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Ray Davies, former lead singer of the Kinks, has a new album out today called See My Friends, in which he rerecords fourteen songs, duetting with the likes of Spoon, Metallica, Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen, and … Jon Bon Jovi? Vulture spoke with Davies about how he picked his partners, who on his wish list didn’t work out, and one of life’s big questions: Will the Kinks ever reunite?
Was this album done out of fear of being forgotten?
No, no. It wasn’t that contrived. I’m not really known for being the collaborative sort, so I thought it might be nice to change that. The album began sort of by accident, when Alex Chilton and I did “Til The End of the Day” together in 2009. Word went out and all of these people said they wanted to record something of mine. Extraordinarily moving, really, who checked in.
The Chilton track is poignant, given that he died last year. How did you two meet?
Oh mate, typically odd stuff for me. We met in New Orleans in 2004, after I got shot chasing a purse snatcher. Alex sort of befriended me. I was living there, still hobbling around on crutches. He came by and simply introduced himself. He was a superb guitar player. But I bet no one ever heard Alex play piano but his wife and me. He was an extraordinary musician.
Longtime fans will totally get most of the collaborations, like the ones with Mumford & Sons and Billy Corgan. But what’s up with Jon Bon Jovi doing “Celluloid Heroes”?
Well, I think he does a lovely job. And he’s an actor, too, so the song is fitting. I like Jon and I owed him one. Eight years ago when his band played Hyde Park, they had me come out and do “Heroes” with them, in front of 100,000 people. It went down well, so us doing that track made sense.
Were there artists on your wish list that you couldn’t get?
Several. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were keen on doing something, but we just couldn’t coordinate schedules. Same with Trent Reznor, who’s frightfully busy these days. The Oscar winner. I’ve sung with Shirley Manson in the past, and Debbie Harry and I duetted a few years back at a Tibet House benefit, but we couldn’t arrange anything. I also adore Morrissey, his dour humor and attitude. I hear he’s a fan, too. Hopefully, there will be a Volume II and we can get some of these people.
You did get Bruce!
We first met in 1979. Bruce was recording The River, and the Kinks were making Low Budget — both of us at the Power Station. The Kinks were the day shift and the E Street Band, the night. I was really pleased that Bruce chose “Better Things.” With the sort of anthemic thing and optimism, it sounds like something he could’ve written.
You were with the Kinks for so long. What’s different about being a solo artist?
It’s very hard to find compatible players, especially guitarists. With the Kinks, we were not necessarily the most accomplished musicians, but it worked so well when we played together.
Will we ever see a reunion?
It’s really down to [my brother] Dave. You know he had a stroke in 2004, but he’s in pretty good shape. Enough to drive and do stuff he probably shouldn’t do. I know he’s making me angry again, so that’s probably a good sign [laughs].
So what will it take to get this going?
The price has to be right.
Finally, an honest man. So if not a reunion, what’s next?
I’m writing as much as ever before; I’ve demoed five or six new songs. You know, I’m an artist. So I’ve always got to seek the new. Listening to other musicians, getting inspired, writing things myself. I think I’ve found out something profound about music: It helps to keep me alive.