they simply play the songs. They do not embellish an excessive amount of except I ask them to, which is nice.”
The Americana periods went so properly that there are “one other 20” songs ready to be completed and launched, all derived from Davie’s 2013 e book of the identical identify.
“It is a large work, however I hope it’s going to be put collectively for a deluxe document in a while.”
Is he tempted to jot down one thing extra topical for that document, given the continued political turmoil within the US?
“Everybody who is aware of my work comes as much as me and says: ‘It is time to revive Preservation,'” he says, referring to The Kinks’ 1973 idea album and tour, by which a comic turns into a dictator, funded by large enterprise and utilizing the media as a device of management.
“It was a enjoyable present however it had fairly severe undertones,” says Davies, “and I feel that sums up America in the meanwhile: It is a enjoyable present with very severe undertones.
“I do hope America balances itself out. It is barely off-kilter in the meanwhile.
“He [Trump] has nonetheless obtained to face Congress, and it is nonetheless a democratic nation. I feel the desire of the folks can be heard, and America’s structure is powerful.
“It is a troublesome time of re-adjustment for them – however I feel in time it’s going to stability itself out.
“It is a ravishing place however a harmful place, as I came upon.”